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Both designs can deploy the decorative arts alone more successfully than in ensemble.Skip to next paragraph
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Between these exhibits, other architect-artist teams provide more promising portents of the grand alliance sought. However unwieldy the sight of a cable stretching from the World Trade Center through the Chrysler Building, the linking of the vital minds of Frank Gehry and Richard Serra toward down-to-earth ends would alone merit the enterprise.
Elsewhere, half of the amusement of this attempt lies in the verbiage. Vanguard architecture is a wordy pursuit: More entertainment lies in the notion of "The Great American Cemetery," a mini-Levittown above sphinx boxes and urns, or in the Roberts Stern and Graham discussion of their column adorned with a woman's figure than in the actual architecture/artwork.
High intellect may produce high art, but not always.
More seductively, Emilio Ambasz and Michael Meritet station a painted forest of forms as "The Four Gates to Columbus." Less so, the hexagonal house offering doll-chamber views, a dining-room set, and painting of a nude by Pelli and Bailey do credit to neither talent.
Perhaps because none of the projects had a real site, only a few grapple with the issue of enriching a true time and place. Susana Torre involves us in a design of celebration for the waves of immigrants at Ellis Island which, though grandiose, relates to real plans for the ruin at that great gateway site.
Hugh Hardy and Jack Beal try to deal with the seedy traffic to Bryant Park on 42nd Street with a restaurant set into a rather flamboyantly intrusive set of forms. And James Freed and Alice Aycock tackle Times Square, New York's "sham garden of Eden," to dress it up with waterworks.
None of these exhibits does, or perhaps can, suggest the drama of the collaborative process of an actual project described by architect James Polshek in Diamonstein's book. There, the architect tells of his introduction to a Japanese sculptor by a client. With mixed feelings of nervousness and rudeness, Polshek says he approached his potential collaborator:
"I went out to his kiln," he says, "and I saw all these piece from the kiln lying around on the ground -- bricks and curved pieces and ribs, and some were black, and terra cotta and ivory. And I thought, that's it. So I said, "Come on, we'll get up on the ladder.'
"And we got up on the two ladders and had another guy arranging these things on the ground, and then I'd run down and move pieces.And we both got into it, and we actually made a design. He took it from there and filled it in and then built it. And it's really quite wonderful." So it sounds.
Diamonstein, who has prepared a helpful book "Collaboration: Artists & Architects" (New York: Watson-Guptill) along with the exhibition, would like this show to serve as the same kind of catalyst as the kiln and the bricks and the ivory. She envisions its stop in 12 cities besides New York -- Buffalo, Dallas, Los Angeles, Coral Gables, Fla.; Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Akron, Ohio; Evanston, Ill.; Richmond Va.; Wausau, Wis.; and Iowa City, Iowa, where it will wind up in November 1983 -- as a chance to focus on what is do-able in each town, a chance for sighting and siting similar collaborations.
Ambitions for even a "mini-American Renaissance" are fanciful, of course. But even some few such rebondings might enliven our landscape more than the "Victorian knickknacks" of most public art on the bureaus of today's built environment.