Tropolism Exhibitions: Alvaro Siza At SMMOA


Alvaro Siza, “Drawings, Models, and Photographs”

Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, California

May 13th-August 19th, 2006

The big problem with Los Angeles for most of us “culture vultures” is the distance: We can’t seem to bridge it. Many of the critics I know are ensconced in their own individual locales and are unable to figure out exactly what’s going on at any one point in time in the City. Despite my reputation for being an “East-side snob” I do venture to the Westside when events warrant and was thus drawn to Bergamot Station (Imagine a two star version of Chelsea with a parking lot) last weekend to catch the visual delights of Alvaro Siza at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

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The exhibition is quite small, though it occupies most of the museum, and thus serves as a very apt exploratory synthesis of Alvaro Siza’s work over the past twenty years. This particular body of work is both visceral in nature as well as conceptually complex in its ability to manipulate form, space, and iconographical meaning- the latter being of particular interest to this critic.

The work is a calculated selection of recent projects and is organized both by typology and formal complexity- First beginning with the Water Tower at Aveiro, Portugal (1989), and concluding with the intricate, yet simple Serpentine Galley in London (2005). The other works, which include the Santa Maria Church in Marco de Caanaveses, Portugal (1996, pictured above), are equally commendable in their formal complexity and dedication to both site and the human element. The exhibition stands as an example of what architecture can strive for: a harmony between theory and exhaustive formal exploration.

As the chief curator of the show, Siza manages to strike an apt compromise between the process-oriented form-making content of his studio, and the socio-cultural requirements that were the requisite from the clients, thus arriving at an architecture that is as clever as it is formally provocative. The architects travel sketches presented in the exhibition only seek to shore up this relationship, and juxtapose themselves between nicely between the clinically precise drawings and models. There is humanity at work here, as well as the rigors of science.

The exhibition is a worthwhile stop for those on their way to the beaches of Santa Monica. Bergamot Station, while innovatively sterile, remains a cultural oasis amidst a flotsam of commercial debris- i.e. Ed Ruscha meets the Big Lebowski. Both the “in” and the “out-of-town” visitor will no doubt find a bit of spiritual solace in this exhibition, and realize that architecture is more than just formal expression. Hopefully, they will witness the beauty in the built form that manages seduction, without affect.

Contributed by Los Angeles correspondant John Southern.


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