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Site Lines: Finn de Siècle

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The Museum Of Modern Art’s retrospective on Alvar Aalto, subtitled “Between Humanism and Materialism,” could as easily be called “Alvar Aalto: The Nice Modernist.” After all, while Bauhaus ideologues were hammering out their rigorous aesthetic, the Finnish architect was trying to “humanize the age of machines.” One might then expect a show as comfortable and familiar as the curves of his popular home furnishings.

The actual exhibition, however, is far less predictable. The biggest surprise is Aalto’s kiosk (designed with Erik Bryggman) for the Turku 700th Anniversary Exhibition and Trade Fair, 1929. It’s really little more than a sideshow booth topped with three tall, skinny, advertising saturated towers, a look somewhere between Russian Constructivist fantasias and Times Square circa 1998. Very loud. Very oddball. Very endearing. Encountering the Turku kiosk deep within MOMA -- the museum that so recently reaffirmed its less-is-more orthodoxy by selecting Yoshio Taniguchi as the architect of its expansion -- is a reminder that modern design was once, briefly, as daring and eclectic as modern art.


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