The act of erecting a wall in front of another wall is a clear insult. It leaves no doubt that something about the original wall is deficient. It can’t provide what is needed. It fails as a support or backdrop. Its shortcomings justify the ultimate punishment for any wall: it is hidden.
The Heinz Architectural Center’s walls are an architectural pastiche, which is grandfathered in by Andrew Carnegie’s legacy of transplanting age-old European traditions onto the soot-covered hills and dales of Pittsburgh in an act of moneyed penance for his contribution to the city’s devastating air pollution and brutal working conditions in the steel mills. The Center’s main corridor mimics English architect and collector John Soane’s house in London where a triple height glass ceiling filters daylight into dim and crammed galleries covered floor to ceiling with antiques. Toned down primary colors—red, yellow and blue—dominate the vaulted baldachins in the galleries. There are heavy and dark wood panels, and coarse brown sackcloth wall coverings. If these walls could talk, they would scream. Postmodernism didn’t have an indoor voice.
Zoe Zenghelis and OMA never had a problem with preexisting walls. In fact, one of their early built projects, and one of OMA’s most iconic images in the show, accepts the Berlin wall as a permanent and defining feature of the divided city to guide ideas for the House at Checkpoint Charlie. And yet, Zenghelis’ first solo show in the US, “Fields, Fragments, Fictions,” is an exercise in the futility of temporary walls. White and shyly traversed only by a meager, slanted band of color, these walls expose what they try to hide in vain.
Zenghelis’ work—the famous early paintings for OMA, her students’ experiments in the color workshop at the Architectural Association in London, the lesser-known Greek landscapes, and the abstract geometrical staccatos of shapes that only exist in her mind—doesn’t need this kind of architectural hide-and-go-seek. It would have been very much at home in the 80’s interior as it runs the gamut of colors from dainty pastels to shadows of an almost pitch black.
Zoe Zenghelis: Fields, Fragments, Fictions
The Heinz Architectural Center
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
03/26 – 07/24/2022