Architects on Architecture
Jesús Aparicio and Jesús Donaire curated and installed "Domusae" at Madrid's Salón de Reinos
C.C. Sullivan -- Interior Design, 5/1/2011 12:43:00 PM
Should curators install their own exhibitions? Designers might bristle at this suggestion, but it has sometimes produced breakthroughs. Consider A. James Speyer, who studied architecture under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and later created influential ultramodernist installations at the Art Institute of Chicago while serving as curator of 20th-century painting and sculpture. The prolific and prescient Speyer used asymmetrical partitions and platforms, positioning works at surprising heights and in fluid arrangements that recalled his elegant residential interiors. He made good use of the museum's large spaces and shook up expectations for showing modern art.
Like Speyer, two Spanish curator-architects named Jesús know their subject well. Jesús Aparicio and his former student and employee Jesús Donaire have now collaborated on two design shows, serving as ambassadors of Spain's up-and-coming talents while also executing artful presentations. "It's the optimum situation for a curator, although it's very rare. Only in a design exhibition can the container and its contents belong to the same discipline," Aparicio says. The pair's most recent fusion of the cultural and the conceptual, "Domusae: Espacios Para la Cultura," took place at Madrid's Salón de Reinos, a vacant 17th-century royal palace at the edge of the lovely Parque del Buen Retiro. "Domusae" is a play on domus musae or house of the muses.
Jesús Aparicio Estudio de Arquitectura and Jesús Donaire Estudio de Arquitectura mapped out the exhibition route with the help of a white-painted MDF walkway. It started as a raised entry on a street corner, then extended through the great halls and corridors of the palace and snaked through its nether regions. At different places, the walkway morphed into vestibules, display platforms, shelving, and even whole galleries of peculiar proportions. The visual contrast of the installation with the 18,000 square feet of baroque interiors was striking, recalling Berlin's Neues Museum or Vienna's Albertina.
Insertions offered surprise and delight. Some were small and simple, while others were total and disorienting. In this way, Aparicio says, visitors alternated between examining the exhibition and marveling at the beauty of their surroundings. The apex of the tour was the double-height throne room, which the architects transformed into a library lined with white modular shelving. They then proceeded to fill in the grid with project boards, video screens, and backlit photographs. Overhead, Spain's inescapable history covered the grand vaulted ceiling in the form of ornamental grotesques and forgotten symbolism glorifying the reign of Philip IV.
Just before entering this glorious Knowledge Room, as Aparicio and Donaire call it, visitors passed through the intentionally claustrophobic Idea Room, purpose-built from plasterboard. "A ceiling height of 7 feet 2 inches produced a spatial compression," Donaire says. "It was designed as an abstract white box in order to focus the visitors' attention." In the course of their tour, they also found themselves in a gallery outfitted with vitrines left over from the building's years as the Museo del Ejército, an army museum. (It closed last year.)
These varied spaces, all along the 1,500-foot-long white trail, were an archi-tourist's delight-presenting models and drawings of 28 important museums, libraries, and archives already completed alongside 29 currently in development under the aegis of Spain's ministry of culture. "It was an incredible opportunity to think about architectural culture in our country over the last 30 years," Donaire continues.
Recognizable projects such as Rafael Moneo's expansion of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid shared the limelight with lesser-known ones in smaller cities. Together, the projects told a story about a country that has invested heavily in cultural patronage, often entrusting large commissions to small firms that show promise. This farsighted policy has brought the world Ábalos & Herreros and Mansilla + Tuñon, among others.
Lighting and music also helped to transform the palace at relatively low cost. In the concrete basement-left untouched aside from the white walkway and a selection of backlit photographs-contemporary piano pieces commissioned from an American composer filled the darkness. His three compositions represented the exhibition's three aforementioned building typologies: museum, library, and archive.
If "Domusae" were to travel, it would require locations as inspiring as the original. But Aparicio and Donaire would relish the challenge of the search-and the chance to bring the spirit of contemporary Spanish design to historic buildings around the world.
Photography by Roland Halbe.
jesús lazcano: jesús donaire estudio de arquitectura. gráfica futura: graphics consultant. diego hurtado de mendoza: audiovisual consultant. dypsa: general contractor.
IKEA: SHELVING (MAIN GALLERY).