Mark Wigley, Dean of Columbia University's GSAPP, maintains that research is the soul of any collection. He also refers to architecture as an "almost infectious desire" — one closely related to private collecting in the 20th century — that tries to imagine the world in new and radical ways. This was the premise for the Collecting Architecture Territories exhibition, organized by the Deste Foundation in Athens, internationally renowned for its bold contemporary art projects ranging from Monument To Now to Fractured Figure. The exhibition maps the world's largest private collections and their locations, providing a dense and innovative study of contemporary architecture.
The project grew out of collaboration between students from the Department of Architecture at the University of Thessaly and from the prestigious Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). Collecting the Social — From Collecting to Collectivity, an accurate, profound and original field research project, was the exhibit's starting point.
Like many of the Greek institution's projects, this new adventure was triggered by Deste's challenge to academia to find a synthesis between art, architecture and urban planning, production in small and private spaces and urban realities. The Greek SYLLEGO means to collect but also to speak with and dialogue. This idea of extensive relationships, continuous exchange and dialogue is necessary; and it is also one of democracy's founding principles. But collecting is also a vortex, which begins and ends with the collector's life. The great arts patron, Dakis Joannou, founded the Deste Foundation, creating one of the most important contemporary art collections in the world. What will happen after his death? "My collection will no longer exist because the collector is the epicenter of everything." Today collecting has become one of the most important engines for creativity and innovation, but it is also a means for organizing parts of cities and regions. The world is indeed an infinite collection. Collecting Architecture Territories invites us to consider collecting in the broadest sense of the term which means exploring the nature and dynamics of the intersections of art, architecture, design and communications, dialogue, exchange and collection.
Students analyzed some specific situations, especially in Greece. They studied spatial, organizational and social parameters and, through the information they collected, identified the spirit of a collection of architecture. Collecting means owning and maintaining but also documenting and communicating. In this sense, the practice can be extended to architecture if we imagine individual buildings as parts of a single large machine. Greece is the topic of investigation of a course taught by Professors Tzirtzilakis and Papadopoulos, and one of the course workshops became the basis for the exhibition. They found that the planning of contemporary Greek cities did not start on the drawing boards but was the result of slow accumulation, layering, juxtaposition, fragmentation and unplanned development as if everything were built by adding to an existing fabric. So nothing can be eradicated or disappear because, in so many case, traces endure. Perhaps like collections that survive their creators?
The Deste Foundation exhibition brings together the regions, experiences and architectures of the world's most renowned collections. The clear and effective graphics compare the sizes of museum buildings to their collections, exploring more than 50 contexts — from Inhotim in Brazil and Punta della Dogana in Venice, to Caixa Forum in Madrid and the Benesse Art Site in Japan.
Nadja Argyropoulou, curator of the DESTE Foundation, Yorgos Tzirtzilakis, Professor at the University of Thessaly, Craig Buckley, Director of Publications at GSAPP and Mark Wasiuta, Director of GSAPP Exhibitions talk about their vision.
Maria Cristina Didero: What is the aim of collecting?
Nadja Argyropoulou: Collecting is about researching; the research is the soul of any collections and includes the idea of the development which is often the outcome of different energies put together. Researching is about exchange ideas and thoughts and includes a vast and extended dialogue between people. But of course it has it own epicentre which is the collector and it is him the one who shape it. The research is the link with this project about mapping the ground, collecting architecture.
The course titled "Contemporary Practices in Art and Architecture: The Exquisite Corpse" of the postgraduate program of the Department of Architectural Engineers at the University of Thessaly that you have initiated, examines the question of how architecture appropriates, interprets and interrogates collecting devices, structures and materials. What does it mean collecting nowadays?
Yorgos Tzirtzilakis: We could say that this form of collecting acquires a biopolitical character. As labor is no longer confined to the factory and is being dispersed within the city, so collecting is not confined into Archives, Museums, Institutions or Private Collections and involves communication and aesthetic practices, sentiments, emotional tones and forms of subjectivity. Collecting becomes part of the production of subjectivity and of the reproduction of life itself in contemporary cities.
How this project was born?
Craig Buckley: The project emerged out of an invitation from the Deste Foundation to propose a project for collaboration with the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. In the beginning there was no idea of an exhibition at all. What was important was to develop a project that could be a pedagogical platform within the school and that could involve both students who are working on design and students who are working in a less traditional ways as architects, producing contemporary research, organizing exhibitions, writing history, etc. The initial discussions had to do with the DESTE collection, but quickly opened up to see if we could examine the relationship of architecture and the rise of large private collections in the last four decades. We wanted to examine the explosion of museums created by private collectors of contemporary art in terms of their architecture and their global dispersion. These new collections have shifted the balance of power in the cultural field and to a certain extent challenge public museums, a phenomenon which has gained much interest in recent years. The project asks a wide range of agents (collectors, curators, academics, students, artists) to try to look at this phenomenon through the lens of architecture to see what it might reveal about the future of the museum, a typology that has been experiencing an accelerated mutation through the 20th century.
The city of Athens and its environs provide a space for reflecting on global architectural collecting practices; what are the results of your investigation with DESTE?
Mark Wasiuta: Working with DESTE it was important to the project that we analyze the context of the international private museum, but also the contexts of Athens, Greece, the EU and the various forms of collection that emerged within these contexts. For the studio this meant that each student had the burden of identifying, describing, then manipulating a particular mode of collection. The notion of the cultural asset helps define the content of private museums and their collecting practices. It also appeared often within the public discussion of the architecture of Greece, placing the conversation of both historical sites and new construction into a specific, contemporary, and sometimes anguished frame of evaluation. Several of the design students tracked the architectural economy of the cultural asset as a device for reading sites as recent as the abandoned stadia from the last Olympic games, to UNESCO heritage sites, including Delphi and the Acropolis in Athens. Other projects attempted to find the architectural implications of contested sovereign boundaries, such as the maritime border between Greece and Turkey, or the administration of the EU border in Greece by Frontex, the European Union's frontier protection agency. At the core of these projects was the hypothesis that if collecting is being altered within and by the private museum, the very definition of collecting for architecture and cities is also under pressure from forces of assemblage and aggregation that deserve similar scrutiny. This is to say that the altered autonomy of the museum, or the current formation of its non-autonomy, might be linked to not only new financial, political eruptions, but also to an epistemological shift in collecting itself.