Monday, March 30, 2009

Buckminster Fuller and modernism

"The Comprehensivist: Buckminster Fuller and Contemporary Artists" by Elizabeth Smith discusses in detail the profound influence that Fuller has had on artists today. While I enjoyed learning about Fuller and the selected artists, I found myself stuck in first gear trying to recall the traits of modernism. (After revisiting my meticulous and insightful History of Photo notes, I had a better grasp.) The way I understood the article, it feels as if modernism and utopianism are set up to be opposed to each other, or at least that is how I read Fracesco Manacorda's thoughts on Fuller. Smith writes, "For Mancorda, Fuller stands among the "heretical" figures of modernism, whose fantastic visions such as the Cloud Nine project reveal a hallucinatory blurring of reality and fiction, as distinct from the ideal harnessing or marshaling Earth's systems toward a common good." (p. 69).

Is Fuller's utopianism a "failure of modernism"? (p. 69). Not all artists think so, as evidenced by Pedro Reyes who says that he uses modernism as a toolbox, but uses Fuller's comprehensivist approach in that Reyes weaves "the social, scientific, mathematical, philosophical, and aesthetic." However, I'm not sure why Fuller would not be considered modernist. His geodesic domes seem to be about design that emphasizes strength, durability, and built with minimal materials. Is this so different than Mies van der Rohe? Or would van der Rohe be considered a utopianist?


modernist and/or utopian?

On the left is Fuller's geodesic dome in Montreal and on the right is Mies van der Rohe's IBM building in Chicago. I think both have a preoccupation with design, materials, and efficiency. However, according to a brief bio of Fuller on the MoMA website Fuller was "highly critical of modern European architects [such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe], who he felt were preoccupied with cosmetic concerns that merely symbolized or aestheticized functional elements without a clear and honest display of function and efficiency." I'm not quite sure what Fuller is critiquing, but I suppose he thought his designs were superior.

I enjoyed reading about Josiah McElheny, whose work I've enjoyed before, but didn't realize his direct engagement with Fuller's ideas of "Total Reflective Abstratction" – "a world of form without shadow, completely reflective form in a totally reflective environment." (p. 67)

Josiah McElheny, Model for Total Reflective Abstraction
after Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi, 2003

But again, I am behind the curve as far as the reasons behind "An End to Modernity." According to a statement on the White Cube web site, "An End to Modernity" (2005), which was worked out with the cosmologist David Weinberg, is at once a play on the designs of the chandeliers in New York’s Metropolitan Opera house and an expressive diagram of the big bang. “The whole project”, writes McElheny, “exists at the intersection of specific concepts and abstract ones”. Is modernity/Fuller supposed to be represented by the perfect reflective sphere in the middle?

While I'm (still) hampered by my neophyte understanding of modernity, I still managed to enjoy the article and am fascinated with the working processes of Fuller and the legion of artists that he continues to inspire.

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