Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’ reaches its climax in Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion

The Barcelona Pavilion is the setting for the seventh and final instalment of Xavier Veilhan's 'Architectones' series
The Barcelona Pavilion is the setting for the seventh and final instalment of Xavier Veilhan's 'Architectones' series, which has seen the artist stage site-specific installations in modernist landmarks across the world.
(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

French artist Xavier Veilhan's series of 'Architectones' installations reaches its conclusion at one of the most revered locations in modern architectural history: the recreated Barcelona Pavilion in Montjuïc (opens in new tab).

The site-specific exhibition follows instalments at two icons of French concrete culture, Le Corbusier's Unité d' Habitation and the L'église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio, as well as Konstantin Melnikov's seminal but neglected Melnikov House in Moscow (opens in new tab). Previous installations took place in the elegant surroundings of the very best of American Modernism, from John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein House in Los Angeles to the VDL House by Richard Neutra and the seminal lines of Pierre Koenig's Case Study House No 21.

Mies van der Rohe's iconic Barcelona Pavilion was designed in 1929, demolished in 1930 and slavishly reconstructed in the early 80s. It is one of the totemic forms of modern architecture and is a markedly different exhibition space for the artist. For a start, the Pavilion is already an empty vessel, designed to be experienced as a sequence of spaces and not a domestic realm. Curated by architect Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (opens in new tab), the show is the culmination of Veilhan's desire to showcase his work in a 'personal pantheon' of his own choosing, setting up a deliberate dialogue between his own work and the space that surrounds it.

The Barcelona show is something of an intervention, with a diagonal walkway slashing across the famously rectangular floor plan to set up a dialogue with the solitary existing sculpture in the Pavilion, Georg Kolbe's 'Alba (Dawn)', which stands on a small plinth in the smaller of the building's two reflecting pools. Veilhan has reinterpreted Kolbe's figure in four figures of descending scale, using different materials in a homage to Mies' simple, rich palette of glass, steel and marble. The pools have been partly built over, offering visitors new perspectives on spaces made iconic through photography, reproduction and imitation.

'My curatorial role was focused on researching together with Xavier Veilhan about the history of the pavilion, the characters and conditions that defined its design and how we could connect with that through our project,' Gonzalo Herrero Delicado explains. 'It was also important for the Barcelona installation to create a conversation with the rest of the exhibitions.' The architect oversaw all aspects of the project, from liaising with the MvdR Foundation to secure permissions to finding the local architects, MAIO (opens in new tab), to build the final design.

From the smallest maquette, placed on a runway in the famous pool, Veilhan's new nudes rise in size and change material as they move towards Kolbe's original. The Pavilion's geometry and symmetry are skewed, and the large panes of glass set up new reflections between old and new. In this way, the artist is deliberately upending the building's talismanic power by disrupting the qualities that made it famous.

The Barcelona Pavilion has a long history of being used as a canvas for installations and artworks, making it a fitting place for the final Architectone. As Veilhan himself says, this is a work about new perspectives on the figure in space, how we interpret the human nude and how we experience this 'ultimate milestone of modernity'.

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

The show is something of an intervention, with a diagonal walkway slashing across the famously rectangular floor plan to set up a dialogue with the solitary existing sculpture in the Pavilion, Georg Kolbe's 'Alba (Dawn)' (left), which stands on a small plinth in the smaller of the building's two reflecting pools.

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Veilhan has reinterpreted Kolbe's figure in four figures of descending scale...

Veilhan has reinterpreted Kolbe's figure in four figures of descending scale...

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

...using different materials in a homage to Mies van der Rohe's simple, rich palette of glass, steel and marble.

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

The pools have been partly built over, offering visitors new perspectives on spaces made iconic through photography, reproduction and imitation.

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

From the smallest maquette, placed on a runway in the famous pool, Veilhan's new nudes reduce in size and change material as they move away from Kolbe's original.

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

As Veilhan himself says, this is a work about new perspectives on the figure in space, how we interpret the human nude and how we experience this 'ultimate milestone of modernity'

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

The Pavilion's geometry and symmetry are skewed, and the large panes of glass set up reflections between old and new.

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

The site-specific Barcelona exhibition follows an Architectone installation by Veilhan earlier this year at Konstantin Melnikov's seminal but neglected Melnikov House in Moscow. The artist set fire to a replica of the Russian landmark - known for its distinct hexagonal windows - in the grounds of the building.

(Image credit: @ardenta, @theconstructivistproject)

Veilhan staged two icons of French concrete culture the L'église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio

Veilhan also staged a takeover of two icons of French concrete culture in 2013: the L'église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio (pictured), where the artist created an intervention on the façade of the building with his 'Rays' work...

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

... and Le Corbusier's Unité d' Habitation in Marseilles. Here, a blue resin polyster bust of the celebrated French architect emerged from the rooftop under another incarnation of 'Rays'.

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

'Le Monument / The Monument', 2013, was Veilhan's wooden extension to the concrete Unité d' Habitation rooftop, framed by Mediterranean shrubs.

'Le Monument / The Monument', 2013, was Veilhan's wooden extension to the concrete Unité d' Habitation rooftop, framed by Mediterranean shrubs.

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Xavier Veilhan’s multi-venue ’Architectones’

A miniature diorama of Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Buckminster Fuller sat at its base. Veilhan explained: 'It shows the eponymous representatives of modernity passing each other aboard the crafts they designed: Buckminster Fuller rows on an American lake in his catamaran, while Le Corbusier and Jeanneret occupy a pedal boat created by the latter in Chandigarh'

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Veilhan created an intervention in American architect John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein House in Los Angeles

For the third instalment of his multi-venue series, Veilhan created an intervention in American architect John Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein House in Los Angeles

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Bright green aluminium sculpture of the tall and commanding Lautner

In the master bedroom, the artist placed a prismatic bright green aluminium sculpture of the tall and commanding Lautner looking out over a precipice, recreating a historical photograph taken of the architect and his creation

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Smaller pieces were peppered throughout the house. 'Pyramids,' based on Alexander Graham Bell's experiment

Smaller pieces were peppered throughout the house. 'Pyramids,' based on Alexander Graham Bell's experimental kite structures, echoed the building's strong triangular theme

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Veilhan connected the house's geometric roofline to the pool below

Veilhan connected the house's geometric roofline to the pool below by stretching cords to create another of his signature 'Rays' structures

(Image credit: Photography: Florian Kleinefenn)

Veilhan filled Pierre Koenig's Case Study House No 21 with white smoke, and transformed its reflecting pools with black ink.

The series' second outing was a decidely ephemeral affair. Veilhan filled Pierre Koenig's Case Study House No 21 - also in Los Angeles - with white smoke, and transformed its reflecting pools with black ink. The project gradually developed into a performance, after Veilhan invited guests to enter the home and become its 'ghost-like occupants'.

(Image credit: Photography: Joshua White)

The artist selected Richard Neutra's 190 sq m VDL House for his nvestigation of art within the context of modernist architecture.

The artist selected Richard Neutra's 190 sq m VDL House in Los Angeles as the first stop for his worldwide investigation of art within the context of modernist architecture.

(Image credit: Photography: Joshua White)

The VDL House

At the VDL House, Veilhan created monochromatic pieces that echoed the home's neutral palette and sleek construction.

(Image credit: Photography: Joshua White)

A model Blue Flame, the rocket-powered vehicle

On the top floor, a model Blue Flame, the rocket-powered vehicle that broke land speed records in 1970, holds a figure sprawled in its womb, a reference to Neutra's penchant for reclining his seat in the car to stare at California's skies.

(Image credit: Photography: Joshua White)

'Richard Neutra (Old man)' acted like a street sign for the show.

Outside the home, 'Richard Neutra (Old man)' acted like a street sign for the show.

(Image credit: Photography: Joshua White)

'Black Banner' and 'Black Flag', 2012.

'Black Banner' and 'Black Flag', 2012.

(Image credit: Photography: Joshua White)

ADDRESS

Mies van der Rohe Pavilion (opens in new tab)
Av Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 7
08038 Barcelona
Spain

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Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.