"Architecture is the
world between walls." — jef7rey
of the Rectangle|Presence of Mind
I went to MoMA over the weekend to see the Gerhard Richter
show. I liked 11 paintings—11 paintings that are stunning and relevant
to my work. He's stronger in monochrome. Color is apparently more of a problem
for him. But when he's on, the results are beautiful, as in Demo (1997),
a small painting from the Rachofsky collection, which is also, when viewed
abstractly, one of the more architectonic of his works, and splendidly
Perhaps not surprisingly, of the many painting-images featured
in the free exhibition brochure, not one is of these 11—an encouraging sign,
as I see it, that what I work on remains on the edge of things. Fortunately,
all 11 are in the exhibition catalogue.
There is one thing that all of his paintings have in common.
It's something that most paintings have in common. They are rectangles.
Or, to be more precise, inasmuch as some of Richter's paintings are squares
(Demo is 24 7/16" x 24 7/16"), they are right-angle quadrilaterals.
Just like Central Park.
Which a stunning black and white aerial photograph in the
adjacent gallery—a show of photographs by everyday New Yorkers—reminded me.
Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead
(1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824-1895), has been much on my mind of late.
For two reasons. First, because I find myself flying frequently between NYC
and Dallas/Fort Worth these days, and so I have many opportunities to view
Central Park from the air. I'm eager to see it every time. The sight is breathtaking.
Here's one of the shots I took recently. It's a (not so hot) still from a
digital video camera.
The second reason is that I've just completed updating
my recent article EMPTY/FULL. Empty and full
are the terms the architect-painter Le Corbusier (1887-1965) used to describe
the void-solid relationships that comprise physical phenomena, including buildings,
landscapes, and cities. And I've been thinking for some time now that few
examples illustrate this idea more clearly, more paradigmatically, than Central
The aerial photograph of Central Park at MoMA was so beautiful
(significantly more so than mine), the lingering image of its pristine
figure so intellectually and visually magnetic, that next door at the
mezzanine cafe in the new American Folk Art Museum (a fantastic building by
Williams and Tsien, I might add) I wrote down what I felt. Ultimately, Central
Park and Richter's paintings, corroborating the archetypal power of
the rectangular figure, or rectangular field, in the visual
structures of our collective lives, encourages me to continue my research.
Succinctly expressed, it involves the following two components, which were
central to the philosophies of Le Corbusier and the early twentieth-century
Italian rationalist architect Terragni (1904-1943): 1) thetheme
of the rectangle, which functions as the primary field of activity for
the study of abstract form; and 2) narrative, associational meaning.
And this double-concern with abstraction on the one hand, for which
painting is a primary arena of my research, and myth and symbol
on the other—this double-concern with Story and Form—provides the optical-emotional
framework of my art (see, for example, Dante|Telescope
Here then is my brief take on Central Park, Olmstead's
rectangular "world between walls,"
words architect-painter JEF7REY HILDNER uses to describe one facet of the
prism of architecture. Like a painting
on the floor of Manhattan, Central Park presents a canvas for the mind.
The rectangular void of Central Park, amidst the vast amorphous figural
sea of Manhattan and surrounding water and land masses, the form-accidents
of natural geologic forces, is the sign of civilization. The emblem
of culture. Like the 1:4:9 rectangular solid, the mysterious Monolith,
of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the pristine rectangular void of Central
Park signifies the unmistakable presence of human, if not also higher,
intelligence. It marks the presence of natural forces of the human heart
Were it not for this idealized
form, this paradigm of negative space, carved out of the circumstantial
exigencies of the city-labyrinth—were it not for this, and for the subtle
presence of the grid that supports it—it would be hard to know that the
land had been settled. Erase this empty icon from the aerial photograph
in your mind's eye, and what do you see?
Nothing. More of the same. A world
full of undifferentiated formless form. A world, paradoxically, void.
Because Central Park is unique.
Through the imprint of the rectangle
on the earth's unregulated surface, home is established. A dwelling, a
place of rest and reason—a room—is formed. A room of a scale significant
enough to invite celestial participation. And with it comes paradise:
order out of chaos, clarity, and power, giving conceptual and symbolic
structure to our lives. Central Park is the symbol of paradise—a word
that descends from the Persian word for "walled garden." It is the
walled garden. An observatory of the mind.
In the dense relentless inconspicuous
maze of the Metropolis, it is the oh-so conspicuous sign of wonder and
amazement. The heart of the labyrinth. Light.