M A D I S O N _G R A Y | deep_SIGHT

"Architecture is the world between walls." jef7rey HILDNER

CENTRAL PARK Presence 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 so.
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 Park.
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) the theme 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 House).
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 and mind.
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.
e-mail MadisonGray@thearchitectpainter.com

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