Session at the 108th College Art Association of America Annual Conference
Affiliated Society or Committee Name: Society of Architectural Historians
Marin R Sullivan, Harry Bertoia Foundation and Andrew Wasserman, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Recent demolitions and radical modifications of mid-century modern public buildings have raised the hackles of architectural and art historians, preservationists, and the public alike. The advance of time has exposed these structures, erected to project economic, political, and social achievement, to complaints of insufficiency and irrelevancy, not to mention to wrecking balls and excavators. If, as Stephen Cairns and Jane Jacobs have recently argued, it is inevitable that buildings must die, what of the works of art and design commissioned for and integral to the experience of these now imperiled buildings? Rather than gallery-based works acquired for corporate, civic, and university collections and then subsequently housed within these buildings, what of the painted and sculptural facades, sculptural elements, designed ceilings and floors, fixtures and appliances in trafficked spaces, and promotional murals installed behind reception desks or in conference rooms? Often commissioned to enhance the architecture, yet maintaining some status as independent artworks or design elements in their own right, these works were the result of new networks of patronage and commercially available materials.
This session invites papers that examine the issues surrounding commissioned works embattled in advanced stages of deterioration, renovation, or demolition. Presenters are invited to submit proposals for projects that think through the connections between art, design, and architecture, especially as they relate to the commission, destruction, or preservation of works. How can such artworks and design elements be understood as more than decoration for the architectural structures for which they were created? How do we approach the assessment, conservation, preservation, and documentation of works that, like the buildings upon, within, or around which they reside, have in recent years been deemed retrograde, awkward in functionality, or, in some cases, potentially harmful in their neglected state? This panel seeks to bring architectural historians together in conversation with art historians, design historians, and historic preservationists to construct a more integrative telling of the history of the mid-century built environment both at mid-century and today. While case studies of, advocacy proposals for, or theoretical models relevant to the United States and Europe are welcomed, papers addressing the global reach of these issues are particularly encouraged.