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Broad Collection's Diller and Scofidio are artist-architects

August 24, 2010 | 12:04 pm

ICA Boston Credit Iwan Baan Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, whose architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro was announced Monday as designers of the Broad Collection building planned for Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, are artists as well as architects. "Scanning: The Aberrant Architectures of Diller + Scofidio," a 2003 survey of their work at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, featured a section devoted to architectural models (they hadn't yet actually built much). But most of the show presented architecturally related sculpture and site-specific installation art -- primarily notable for how old-fashioned it was.

A disappointing centerpiece, "Mural," was a robotic drill mounted on tracks that ran through the galleries. Whirring and buzzing, the drill would slide along the tracks, stop at random (or according to some unidentified program) and then bore into the gallery drywall, like R2D2 on a bender. A trail of holes peppering the walls left evidence of past movements.

Amusing to watch, "Mural" was also something of an eye-roller. "Slavish, if stylish, illustrations of hardboiled critical theory," one critic later wrote of their art.

The notion that museum galleries are not neutral spaces but are environments shaped by unexposed dimensions of power, social influence and manipulation was exciting in 1976, when critic Brian O'Dougherty's series of essays, "Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space," first appeared in Artforum magazine. But by 2003, not so much. At the Whitney, the doctrine's rehearsal seemed redundant. Michael Asher and other important artists had been exploring the problem of art's purported independence even longer, since the late 1960s. And borrowing the title of Jackson Pollock's 1943 breakthrough painting, "Mural," for their techno-sculpture only made Diller's and Scofidio's installation seem that much more like a hothouse orchid.

Seeing it didn't make me curious about their art (I chose not to review the show -- but then,  "Manet/Velazquez" at the Met and "Matisse/Picasso" at MOMA did offer pretty stiff competition). "Scanning" did, however, make me curious about how the pair's research into postwar art might affect their architectural practice. We've had some indication of that -- not least in their handsome, highly theatrical design for Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, shown here, which transforms the museum building into a performance platform hugging the harbor's edge.

Now, we're about to get another good look on Grand Avenue.

-- Christopher Knight

Follow me @twitter.com/KnightLAT

Photo: Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Credit: Iwan Baan

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