LSU School of Architecture Professor Michael Desmond is a guest curator for an upcoming exhibition on Frank Lloyd Wright at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, will be on display at MoMA June 12–October 1, 2017.
The exhibition is described as comprising “approximately 450 works made from the 1890s through the 1950s, including architectural drawings, models, building fragments, films, television broadcasts, print media, furniture, tableware, textiles, paintings, photographs, and scrapbooks, along with a number of works that have rarely or never been publicly exhibited.”
Structured as an anthology, the exhibition is divided into 12 sections curated by Wright scholars, historians, architects, and designers. “Each section investigates a key object or cluster of objects from the Frank Lloyd Wright Archive, interpreting and contextualizing it, and juxtaposing it with other works from the archive, from MoMA, or from outside collections,” (moma.org).
As well as determining themes and selecting objects to represent these, the guest curators contributed articles on their sections for the exhibition catalog and book. Desmond discusses his section of the exhibition and book chapter, titled “Abstracting the Landscape: Galesburg Above and Below the Surface,” in a short film, which will accompany the exhibition.
A lifelong Frank Lloyd Wright scholar, Desmond wrote his MIT PhD dissertation on Wright’s partially built subdivisions and community designs from 1936–47. At the time, Desmond’s dissertation, A Clearing in the Woods: Self & City in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Communities, was the first on Wright to come from an Ivy League university in almost 30 years.
Desmond, who frequently lectures on Frank Lloyd Wright, is currently expanding that dissertation into a book focused on Wright’s increasing use of circles and circular arcs over the last 20 years of his career as means of engaging architectural form and perception of landscapes. “Out of Wright’s 1,200 designs, some 450 were built, leaving over 700 unbuilt, many of which were spectacular houses and communities designed to integrate with the landscape of their specific sites in ways that have not been studied,” said Desmond. His initial research for the book included combing through the 30,000 drawings in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, formerly housed outside Phoenix, Arizona.
Three years ago, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation donated the drawings to Columbia University’s Avery Library Archive and the models to the Museum of Modern Art. “It was a watershed moment, making the archive much more accessible,” said Desmond, who was the first person to visit the Avery collection once it was opened. Through his frequent visits to the archive and broad knowledge of the subject he has developed a working relationship with the staff and architecture faculty.
Barry Bergdoll, former architectural curator at MoMA and a professor at Columbia, organized the exhibition to show that Wright studies are turning a new chapter and to demonstrate emerging new scholarship. “The exhibition seeks to open up Wright’s work to critical enquiry and debate, and to introduce experts and general audiences alike to new angles and interpretations of this extraordinary architect,” (moma.org).
Desmond is currently working with the Museum of Modern Art and the LSU College of Art & Design to arrange an alumni gathering and guided tour of the exhibition in the summer of 2017. To stay up to date on college news and events, sign up for the College of Art & Design e-newsletter, Quad Mail, here. Updates will also be provided at design.lsu.edu.
Visit moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1660?locale=en for more information on the exhibition.