Invisible Cities

January 14, 2013 /

North Adams, Massachusetts, USA
On view: April 15, 2012 - February 04, 2013

Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Carlos Garaicoa
Inspired by the mix of Colonial architecture and the decaying, abandoned buildings in his home city of Havana, Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa creates an idealized metropolis in No Way Out. Sitting low to the ground and reminiscent of a model, the sculpture is made from illuminated rice-paper lanterns and conjures the glow of a city at night.

Titled after Italo Calvino's beloved book - which imagines Marco Polo's vivid descriptions of numerous cities of a fading empire to Kublai Khan -  Invisible Cities presents a selection of artists' interpretations of the built environment. The artists translate various cities - or the impressions that they conjure - in charcoal, paint, wallpaper, plaster, soap, and even light and sound, reminding us of the role all the senses play in knowing or remembering place.


Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Diana Al-Hadid

Diana Al-Hadid's new work expands her interest in what she has called "impossible architecture." Made from simple materials such as wood, cardboard, and plaster-reinforced fiberglass, and influenced by Northern Renaissance paintings and sculptures, the work recalls Bernini's elegant marbles with fluid shapes and reclining figures which float above the buildings below like clouds.


Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Kim Faler
North Adams-based artist Kim Faler has dismantled part of the sheetrock that hides the museum's original brick walls. Uncovering previously blocked windows and opening the space to the view of the city outside, Faler emphasizes the building's relationship to North Adams. Ephemeral stud walls made from fragrant white soap remind viewers of the layers of a city - the cycles of building and destruction - and emphasize architecture's associations with memory and the body.


Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Mary Lum
Mary Lum's paintings are translations of a series of collages she made while living in Paris. Using paper found on her many walks the artist creates brilliantly hued, layered portraits of the details of the city. Cutting out sections of each collage, Lum stacks them one on top of the other, creating windows or passages from one page to the next invoking the experience of moving through a bustling metropolis.


Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Miha Strukelj
Miha Strukelj, who represented Slovenia at the 53rdVenice Biennale, has created a two-story site-specific, charcoal wall drawing for the exhibition. Conflating images of many urban landscapes in one work, Strukelj's ghostly, fleeting impressions leave viewers to fill in the rest, exploring both how the image and the city are constructed and perceived.



Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Lee Bul
The exhibition includes several of Lee Bul's suspended sculptures. Made of glass, metal, and wood, these abstract constructions bring to mind the utopian, futuristic visions of many innovative architects, from the crystalline imaginings of Bruno Taut to Buckminster Fuller's unrealized vision of an airborne city.


Photo courtesy MASS MoCA 

Sopheap Pich

Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich's work Compoundis inspired by the rapid development of Phonm-Penh. The work is composed of modular units woven from bamboo and rattan, commonly used local materials. Cambodia's rich culture and violent past are entwined in a memory-laden mirage that is reminiscent of both a dense city skyline and the temples of Angkor Wat. Missile-shaped forms recall American bombs that peppered the country between 1969 and 1973 as well as traditional fish traps.


Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Francesco Simeti
Italian artist Francesco Simeti's new work addresses the onslaught of media images that both construct and constrict Western images of place. His work combines newspaper images of Afghanistan and other horizontal cities in the East with those of abandoned homes in Detroit and Florida into a decorative wallpaper. The structures are situated within a lush natural landscape that is both threatened and threatening.

Photo courtesy New Museum

Liz Glynn
Invisible Cities includes two videos which document Liz Glynn's performative works. For The 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project (2008)the artist and many volunteers built and destroyed a cardboard scale model of Rome as it developed from the time of Romulus and Remus to the sack of the Visigoths in AD 410. 
Watch the Rome Reconstruction video.

Photo courtesy Emeka Ogboh

Emeka Ogboh 
And finally in his continuing series Lagos Soundscapes, Emeka Ogboh acoustically captures the distinctive character of the Nigerian capital. At MASS MoCA Ogboh presented an excerpt from the larger recording. In what the artist calls a "verbal map" of the city, conductors beckon passengers to their buses and inform them of their destinations. Unique to Lagos, these song-like directions mingle with the voice of a young child begging for money.

The featured works range from the representational to the abstract, reminding us that any city is as much an idea or psychological and emotional experience as an assemblage of asphalt, brick, steel, and glass. The artists translate various cities - or the impressions that they conjure -- in charcoal, paint, wallpaper, plaster, soap, and even light and sound, reminding us of the role all the senses play in knowing or remembering place.

Organizing the exhibition around the book gave me this open platform to bring many diverse artists together-which I like, as each artist approaches the city or architecture from a very different perspective and uses their subject for different means.

And still the result is a strong dialogue between the works as well as a dialogue with Calvino. Both remind us that the city is as much a fiction or idea as a physical place that can be defined and understood with a singular certainty.

Susan Cross, Curator



The exhibition is on view through February 4, 2013

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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