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Getty Museum Explores Origins of Modern Architecture in Shaping the Great City: Modern Architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937

Press Preview: Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Getty Exhibition Coincides with MOCA Retrospective of The Architecture of R.M. Schindler
Press Preview: Friday, February 23, 2001

November 28, 2000

Los Angeles--This spring, the J. Paul Getty Museum presents Shaping the Great City: Modern Architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937. On view at the Getty Center in Los Angeles from February 20 through May 6, 2001, the exhibition gathers materials from 70 international lenders to explore the origins and development of modern architecture in Central Europe before and after the First World War, a time of dramatic social and political change. Shown at the Getty in its only United States presentation, the exhibition was organized by the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; the Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal; and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Science, and Culture; in association with Kunstforum Wien.

Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute, says, "This exhibition examines the extraordinary metamorphosis of the Gross-stadt or 'great city' before and after the 1918 dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire, as architects and city planners ambitiously took up the ideals of nation-building across a region that contained a tremendous diversity of cultures. This perspective is especially relevant today as we consider the relationship between 21st-century cities and the increasingly diverse cultures within them, including our own great city of Los Angeles."

The product of nearly eight years of collaborative research and planning, Shaping the Great City features about 350 architectural drawings, models, photographs, posters, books, and archival film clips, including a number of materials able to travel for the first time outside the former Soviet bloc. In all, the work of some 45 architects and designers is represented, with particular emphasis given to the contributions of Viennese architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos, whose ideas were later carried forward by their student, Vienna-born California modernist Rudolf Schindler (1887-1953).

Schindler is coincidentally the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles from February 25 through June 3, 2001, running concurrently with the Getty's exhibition. The Architecture of R.M. Schindler will be the most comprehensive exhibition to survey Schindler's work to date. Chronicling his many contributions to the history of modern architecture, and perhaps just as importantly, to the city of Los Angeles where he settled in 1920, the exhibition features over 100 original drawings along with photographs, models, and furniture.

"This spring marks an exciting modern architecture 'moment' in Los Angeles," comments Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "Together these two exhibitions--at the Getty and at MOCA--will offer visitors a rare opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the history of modernism, from its 19th-century beginnings in Central Europe to its powerful expression in 20th-century Southern California."

Shaping the Great City is accompanied by a fully illustrated 272-page catalogue of the same title, edited by architectural historians Eve Blau (Canadian Centre for Architecture) and Monika Platzer (Architekturzentrum, Vienna), who co-curated the international traveling exhibition along with Dieter Bogner (consultant to the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Science, and Culture). Curator for the exhibition at the Getty is Wim de Wit, head of Special Collections at the Getty Research Institute. Published in English, French, and German, the catalogue includes five essays and 14 studies of individual cities and time periods.

The exhibition has previously been presented at the Municipal House in Prague (December 15, 1999-March 1, 2000) and at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal (May 24-October 15, 2000). Following its presentation at the Getty, Shaping the Great City will be shown at the Kunstforum in Vienna from June 14 through August 26, 2001.

Exhibition Content

Shaping the Great City examines the explosion of new architectural ideas that emerged across the vast Hapsburg Empire in its last decades and that marked the first tumultuous years of the new republics of Central Europe. In 1908 the Austro-Hungarian Empire covered some 261,000 square miles (676,000 square kilometers), home to more than 50 million people representing 11 separate linguistically defined ethnic groups with their own distinct traditions and aspirations (Germans, Magyars, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs, Croats, Romanians, Slovaks, Slovenes, and Italians).

Divided into two main sections, the exhibition examines the threads of development that bound the region together and the specificities of place that divided it. Part one, "The City as Form and Idea," looks at patterns of city-building and conceptual models that dominated architectural culture from the 1890s through the early 1930s. Part two, "Modernity, Tradition, and Place," looks at 10 individual cities at moments of distinctive architectural innovation and vitality.

The objects presented in the exhibition tell a politically complex story with strong visual appeal, owing to the high quality of draftsmanship and the overall artistic approach to architectural design. View of the Aspern Platz (1897), for example--a presentation drawing by Otto Wagner--gives a bird's-eye view of Vienna's monumentally redesigned street façade along the Danube River. The drawing illustrates Wagner's view of the capital city as a cultural artifact that required a unified design reflecting the city's status as the capital of the Hapsburg Empire. The drawing's golden frame, rendered in delicate lines, highlights Wagner's stylized design approach based on classical motifs.

This approach to the city and to the role of design in city planning was imitated throughout the Empire, even in its farthest regions. The city of L'viv, for example, in the oil-producing eastern part of the Empire (now Ukraine), grew rapidly in the early 20th century, requiring the construction of many new residential and commercial business districts. Alfred Zachariewicz and Józef Sosnowski designed the Art Nouveau "Ballaban Building" in 1908-1910. The impressive new street façade they created, dominating the small town square of L'viv, was inspired by the example of Vienna but at the same time asserted the region's aspirations to play a more important role on its own, now independent of the former capital.

Following the break-up of the Empire and the creation of separate new republics, modern architecture continued to be used as a means to give expression to regional identity. In Prague, for example, modernism meant an architecture inspired by the work of Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe, seen in the design for the Olympic Department Store created by Jaromír Krejcar (1925-1928).

Exhibition Design

The Austrian architectural firm of Coop Himmelb(l)au, headed by Wolf Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky, created the exhibition design for Shaping the Great City using modular steel tubes to form a series of freestanding cubical "space frames" onto which objects and text panels are mounted. Intended to evoke the bustling streets, public plazas, and quiet courtyards of a modern city, the design transforms the galleries of the Getty Museum's Exhibitions Pavilion into a dynamic model of urban space, punctuated by projections of archival photographs and vintage film clips depicting the cities of Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Brno, and Zagreb. The Getty Museum's exhibition design department worked independently and with Coop Himmelb(l)au in modifying the design for the Museum's presentation.

Getty Research Institute

The Getty Research Institute is home to the Research Library whose Special Collections contain important materials documenting the history of architecture and city planning in general and the process of architectural design in particular. These collections include rare architectural treatises (both printed and in manuscript) from the 16th through the 18th century; sketches, conceptual drawings, and working drawings by architects, engineers, designers, and landscape architects (mostly of the 19th and 20th century); and photographs documenting individual buildings and cityscapes. The materials serve as resources for scholars and graduate students studying the history of the built environment, the history of design in all its facets, and the history of engineering.

Related Programs

The Getty Museum and Research Institute plan a number of public programs in conjunction with Shaping the Great City. On February 22, "Two Views on Shaping the Great City: A Conversation Between Curator and Critic" features exhibition co-curator and architectural historian Eve Blau and cultural historian Carl Schorske; and on April 6, Los Angeles artist Jody Zellen presents a Point-of-View gallery talk. The Getty's Web site, www.getty.edu--in addition to listing information about the exhibition, public and academic programs, and how to visit--will also present a special online feature related to the exhibition.

Note to editors: For more information on MOCA's exhibition and catalogue The Architecture of R.M. Schindler, or to register for MOCA's press preview on Friday, February 23, please contact Katherine Lee at 213-621-1750.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up for e-Getty at www.getty.edu/subscribe to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit our event calendar for a complete calendar of public programs.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.

The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library - housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier - is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.