Convergence Points: Alexander Brodsky in Berlin

Sergey Tchoban Museum of Architectural Drawing has opened an exhibition of selected graphic works by Alexander Brodsky.

Written by:
Anna Kirikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

19 March 2015

This architect/artist hardly needs any special introduction, even to the European audience. He is one of the world's best-known Russian architects. In 2006, his works represented Russia at the Venice Biennale, and now they are to be found in the collections of the world's most famous museums: German Architecture Museum (Frankfurt-am-Mein), MOMA museum of modern art (New York), and the Russian Shchusev Museum of Architecture. Europe knows Brodsky, first of all, for his "paper architecture": numerous proposals and concepts that he created in collaboration with Ilia Utkin for the Japanese architectural contests. Brodsky's "solo" works include installations on the verge of architecture and modern art, as well as a number of minor-form theater objects - his interior designs, restaurants, and conceptual pavilions are also widely knows in the western architectural community. 

The works selected for the show cover the span of the last thirty years of the author’s creative work and give the visitors an idea about the variety of the techniques that this architect employs. The hall of the first floor of the museum features the more traditionalist works by Brodsky. These are pencil drawings, etchings, and silk printing. The upper hall demonstrates the new works created specially for this show: the "clay" graphics and the Indian ink drawings on tarpaper. 

The exhibition. Photo © Michaela Schöpke, 2015
The exhibition. Photo © Michaela Schöpke, 2015

The exhibition. Photo © Michaela Schöpke, 2015

The exhibition. Photo © Michaela Schöpke, 2015

In spite of the diversity of the techniques, the exposition looks like a single statement meant to expose the visitors to the themes and motifs of the architect's creative work. Brodsky's "poetic manner" is based on the imaginary fantasy worlds that are presented, to a certain degree of conditionality, in the style of the classical architectural presentation: facade, section, perspective, and overview. The artist is focused on timeless compositions, or, rather the "after time" ones, like the marks left by people and left by history. 

Located at the basement floor, the small museum halls, or "studies", as the museum employees prefer to call them, demonstrate the works of the 1980's - early 2000's. Here we see Brodsky as the follower of Piranesian school with its monumentality and fantasy-like flavor, although, his vision is always that of a postmodernist with the characteristic irony, overlapping of meanings and openness to various meanings. One of the main themes here is the unity of chaos and classic beauty, the postmodernist entropy and the renaissance imagery. It is expressed in the chaotic fractured perspectives with an odd inclusion of the basic architectural elements - the pyramids - and on the appearance of a pendulum under the fractured classic composition, and in the industrial chaos inscribed into a cupola space in a longitudinal section, set upon a building next to an industrial chimney. The renaissance aesthetics and the motif of the Venetian Carnival sound also in the allegorical portraits of some imaginary character. On one of these portraits, as if looking to give a clue to the viewer, Brodsky calls this character "an architect". The other allegorical portraits are reminiscent of the medieval "mysteries" and about the "carnivalized" commedia dell'arte, and are, of course, among other things, a paraphrase of the famous Primal Elements of Giuseppe Arcimboldo whom the surrealists considered to be their predecessor. Instead of the four natural primal elements, Brodsky uses the architectural primal elements (the perfect city that the architect holds in his hands is the Tower of Babylon hoisted on top of the characters' heads, the surrealist aesthetics being one of the clues to understanding the worlds that he creates. 

Architect. 1984 (sic!) Etching © Alexander Brodsky

Untitled. 1993. Etching © Alexander Brodsky

The same aesthetics permeate Brodsky's industrial landscapes. These works are all about immersion into the introspective world of the subconscious where the logic ties are cut - or at least it looks that way - while the hero of the piece is in fact the world from which the humans have been deleted. This is the same theme that Brodsky explores over and over again: the human being was here and left his traces. 

Most of the exhibits are left untitled. This way, the guests are left without any text clues that have become the custom in the modern art. Of course, the ideal viewer of Brodsky's works is a man of wide reading that is also quite knowledgeable in the visual art, somebody who is capable of counting the layers of hidden meanings, capable of appreciating the artist's subtle postmodernist irony, while the less experience viewer can get a slight feeling of discomfort finding himself or herself thrown in a world devoid of the familiar cause-and-effect connotations. These two viewer types are in fact two way in which Brodsky works can be read, the interpretations of this or that particular viewer capable of potential being a lot more emotional and leading him or her to an even wider stream of consciousness. 

One of the pictures that are the closest to the art of book illustration is "Mesto Vseobshchego Protsvetaniya" ("Land of Plenty") (1998) - this is both a direct reference to Piranesi's images of Pantheon revised by the author's metaphoric subconscious, and an allusion to the solemn and stately markings of the city infrastructure objects that were common in the USSR back in the 1960: a library, for example, is a "temple of knowledge", and a movie theater is a "temple of spectacles". Here Brodsky uses the technique of a "metaphor come alive". What we see in front of us is indeed a temple, and not just any temple but the protoplast of all temples. The conditional suitcase on the picture, however, gives away a soviet citizen that is presented as a mythical being with a dog's tail that has just come to the "Temple of Plenty" with a sole intention of having a mug of beer. 

Castle of Plenty. 1998. Silk-printing © Alexander Brodsky

Convergence points. 1997. Etching © Alexander Brodsky

Landscape. 1995. Etching © Alexander Brodsky

Untitled. 1995. Etching © Alexander Brodsky

The same space includes the pencil sketches of conditional architectural facades and other objects. In them, one can also easily see the surrealist aesthetics showing through, and one of the most enigmatic objects is probably the paraphrase of the most quoted work by Rene Magritte. 

The exhibition is organized in such a way that the pencil sketches open up with Brodsky's studies for the works that are exhibited one floor higher. These are the works of 2014, most of which were created specially for the exposition in Tchoban Museum. Executed in the author's unique technique of "clay graphics", the facades refer us to the monumentality of the Stalin Empire Style and to the inaccessible within the boundaries of the human logic Kafka's "Castle". Here we also see the continuation of Brodsky's key theme - the footsteps left by the time. The key to interpreting these creations and the key to the entire exhibition is in the two pictures executed in Indian ink on tarpaper and reminiscent of a geographic map or maybe an axonometric model of an archeological research site. Powdered with little cracks, the clay facades thus are nothing but artifacts of the times past. Again, there is a fair share of postmodernist irony present: tarpaper was a very popular building material in the soviet "dacha" construction. 

Untitled. 2012. Paper drawing form "Sketches" Series © Alexander Brodsky

Untitled. 2012. Paper drawing form "Sketches" Series © Alexander Brodsky

Untitled. 2012. Paper drawing form "Sketches" Series © Alexander Brodsky

Untitled. 2014. Raw Clay © Alexander Brodsky

Untitled. 2014. Raw Clay © Alexander Brodsky

In this connection it will be interesting to also remember the architect's projects that did get implemented. These works are not in fact represented at the exhibition - but they are also about the construct of human footsteps left by our predecessors. Be that the "Vodka Ceremony Pavilion" at "Art-Klyazma" festival, "Rotonda" in Nikola-Lenivetz, or the restaurant "Pier 95" in a Moscow suburb, they all are built with the use of parts of the objects that had already been there: window frames, doors, and floor boards. 

It is remarkable that the Berlin exhibition of the works by Alexander Brodsky takes place concurrently to Martin-Gropius-Bau's exhibition of architectural drawing "VKHUTEMAS: Russian Laboratory of Contemporaneity" (open until April 6) that showcases the soviet utopia drawings of the 1920's and the "paper" projects of the 1980's - two main phenomena of "paper" design, both born in Russia. In the situation of a raging economic crisis and the monopoly of large architectural companies to designing all the major projects, a new round of "paper" architecture is inevitably on the way. Possibly, the architectural drawings and the conceptual projects of the late 2010's will one day make the core of the museum's future expositions. 

The exhibition is open until June 5 2015.
At the inauguration. Photo © Michaela Schöpke, 2015

19 March 2015

Written by:

Anna Kirikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
comments powered by HyperComments
Headlines now
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
​Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
​The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
Health Constructor
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
​The Aperture Effect
For a housing complex built in the town of Pushkino in the Moscow metropolitan area, KPLN Architects designed facades that adjust the stream of light by using the wall geometry.
​A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
Color and Line
The new successful techniques developed by A.Len for designing a kindergarten under budget constraints: the mosaic of irregular windows and working with color.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The Countdown
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
White Town
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
​Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
​Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Pedagogical Architecture
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
​Rational Arrangement
In this article, we are examining a complex of buildings and interiors of the first stage of the project that has recently become extremely popular – the Kommunarka clinic.
​Parallel Universe
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.
​Stairway to Heaven
The project of a hotel in the settlement of Yantarny is an example of a new recreational complex typology, and a new format that unites the hotel, the business, and the cultural functions. All of this is complemented by 100% integration with nature.
​Cape of Good Hope
In this issue, we are showing all the seven projects that participated in a closed-door competition to create a concept for the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, as well as provide expert opinions on those projects.
​Waves of Sound
The conceptual design of a music school: proximity to an Alvar Aalto building, expressive organics, and an attempt to draw public attention to a “low-profile” competition.
​The Outer Space
Honoring the 300th anniversary of the Kuznetsk coal fields in 2021, a new passenger terminal of the Aleksey Leonov Airport in the city of Kemerovo will be built, designed by GK Spectrum and ASADOV Architectural Bureau.
​The Pivot of Narkomfin Building
Ginzburg Architects finished the restoration of the Narkomfin Building’s laundry unit – one of the most important elements of the famous monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture.
​Wicker Vitality
Next to the Dubrovka metro station, ADM has designed a Vitality housing complex with a polychrome mixture of Klinker brick on its ridged facades.
​Freedom Factory
The housing complex “Respublika” is so large that it can be arguably called a micro-town, yet, at the same time, it easily overcomes most of the problems that usually arise with mass housing construction. How could Archimatika achieve that? We are examining that on the example of the first stage of the complex.
​The Flowing Lines
The five houses of the “Svoboda” block belonging to the “Simvol” residential complex present a vivid example of all-rounded work performed by the architects on an integral fragment of the city, which became the embodiment of the approach to architecture that hitherto was not to be seen anywhere in Moscow: everything is subjected to the flow of lines – something like a stream, enhanced by the powerful pattern of the facades akin to “super-graphics”.
​A City by the Water
The concept of a large-scale housing development at the edge of Voronezh, near the city reservoir, or “the sea”, as it is locally called, uses the waterside height difference to create a sophisticated public space, paying a lot of attention to the distribution of masses that determine the look of the future complex if viewed from the opposite bank of the river.
A Journey to the Country of Art Deco
The “Little France” residential complex on the 20th line of the Vasilyevsky Island presents an interesting make-believe dialogue between its architect, Stepan Liphart, the architect of the New Hermitage, masters of the Silver Age, and Soviet Art Deco, about interesting professional topics, such as a house with a courtyard in the historical center of Saint Petersburg, and the balance between the wall and the stained glass in the architectonics of the facade. Here are the results of this make-believe conversation.
​A House in a Port
This housing complex on the Dvinskaya Street is the first case of modern architecture on the Gutuevsky Island. The architectural bureau “A-Len” thoroughly explores the context and creates a landmark for further transformations of this area of Saint Petersburg.
​Balance of Infill Development
Anatoly Stolyarchuk Architectural Studio is designing a house that inadvertently prevails over the surrounding buildings, yet still tries to peacefully coexist with the surrounding environment, taking it to a next level.
​The Precious Space
Evolution Design and T+T Architects reported about the completion of the interior design project of Sberbank headquarters on the Kutuzovsky Avenue. In the center of the atrium, hovers the “Diamant” meeting room; everything looks like a chest full of treasures, including the ones of a hi-tech kind.
​Big Little Victory
In a small-sized school located in Domodedovo in Moscow metropolitan area, ASADOV_ architects did a skillful job of tackling the constraints presented by the modest budget and strict spatial limitations – they designed sunlit classrooms, comfortable lounges, and even a multi-height atrium with an amphitheater, which became the center of school life.
​The Social Biology of Landscape
The list of new typologies of public spaces and public projects has been expanded yet again — thanks to Wowhaus. This time around, this company came up with a groundbreaking by Russian standards approach to creating a place where people and animals can communicate.
​Watched by the Angels from up Above
Held in the General Staff building of the Hermitage Museum, the anniversary exhibition of “Studio 44” is ambitious and diverse. The exhibition was designed to give a comprehensive showcase of the company’s architecture in a whole number of ways: through video, models, drawings, installations, and finally, through a real-life project, the Enfilade, which the exhibition opens up, intensifies, and makes work the way it was originally intended.
​A New Version of the Old City
The house at Malaya Ordynka, 19, fits in perfectly with the lineup of the street, looking even as if it straightened the street up a little, setting a new tone for it – a tone of texture, glitter, “sunny” warmth, and, at the same time, reserved balance of everything that makes the architecture of an expensive modern house.
Stepan Liphart: “Standing your ground is the right thing to do”
A descendant of German industrialists, “Jophan’s son”, and an architect, speaks about how studying architectural orders tempers one’s character, and how a team of just a few people can design grand-scale housing projects to be built in the center of Saint Petersburg. Also: Santa Claus appearing in a Stalin high-rise, an arch portal to the outer space, mannerism painting, and the palaces of Paris – all covered in an interview with Stepan Liphart.
​Honey and Copper
In the Moscow area, the architect Roman Leonidov designed the “Cool House” residence, very much in the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright, spreading it parallel to the ground, and accentuating the horizontal lines in it. The color composition is based on juxtaposition of warm wood of a honey hue and cold copper blue.
​The Ring on the Saisara Lake
The building of the Philharmonic Hall and the Theater of Yakut Epos, standing on the shore of the sacred lake, is inscribed into an epic circle and contains three volumes, reminiscent of the traditional national housing. The roof is akin to the Alaas – a Yakut village standing around a lake. In spite of its rich conceptual agenda, the project remains volumetrically abstract, and keeps up a light form, making the most of its transparency, multiple layers, and reflections.
Architecture of Evanescence
On the Vernadskogo Avenue, next to the metro station, appeared a high-rise landmark that transformed the entire area: designed by UNK Project, the “Academic” business center uncovered, in the form of its architecture, the meanings of the local place names.
The Theater and Music Circles
The contest-winning ambitious grand-scale project of the main theater and concert complex of the Moscow area includes three auditoriums, a yard – a public area – a higher school of music, and a few hotels. It promises to become a high-profile center for the classical music festivals on a national scale.