Le Corbusier's works given wall-to-wall centennial tribute. Painting, sculpture, drawings testify to range of achievement
Cambridge, Mass. — Charles-'Edouard Jeanneret - known to history as Le Corbusier - is the focus of a celebration here at Harvard's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts marking the centennial year of his birth. And, of course, the setting seems only fitting, since the Carpenter Center is the sole American building designed by this premier figure of modern architecture and city planning.
While larger shows are being mounted in Geneva, Milan, Paris, London, and New York (at the Museum of Modern Art) in honor of the occasion, Harvard has chosen to display Le Corbusier's painting, sculpture, and drawings in an environment that is wall-to-wall Corbusier.
Up the Corbusian ramp, alongside his distinctive windows, the architect's art, executed in the Cubist style he made his own, gives added force and immediacy to his visual language.
Vigorous, colored, wooden sculptures stand by robust painted forms. The selection, drawn from the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris by Carpenter Center director Louis Bakanowsky, is top rate.
The arrangement of pedestals and multilevel platforms by designer Roger Brandenberg-Horn adds to the ebullience of the art. The exhibition, which continues through May 24, is as playful in spirit as a birthday party - and as serious in the homage it pays.
Le Corbusier looked on his art as a finger-exercise. But it can be viewed as an extension of his own creative spirit. The horizontal sweep of his canvases and the deep dimensionality of his sculpture may be reminiscent of his architecture, but these exuberant works stand on their own as well.
The themes addressed in his paintings and drawings - motifs worked and reworked over decades - sometimes relate directly to his architecture. For example, he uses the outline of a window to frame the forms of ``Petite Confidence.'' And his set of instructions to collaborator J. Savina says Savina should translate a sketch into a sculpture, ``as if it were a fa,cade.''
More often, though, the forms - which range from hands and faces to birds, bulls, and a plant - look like icons of his imagination.
Actually, Le Corbusier's architecture can be thought of as sculpture. From the classic white boxes poised on dark stilts, or pilotis, of his early period, he moved to the expressive functionalism of his later work, represented by the reinforced concrete forms and deep-set windows of the Carpenter Center (1964).
As the Oct. 9 centennial approaches, however, Le Corbusier's architecture is being viewed more ambivalently than ever before.
Much of his early and middle work, such as the housing he designed at Pessac in southwestern France, has been altered to the point of innocuousness or invisibility. His late style - seen in the new capital he designed (without any reference to local tradition) in the 1950s at Chandigarh for the government of the Punjab and swelled almost to caricature in the New Brutalism of his heirs - has fallen out of favor. His philosophy of the Ville Radieuse - a forest of highrise towers wrapped by roads - has contributed to the debasement of historical cityscapes. Yet his masterworks, such as his Cathedral at Ronchamps (1955), have no peers.
In a symposium timed to the exhibition here, professors and colleagues called Le Corbusier the master synthesizer of our time. Eduard Sekler and Jerzy Soltan described his capacity to blend the rationalism of the 20th century with the beautiful; his universal modular system with his quest for grace.
Mr. Soltan, once a student of the architect, recalled the Swiss-born, largely self-educated master passing his days in a creative routine ``implemented with Boy Scout rigor.'' And he recalls Le Corbusier saying, ``There is only one thing in art that counts: the one you cannot express.''
Beyond the passion and the polemics, beyond the inventions of his architecture, that expressiveness is the visual gift Le Corbusier had, as this exhibition so amply demonstrates.