publication of the International Sculpture Center
Visitor station for DeCordova Museum
by Marty Carlock
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Gehry started it: an explosion of architectural forms, a divorce between
form and function that freed the designer to experiment with sculptural
qualities. The new visitor station at DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park,
designed by Wellington Reiter, is an understated version of Gehrys
modus operandi, but we have to count it in that tradition.
Initially, in profile, the structure looks like a simple fold, a taco
shell. In fact, it isnt so simple.
A walk around it reveals its surprising length60 feetperhaps
thrice what it needs to be to shelter an admissions-taking attendant and
utilities for his/her cubicle. The shell formyou could think of
it as a three-dimensional greater than signis propped
up by a couple of struts and by the cubicle itself, glass in the front
and matte-gray aluminum, like the rest of the building, in back. From
a distance theres a hint of spacecraft. Yet that idea is countered
by the shape of the roof, a gentle forward curve, vaguely aerodynamic,
bringing to mind a parasail, an aboriginal throwing stick, a tray that
wants to be a boomerang. Nicely contrasting all the gray is the fee-takers
booth, a glass ice cube caught in the fold of the taco
Clearly form here does not follow function. Collecting entry fees could
have been accomplished by an employee in a shack. Instead Reiter has drawn
on his extensive background as visual polymath to see to it that this
bit of architecture takes its proper place in the middle of a sculpture
park. Not only is it satisfyingly sculptural, the structure has morphing
capabilities. Colored lights set into the base of the < sign can light
it dramatically at night.
(and working) as an architect, Reiter nonetheless has a track record as
a sculptor. He was for 15 years an associate professor of design and practice
at MIT before moving to Arizona State University as dean of the college
of architecture and environmental design. He comfortably straddles any
chasms between sculpture, architecture, and landscape architecture, having
designed memorials and commemorative sculpture (e.g., the Wright Brothers
Icon at Raleigh-Durham, N.C.), installations (Island Culture at the University
of Massachusetts) and regular gallery sculpture. He has not neglected
concepts for earthforms, although none has been realized as yet.
says he intended the DeCordova visitor station to provoke discussion about
the relationship among these disciplines. (Indeed, we might add engineering
to the mix.) He cites such contemporary sculptors as Robert Irwin, Michael
Singer, Jorge Pardo, and Vito Acconci who have gravitated toward architectural
idioms. When he presented his idea to DeCordova, he invoked Brancusi,
Martin Puryear, Richard Singer, and Jackie Winsor. So intertwined are
the skills needed by those who modify our environment that a visual artist
like Jody Pinto will collaborate with landscape architects to design structures.
Just as distinctions have become fuzzy between art and craft or between
art and landscape architecture, there isnt much definition any more
between a structure and an art object. DeCordovas visitor station
is the latest example. Is it sculpture? Is it architecture? Perhaps the
old categories no longer apply.
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