Politics according to the MoMA

9 + 1 Ways of Being Political, Pedro Gadanho's first show for the Museum of Modern Art, is the latest addition to the museum's string of socially engaged architecture exhibitions, opening up a wide field of action that allows for architecture to be "political" in a variety of ways.

The latest addition to MoMA's string of socially engaged architecture exhibitions, 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design , comes as a welcome supplement to the wave of activist exhibitions of the past years. The exhibition puts recent calls for architecture to be political into question, and investigates the history, rhetoric, and methodology of "political architecture." It gives a well-organized historical overview of the different spheres of political action that have been occupied by architecture, starting with Cedric Price's Fun Palace for Joan Littlewood from 1959-61 and arriving at a recent acquisition with two scheduled performances of Andrés Jaque Architects' IKEA Disobedients .

9 + 1 Ways of Being Political is Portuguese architect Pedro Gadanho's first show as Contemporary Architecture and Museum Design curator for MoMA, and has been organized together with Curatorial Assistant Margot Weller. The show replaces Barry Berdoll and Reinhold Martin's extensively researched and commissioned exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream , and, I am sure, with a much smaller budget. While Gadanho is somewhat less brave than Bergdoll in the format and ambitions of his curatorship, he marks himself as an agile character eager to stay in synch with contemporary events.

The exhibition brings the third floor of MoMA back to the function of representing, historicizing and classifying social change instead of facilitating it. Perhaps even more importantly, the galleries have returned to exclusively displaying MoMA's permanent collection, which conveys a politics of its very own. While most of the works date from the 1960s to 1980s, the vast majority of them have been acquired after 2000.
Top: Jason Crum, <em>Project for a painted wall</em>, Hartford, Connecticut, 1969. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Above: Didier Faustino, <em>Stairway to Heaven</em>, 2002. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Top: Jason Crum, Project for a painted wall , Hartford, Connecticut, 1969. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Above: Didier Faustino, Stairway to Heaven , 2002. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Introducing the show is a series of OccuPrint tabloids that visually merge together with the exhibition posters. This initial gesture and affiliation with radical politics sparked my curiosity, but was only followed through on a graphic level. The exhibition aligns itself with the graphic language of Occupy Wall Street, and even provides poster-sized handouts for each of the sections.
Jason Crum, <em>Project for a painted wall</em>, Hartford, Connecticut, 1969. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Jason Crum, Project for a painted wall , Hartford, Connecticut, 1969. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The gallery is divided into 10 sections, including Radical Stances: 1961-1973, Fiction & Dystopia: 1963-1978, Deconstruction: 1975-1999, Consuming Brandscapes: 1969-2004, Performing Public Space: 1978-2011, Iconoclasm & Institutional Critique: 1964-2003, Enacting Transparency: 1967-2011, Occupying Social Borders: 1974-2011 , and Interrogating Shelter: 1971-2003 . In this categorization system, formally and intellectually based experiments — Peter Eisenman's houses, Jean Nouvel's Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, SOM's National Commercial Bank in Jeddah — are leveled with more socially engaged practices — Mazzanti Arquitectos' library in Medellin, Michael Rakowitz's paraSITE Homeless Shelter, Estudio Teddy Cruz's work on immigration. The politics of form, if there is such a thing, have been given a prominent role. The lesson seems to be that a political claim for architecture can equally be a claim for its autonomy and independence from the politics of the everyday world.

In the final and most successful section of the exhibition, The Politics of the Domestic: 2011-2012 , the personal is turned political with MoMA's recent acquisition IKEA Disobedients by Madrid based Andrés Jaque Architects. While projects explicitly dealing with issues of gender and sexuality is conspicuously absent from the other 9 more historically based sections, Andrés Jaque Architects' short 2011 video and scheduled performances provide a hard-hitting renunciation of the whitewashed and youth-obsessed heteronormativity of the world's most published text: the IKEA catalogue. With plans to publish 208 million copies this year, the IKEA catalogue will exceed the bible by double. It provides stark evidence, not only of our obsession with domestic culture, but also of the immense cultural impact of IKEA's domestic ideology.
Obviously, architecture and politics have a much richer history than the one presented to us in this exhibition. There are many battles fought over the right to be represented, and to experiment with alternative forms of dwelling and social organization, that have not been given a proper voice
Hans Hollein, <em>Highrise Building, Sparkplug,</em> project, 1964. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Hans Hollein, Highrise Building, Sparkplug, project, 1964. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The exhibition poses a series of challenging and important questions that continues to remain relevant as the profession progresses towards new global, economical and environmental challenges: What does it mean for architecture to be political? How can architecture be political through form? Where is the space of politics? These questions are answered generously by including a fine variety of media and works ranging from architectural models, photography, fine art, informational videos, performance recordings, drawings and graphic design. In this sense 9+1 is opening up a wide field of action that allows for architecture to be "political" in a variety of ways. The possibility for architectural polemics, however, is still confined to formal objects, and textually based works, such as manifestoes, pamphlets or magazines, are not included. This seems like a missed opportunity, as the political aspirations of the architectural neo-avant-garde also included the expansion to print and mass media.
Hans Hollein, <em>Aircraft Carrier City in Landscape</em>, project, 1964. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Hans Hollein, Aircraft Carrier City in Landscape , project, 1964. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Obviously, architecture and politics have a much richer history than the one presented to us in this exhibition. There are many battles fought over the right to be represented, and to experiment with alternative forms of dwelling and social organization, that have not been given a proper voice. Whether this is a result of Gadanho's curatorial choice or the restraints posed by MoMA's collection are two sides of the same coin. Rather than make me marvel at the great history of political architecture, the heavy presence of the powerhouse of architecture and monumental and canonized works weighs the show down and makes it feel somewhat tame. 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political is a timely, important and well-presented show, which definitely has its moments. Still, I was happy I got the opportunity to go visit the museum's spectacular fall-headliner Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000 to see the two works included in 9+1 on display there; Norwegian architects Helen & Hard's Geopark (2009) and Andreas Gursky's Toys "R" Us (1999). In contrast to 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political, Century of the Child seemed to offer the type of imaginative and subversive play needed for a truly inventive politics. Victoria Øye (@VictoriaOeye )

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