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