press release

The David Winton Bell Gallery will present "The Visionary Architecture of Brodsky and Utkin," an exhibition of prints and sculpture by contemporary Russian artists Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, from Dec. 7 through Jan. 19, 1997. An opening reception will be held at the gallery Friday, Dec. 6, at 4:30 p.m., during which Brodsky will discuss his work.

* The core of the exhibition is a portfolio of 35 etchings from the Bell Gallery collection: "Projects 1981-1990," a gift of the Friends of List Art Center in memory of Patricia M. Morrissey. The exhibition also includes several sculptures and more recent prints lent by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin first achieved international recognition in the mid-1970s as members of a loosely organized group called "paper architects." Graduating from Moscow's prestigious Institute of Architecture in 1978, the pair found themselves at odds with Breshnev's doctrine of unadorned architectural utilitarianism. They found an outlet for their interests, which tend toward an eclectic assortment of styles and periods, in international design competitions. Organized by architectural magazines in Japan, London, and elsewhere, the competitions stressed theory over function, addressing programs such as "a glass monument to the year 2001."

The Projects portfolio documents the artists' competition designs - fantastic, imaginary architecture and fictional environs - many of which have garnered prizes. Villa Claustrophobia was created for "A Space with an Atrium," a competition organized by Japan Architect. The artists transform the atrium - classically used to infuse an interior space with light and air, to unite man and nature - into a metaphor for urban isolation and totalitarian surveillance. The residents of this villa occupy a cylinder of tightly packed windowless apartments (also referred to as cells, or wards). A funnel-shaped mirrored-glass atrium provides the only view out. The mirrored windows provide a view to the sky only, isolate the residents from their neighbors by preventing a view into other living spaces, and support undetected surveillance of persons in the common space of the atrium. This print typifies Brodsky and Utkin's use of the Beaux-Arts style of composite drawing in which several views are presented simultaneously: plan, elevation, axonometric perspectives and details of the scene, plus a paragraph of text that elaborates the designers conception of the project.

Brodsky and Utkin works reference many art historical and literary sources. In her book on the artists, Lois Nesbitt notes connections to Piranesi and John Sloane, Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon" (in Villa Claustrophobia), Ecclesiastes' Tower of Babel, classical mythology, and numerous other sources. Since the early 1980s, Brodsky and Utkin have worked almost exclusively in etchings, the surface of which are scored and pocked to simulate the effects of extreme age. The plates for the Projects portfolio were etched in Russia. Because of paper shortages only a few impressions were pulled there, although some were numbered in anticipation of full editions.

During the decade of competitions, the pair created only two schemes for real building: one for a small hut in Yugoslavia and one for the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris. Commissions for actual constructions have been few. Brodsky and Utkin designed the interior of the Atrium Restaurant in Moscow, and a pedestrian bridge along the waterfront in Tacoma, Wash., awaits funding.

The current exhibition coincides with the Canal Street Subway Project, a proposal for the Public Art Fund, New York. Working independently, Brodsky will create an intricate installation that animates the unused tracks along a transfer in the Canal Street subway station. Created in shadow-puppet style, the installation will include gondolas that rock gently back and forth to the strains of Venetian music and distant sounds of laughter. A drawing of a Venice street scene on the back wall will complete the illusion. The installation, which makes reference to the original lower Manhattan canal after which Canal Street is named, is scheduled to open Dec. 5.

Linda J.P. Mahdesian Pressetext

Visionary Architecture of Brodsky and Utkin
Ilya Utkin, Alexander Brodsky