With its grey and yellow ramps, slopes and semi-transparent walls, Tate Liverpool's Wolfson Gallery is currently a far cry from its conventional cubic self. There's barely a right angle in sight, which, says French architect Claude Parent, is entirely the point. Parent, who has transformed the space, has spent 60 years doing away with conventional rooms in favour of sloping, slanting, and ideally wall-free, ones. He has applied this radical approach, which he calls his 'function oblique', to many buildings, including his own home studio in Paris (see W*98).
The gallery installation, entitled 'La colline de l'art' (Art Hill), is part of this year's Liverpool Biennial, which runs until the end of October and features more than 200 artists. Curator Mai Abu ElDahab wanted to turn the idea of a gallery on its head, and Parent was an obvious choice. 'I've admired his work for many years. Architecture is his tool, but in spirit, he's an artist,' she says. She visited him in his aforementioned apartment, drawings of which are included in separate show on the Tate's second floor.
Parent was also invited to select 16 works from the Tate's collection to fill the space. All resonate with his famously anti-establishment views and his unique architectural style. Francis Picabia's 'Fig Leaf', painted in 1921 as a comment on French censorship is there, along with a 1978 film by Babette Mangolte of choreographer Trisha Brown dancing. Her free flowing, fluid movements mirror Parent's architectural lines.
'I was impressed because the curators at the Tate alluded to constructions which are essentially oblique, and which have been the focus of my architecture for a long time,' says Parent. 'Using inclines seemed right. I then devised screens and sloping walkways to create an original layout for the hanging of the works. Their aim is to animate the space and make it more mobile for visitors.'
This year has seen the 91-year-old making something of a comeback. In addition to the Tate Liverpool installation, a Parent 'ramp room' features in the central pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Last time he was there was in 1970, when, at the height of his career, he designed the French pavilion. It featured sloping walls on which visitors could lounge and recline, and Parent hopes his Tate room will be just as immersive. 'It's an experience for the staff and for the spectators. I wish them luck.'