Personality is what architecture all boils down to. At least, if you follow former editor of Architectural Design, Monica Pidgeon. Pidgeon Audio Visual, the name of her mail order slide-and-audio-tape business, is also the title of a gem of a show at the Graham Foundation in Chicago. Letters whose signatories read like a who-is-who of star architects, writers, historians and critics since the late 70s tell the story of a clever business idea: to bring the personal mannerisms and quirks of architect’s talks to far away schools at a time of limited air travel. Instead, a set of 24 slides and an audio cassette with 30 minutes of the author’s voice-over would make the trip. Whether you wanted to bring an outstanding luminary to your school or just needed a rainy-day substitute—it was architecture on demand long before Instagram, Masterclass, Pecha Kucha and Zoom. It was a genius feat.
Selected lectures are shown. With a nostalgic twinkle the installation takes you right back to the days of whirring projectors and faded color slides. Pidgeon’s (subtly updated) technological apparatus is as much on view as the stories. Hidden underneath the pleasing minimalism and the simple packaging of the talks is a studious editing process.
It’s no wonder that the business side is included in the show, a current fad in research that focuses on networks, processes, systems, structures. The Otl Aicher-esque exhibition design fits and is in stark contrast to Barbara Stauffacher Solomon’s bold-stroke supergraphics that inch across and up the walls from her own show on the ground floor of the buttoned-up Prairie-style Madlener House.
This show is a serious time commitment. To me, if the word “research” has become almost meaningless—think QAnon followers doing “research” or the almost meaningless phrase “scientists agree”—this is a counterpoint. What you can see with your own eyes is the budding star system in architecture as much as an amazing, still growing collection of architects’ voices over the decades. And the kingpin, it seems, was Monica Pidgeon.
Pidgeon Audio Visual: Architects Speak for Themselves
The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Chicago, IL
curated by Florencia Alvarez Pacheco
design by Gastón Pérsico and Cecilia Szalkowicz