Contemporary Artists and the Modern House

Conference on Saturday October 4th and Sunday October 5th, 2014
At the MAK Center, Neutra VDL House, and Hollyhock House, Los Angeles


--> More About the Intervention Conference

Inverting Neutra, 2013
Artist: Bryony Roberts
Neutra VDL Studio and Residences
Photo Jaime Kowal
More about
the Intervention Conference

The house museum is an important means to understand an architect's design motivations, their cultural values, and their tectonic and aesthetic ambitions. There are countless examples of modernist houses that have been converted into cultural institutions or museums. These include houses by Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Gerrit Rietveld, and of course R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra. The primary mission for most of these institutions is: to preserve the building, give the public access, and demonstrate the importance of the building and of its architect. Achieving these goals, however, is incredibly challenging since there are scant resources for preservation efforts and many house museums struggle to attract public attention. Even when these institutions do manage to attract visitors, without large endowments, it is necessary to have people visit more than once. In deciding how to keep historic houses active, directors face a choice between preserving the space as a static museum piece or creating a dynamic environment that welcomes the flux of human activity. Since houses are created for individuals or families make their lives in them, turning houses into museums strips them of this content. A house that is no longer used for living, must be occupied by something else, otherwise it will loose its vitality. The house can become a venue for telling stories about its past inhabitants or a vehicle for other types of activities: lectures, classes, exhibits, performances. An examination into how different historic houses are activated offers insight into philosophical approaches to a period of architecture, the conflicts surrounding viewing architecture as artifact, and debates over preservation versus reuse.

One powerful method of activating a historic house is by inviting artists to re-interpret the space. Artists can create works that reinforces or counter formal aspects of the building, or that bring back the life of the building’s creator or previous inhabitants. Recent examples of this can be seen at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Luis Barragan’s own house in Mexico City, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, Rudolph Schindler’s Kings Road House, Richard Neutra’s VDL House, and most recently Greene and Greene’s Gamble House. This conference will create an opportunity for house curators, preservationist, designers, artists, and historians to come together to present and discuss the body of knowledge that has emerged from these experimental projects.
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