Regional Modernism was an exhibition held at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans during the spring/summer of 2007. This exhibition was curated by Melissa Urcan, CEO/President LERATA. The original exhibition text and images are included below.
This exhibition tells a story of Modern and contemporary architecture in the region of Southeast Louisiana. As an area more known for its historic and traditional forms, Regional Modernism aims to draw the connections of this region to works of Modern architecture created in this place. For the purpose of this exhibition, most of the works included are from the period of the early 1950’s through the early 1970’s, commonly referred to as ‘Mid-Century Modern.’ There are also contemporary works of architecture included in the exhibition to allow for comparisons and differences between the ideals and methods of the Mid-Century Modern period to today.
Defining the Modern movement in architecture is a trying endeavor. As renowned scholar Kenneth Frampton noted concerning Modern architecture, “The more rigorously one searches for the origin of modernity, the further back it tends to lie.” Still, Frampton ultimately did set a date for the Modern movement beginning somewhere between the late 17th century and mid 18th century. This time frame is much earlier than more typical dates identified in the 1920’s and 1930’s, with ties to strong European modern movements in architecture such as the Bauhaus, Werkbund and De Stijl, and more specifically with the work of Modern masters such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius.
While the beginning traces of the Modern movement in architecture are primarily evidenced outside of the United States, World War II saw a boon of architects and artists who, fearing safety in their own war torn homeland, fled to the U.S. This surge of influences, mixed with local modern masters such as Frank Lloyd Wright, developed and worked itself into new forms. These forms were often varied, even in the face of the ‘International Style’ a term coined by an exhibition of the same name in 1932 by architect Philip Johnson to connect the various forms of modernism worldwide. Although efforts of uniformity and conformity within Modern architecture are sought, the actual outcomes are often examples of specific typologies particular to the place in which they were created.
Going beyond dating to defining Modern architecture, scholars and many practicing architects who lived and worked from this mid-century period, have argued that this type of classification is actually a historical construct itself; that ‘Modern’ as a mode is rather the expression of current possibilities both in form, material and structure. This theory would lend that the classification of a ‘Modernism’ is simply another ‘ism’ in the constantly fluctuating process of classifying and reclassifying our understanding of the made and built world. And still others would argue that the use of the word Modern with respect to architecture has a very specific canon and set of ideas, including but not limited to the original five defining points of Modern architecture created by Le Corbusier in the 1920’s.
In addition to this ongoing discussion and debate, the time period of Mid-Century Modern was chosen for this exhibition not as a defining set for all of Modern architecture, but because this was the most prolific building period in this style, and in this place, within this time frame. This exhibition also does not stop at the ‘end’ of the Mid-Century modern movement, but continues on to contemporary architecture where we can once again see architects utilizing principles of the Modern movement in new, contemporary ways and forms. It is the hope that this exhibit will show that the Modern architecture of this region bears the stories, culture and history that makes this region of Southeast Louisiana unique.
Curated by, Melissa Urcan
We would like to thank the following individuals and companies without which this exhibition would not be possible:
AIA New Orleans, AIA National Libraries, Heather Skeehan, Jessica Walker, The Darkroom, Chuck Perret, Letterman’s, Ammar Eloueini, Tara Lazer, Jason Eli, Shelby Russ, Reed Kroloff, Tulane Southeastern Architectural Archives, Tulane University School of Architecture, LSU Libraries Special Collections, New Orleans Public Libraries, City Archives and the New Orleans Historic Collections.
A special thanks goes to our lead sponsor, aos (Associated Office Systems) a Knoll Dealer and Tulane University School of Architecture.