Cooper-Hewitt’s Triennial: 20 Architects, No Eisenmans

Final plans are still being worked out for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s first National Design Triennial, a showcase of trends in design with an emphasis on younger talent to be held every three years, starting in March 2000. According to sources close to the museum, however, Gabellini Associateshasbeen tapped to design the show itself, which will be held in the turn-of-the-century town house the museum occupies at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street.

Gabellini Associates, founded by Michael Gabellini in 1991, will also be among the 20 or so exhibitors selected to represent contemporary American architecture. New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, who are designing the Museum of Folk Art on West 53rd Street, have also been invited to be part of the exhibition, which will also include sections on graphic design and product design–a total of 80 exhibitors. Some of the projects that will be exhibited are still in the planning stage, some are under construction, and a few have been completed. The show is supposed to be similar in ambition to the Whitney Biennial, the museum’s assessment of the contemporary art world, held every two years, and has the potential to become as important to the careers of architects and designers as the Biennial is to artists. The entire design community is awaiting a formal announcement of the exhibitors, which they expect from the museum in late September.

“No one has offered me a round-the-world tour,” said Donald Albrecht, the curator of the architecture section of the exhibit, “but I have been approached by a lot of people.”

Architecture is at a crossroads right now, and the Triennial will help clarify where the future of the field lies. Mr. Gabellini, Mr. Williams and Ms. Tsien are part of a group of emerging New York architects that also includes Steven Holl and partners Henry Smith-Miller and Laurie Hawkinson (neither of whom were asked to exhibit in the Triennial). In his choices, Mr. Albrecht has already sent out a message concerning the form the architecture section of the Triennial will take. Both firms are noted for cool minimalism that is finely crafted, and for being closely aligned with the art world.

Gabellini Associates has designed the new 20,000-square-foot Nicole Farhi storeonEast60th Street, the Linda Dresner and Jil Sander showrooms and the Grant Selwyn Gallery here in New York. Mr. Gabellini, 40, is a leader in a style of finely crafted architecture that is rooted in environmental art. He has publicly decried the excesses of postmodern theorists like Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman. According to sources familiar with the selection process, Mr. Eisenman will not be invited to be a part of the Triennial.

Mr. Albrecht said he has tried to focus on younger architects, which is difficult in a field where those in their 40’s and 50’s are still coming into their own. He has also tried to get firms from outside of the Eastern Seaboard and the West Coast, which dominate most of the practice. “The person who follows the trade publications will not be surprised by our selections,” said Mr. Albrecht, “but we are interested in educating the general public.”

The Cooper-Hewitt exhibition will underscore an easing out of the old guard in architecture, which has been dominated by postmodern theorists like Messrs. Eisenman and Graves, and formally introduce a new school. Susan Szenasy, editor in chief of the design magazine Metropolis , said she supports the direction that the Triennial appears to be taking. “Eisenman is still talking in a language that only he understands,” said Ms. Szenasy. “The new ones like Gabellini and Williams and Tsien do see the need to communicate a larger idea to the audience. They are working more like artists, and their work needs to be seen in the context of a museum. When I first started looking at the idea that architecture is an artistic statement, I said, ‘Yes, [buildings] are very artistic, but they are also functional. In the final analysis, it is art, but it is really there to be used. Artists, after all, are who still provoke us to think about who we are.'”

Look, Ma, No Camera

At 38, Adam Fuss is as tightly coiled as a boxer. He has closely cropped hair and a trim beard, and he speaks in a definitive English accent that has the rich, fulsome timbre of a headmaster from 100 years ago. Born in London in 1961, he grew up in a cottage at the edge of a village in West Sussex. “It was really their weekend house that they moved to after [my father] lost his business,” Mr. Fuss said of his parents’ place. On Sept. 9, Mr. Fuss (pronounced Foos) celebrated the opening of My Ghost , an exhibition of works in which he has illustrated personal memories in the antiquated style of the daguerreotype, a photograph on a metal reflective surface and the photogram, a photograph made without a camera by exposing photographic paper directly to light. The show is at Cheim & Read Gallery, 521 West 23rd Street, until Oct. 16.

“The daguerreotype is the perfect medium for what I am trying to capture,” said Mr. Fuss, standing next to a photograph of a child’s toy rabbit, “because it is a mirror and a photograph at the same time, the mirror being the present and the photograph being the past–simultaneous memory, the past and the present at the same time.”

Mr. Fuss’ earlier work took natural subjects and made them into abstract shapes. In his current show, there are photograms of birds in flight and plumes of smoke that represent the spirit world. Although he considers himself a modernist, he has some connection to the thinking of the symbolists and pre-Raphaelites. His show also depicts a child’s christening gown, a baby’s dress, a self-portrait of the artist and several photograms of a woman in profile.

Working with such a rich narrative language is not easy for him to talk about. “I am reluctant to say too much because if I could say it, I wouldn’t be trying to make art,” he said. Pointing to a baby’s dress, he added, “It could be about a male child because the christening gown is ambiguous. So it is an empty dress. There is no human there. The idea is that the child’s body is without life. It is actually the spirit of love. It is like disembodied love without the ground, a kind of childish love, the spirit of a kind of love.”

Mr. Fuss, who lives by himself in a loft in Chelsea with a black pet rabbit, explained that he began working on My Ghost in 1994. “The photographs represent a personal expression of loss,” he said, “and an attempt to express in visual terms an emotional presence of a human who is now absent.”