Richard Meier Collages
Collages arise out of what life throws in our paths: Kurt Schwitters scavenged for materials on city streets; the Cubists found theirs on the table tops of favourite cafes. The very idea is a technique based on found materials challenged the sterility and artificiality of the neat arrays in art supply stores, favouring a more direct link between what we live with and what goes into our art. Richard Meier gathers his scraps of paper while travelling (som compositions are even executed in notebooks during intercontinental flights), out of the daily mail, from newspapers and magazines.
Paradoxically, however, while Meier works on the compositions during the spare moments permitted on business trips or late at night, after the office duties are over, this escape from the rigours of the design process ends by returning to that process. In his youth Meier divided his time between painting and architecture, unwilling to sacrifice one for the other. A student of postwar Abstract Expressionism, Meier at that time produced highly gestural canvasses. Traces remain in the collages: angry scrawls of red or black litho crayon obliterate printed texts, adding a fevered energy to the compositions. True to his new York School origins, Meier also deletes any explicit thematic strands from the collages, favouring instead juxtapositions of pure colour. The architect?s strong colour sense (conspicuously absent in his pristine white buildings) for gradations of pastels of the highcontrast Constructivist palette of red, black, grey and white derives from a painter?s sensibility. But years of a now ingrained architectural method inflect these sketches in paper. A recurrent configuration the floating diagonal rectangle almost filling the frame recalls Meier?s many plans based on ?grid shifts? in relation to the edges of the site. The freeform curves of tom paper contrasting rectilinear elements suggest the Corbusian bulges of certain Meier buildings; when layered in loose parallels they also suggest the contour lines of site plans. Sudden, partial appearances of lettering or photographic images resemble the ?incidents?, or nonnarrative ?episodes? punctuating passage through Meier?s interiors. Overlays of parallel grids or orthogonal elements echo his characteristic sectional layering and elaborate fenestration patterns. Architectural too and particularly associated with certain designers of Meier?s generation is the standardisation of format (most works are teninch squares with solidcolour backgrounds reminiscent of origami paper), the setting up of fixed parameters within which to experiment.
An architect?s sensibility, then, shapes these works, but so does the architect?s life. No single collage documents a particular trip, episode, or period of Meier?s life; they in no way constitute a visual diary, and autobiographical elements are discreetly suppressed. Rather, Meier constantly collects materials, stores them, and later combines them without giving thought to their origins. Favourite scraps are used over and over seen throughout the works presented in this exhibition, for example, are the fragments of Cyrillic typography collected on a lecture tour to the Soviet Union. What one gleans, looking at the works as a whole, is a picture of the contemporary architect?s life: the ubiquitous ticket stubs and fragments of foreign languages tracking to a routing of international travel; the numerous exhibition announcements and stylish graphics testifying to hours spent perusing art and architecture books or strolling through museums and galleries. Far from Schwitter?s mundane materials, Meier?s stock is highly filtered, reflecting a cultured, European sensibility and willfully blinded to the less aesthetically appealing elements of modern visual culture (absent, for instance, are appliancestore advertisements, supermarket coupons and the like). Yet these compositions have a intensity, an urban energy lacking in the calm, literate collages of Meier?s contemporary, artist Robert Motherwell. Indeed, though vastly different in scale, Meier?s rich overlays of torn paper more closely resemble those of French nouveau realiste artists like Jacques de la Villegle?, who since the 50s has been making collages out of posters torn off the walls of Paris streets.
Meier?s techniqes and materials draw on the collage tradition; as such they are neither statlingnor radical. But such criteria do not seem appropriate in evaluating much late 20thcentury art. Meier?s architectural projects, which continue the explorations of earlier Modernists like Le Corbusier, argue that the artstic innovations initiated at the beginning of this century continue to provide fertile ground for today?s creators. As in his architecture, Meier in the collages patiently and relentlessly expands the possibilities of an inherited formal and material technique. His genius lies in the freshness with which he tackles each new exploration and the astonishing variety of the results.
From a foreword by
Lois E. Nesbitt