Richard Meier's building models find new life as sculpture
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 8/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
The architect of pristine white-on-white museums in Frankfurt, Rome, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, where his Getty Center looms over the freeway like a modernist acropolis, Richard Meier is universally associated with the buildings that house art. Much less well known are his own artistic endeavors. Since the late 1950's, however, he's been turning out colorful constructivist-inspired collages incorporating ephemera and found objects—ticket stubs, boarding passes, scraps of Russian newspapers, 1,000-lira notes.
Twelve years ago, Meier progressed from collage to sculpture that incorporates found objects of his own making: parts of his old building models, cast in stainless steel. With their echoes of Louise Nevelson and Arte Povera, these muscular, skeletal works are completely unlike his polished, highly controlled architecture.
Six of Meier's sculptures now grace the gallerylike sales center for his third New York apartment building on the Hudson River. Rising just south of his celebrity-filled Perry Street condominiums, the new tower is due for completion in the spring.
What inspired your move to sculpture?
I went with Frank Stella to the Tallix art foundry in Beacon, New York, where Frank does all his work. And I made some things.
What kind of work were you interested in?
Generally speaking, I wanted to create three-dimensional wall pieces with positive and negative reliefs. I don't begin with an image in my head and then construct it. I don't really know where a piece is going when I start out. It's more about rummaging through the parts.
What formal ideas do you explore?
A lot of it is seeing what the model parts might suggest in terms of creating space within the sculptures—they become three-dimensional collages. The results depend on what I have to work with. For example, the large sculpture in my office embodies parts of the Getty Center at different scales. Pieces of the rotunda, trellises, doors to the decorative-arts pavilion, parts of a facade.
If your buildings inform your sculptures, do you ever glean architectural ideas from art?
No, it's a one-way thing. It's really about making an object that has no function, no site, no client, no cost. I set the parameters—they're whatever I want them to be. And that changes often.
It must be liberating to create without professional constraints.
I like the hands-on quality. I go up to a foundry in Rock Tavern, New York, and work all day, not talking to anyone, doing my own thing. The instant gratification is nice, too. It doesn't take 14 years to have something realized.
Do all the sculptures incorporate old building models?
That's right. We've got boxes full of pieces of basswood models. A lot of them are from the Getty Center, but there are also projects like the Canal + headquarters in Paris.
How does the casting process work?
You dip the pieces in wax to make a ceramic mold, then pour in the steel.
Why stainless steel?
Because it's both shiny and dull. It's richer than aluminum and catches light differently. But it's also heavier, which is not so good. You need a crane to move some of the bigger pieces.
Does Frank Stella ever critique you?
Occasionally. And I've critiqued him, too.
Is there a relationship between the sculptures and your earlier collages?
Not really. Only that both are based, more or less, on found objects. I like the incremental process.
Has the art-architecture connection always been important to you?
Absolutely. That's why I love to do museums.
Do you plan to delve into other artistic mediums?
Last year, I did a series of 28 watercolors. Now I'm working on pastel and oil seascapes. I sit on the beach and capture the ocean in its different conditions.
What do you think of your New York condominiums being marketed as "works of art" by Richard Meier?
They can call them that if they want, but it's not how we refer to them. They're just apartments.
You're turning 70 in October. Any plans to retire?
Never! There's still too much to do—including a few more museums. I'm just getting started.
The sculptor-principal of Richard Meier & Partners Architects.
One of Richard Meier's cast stainless-steel sculptures, Zwiefalten.
A rendering of his New York riverfront condominiums.
A housing complex in Jesolo Lido, Italy.
Wall Sculpture 9.