The Invisible Web

Your Trip Into the Chapel Perilous

Buckminster Fuller exhibition at the Whitney

Posted by invizweb on September 10, 2008

The Whitney exhibition continues until September, but needs to be supplemented by reading the catalog, checking out the PBS Modern Masters Series, Thinking Out Loud;, and reading Hugh Kenner’s Bucky–although I may have bought the Strand’s last hardback copy earlier this summer.

Below is Phil Patton’s review of the exhibit:

An exhibition is a verb,” writes Whitney museum director Adam Weinberg bravely, in his introduction to the catalog of the museum’s Buckminster Fuller show, Starting with the Universe.

He is echoing Fuller’s own famous phrase “I seem to be a verb.” But in fact, a museum show is necessarily more like an arrangement of nouns. And this one includes nouns like drawings, photographs, and models, with a few verbs of video of Fuller talking.

“His vision is difficult to approximate and present, much less encompass in an exhibition,” Weinberg continues. The show does the difficult ably enough, providing a good chronological sample, thoughtfully arranged.

If Fuller saw himself as a verb it may be because his life was dominated more by activity than artifact. He truly found himself in his presentations and lectures, from his first talks to a handful of people in Greenwich Village salons to the vast college audiences he drew in his old age. His real skills were “synergistic,” all right, but it was the synergy of networking, propaganda and performance.

The show’s title suggests the thesis of the curators, K. Michael Hays and Dana Miller, that Fuller’s ideas–not buildings or designs–are paramount in his work. Fuller said that he began with what he called “energy systems” and that the designs and artifacts he ended up with were quite incidental to the wider goal of exploring those patterns. He created the trademark geodesic dome and houses like the Dymaxion, stacked on its central core, or the post-war Wichita house, which resembled a residence for the robot Gort from the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. He patented and built three examples of the Dymaxion car. But they were simply sketches of the wider concepts. “I could have ended up with a pair of flying slippers,” Fuller said.

Read more.

Phil Patton is the author of many books on design and culture. He writes for the New York Times, ID, Departures and other magazines and is on the faculty of the new Design Criticism program at SVA.


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