Collages for Mies van der Rohe

David Salkin Creative

Stephanie Cristello 

CHICAGO, IL—Collage is the language of desire, a method of communicating an image that is unrealizable in a single plane of vision. The medium relies on a crisis of representation—images cut and pasted on top of one another, the edges of each layer remaining visible upon a disrupted surface. In place of the smooth skin of a photograph, a collage pictures what cannot be recorded in reality. The harmony or discordance of the image is modulated by either accommodating or exploiting like and unlike things.

For architect Mies van der Rohe, the preparatory photomontages he created to illustrate the interiors of his spaces following his move to America in the 1930s departed from his aspirations for absolute frontality and flatness. While this process of envisioning the utility of buildings belongs to standard architectural practice, Mies’ collages possessed the influences of the Dada, Constructivist, and De Stijl movements. Among his large-scale compositions, Mies’ design principles unfolded against the aesthetic ethos of Modernism: windows looked out upon fragments of landscape inspired by the experimental films of fellow Chicago émigré László Moholy-Nagy, paintings by avant-garde artists such as Paul Klee and Georges Braque were enlarged to the scale of walls that divided space. Art both infiltrated and inflected Mies’ environments. His collages revealed the genesis of his architecture through the potential of the stage.

In artist Assaf Evron’s Collages for Mies van der Rohe (2019–ongoing), a myriad of the Mies’ buildings in and around Chicago have been the subject of his large-scale installations. Exhibited upon the McCormick House, now part of the Elmhurst Art Museum, the Esplanade Apartments on Lakeshore Drive, and S.R. Crown Hall at IIT, each of Evron’s interventions have transformed the architect’s iconic structures through an adapted gesture of photomontage in tangible space. Across each intervention, Mies’ buildings become the support for new, monumental collages in service of Evron’s conceptual project. Wrapping the glass of the buildings’ façades with various friezes of geological sites photographed by the artist—from the Dead Sea to the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona—the vertical constructions of Mies’ modernist dwellings are imbued with the speculative reflections of other landscapes and other times. In each iteration, the core tenet of Mies’ architecture—transparency—is negated. Windows become a surface you see onto, not through.

The tactile experience of Evron’s installations imparts the ghost of a landscape. We see the mirage of a mountain where one would expect to see skyscrapers in the dark mirror of glass, or measure how the blue of the sky either merges or splits with that of the imposed image. The materiality of the artist’s photographs, prehistoric formations and sediments of earth and sand, allude to the very construction of architecture’s raw materials—sand exposed to fire becomes glass, mines formed to excavate metal alter the landscape. Challenging assumptions of place, each installation imparts the visual and physical experience of collage on a grand scale. In the works on paper Evron made in preparation for these installations, on view as part of this exhibition, we imagine their impact on a more intimate scale.

Just as mountains and skyscrapers possess the effect of frontality, in Evron’s Collages for Mies van der Rohe, a formal parallel is drawn between what is here and what is elsewhere. Mies fled Germany to arrive in Chicago in 1937. Evron, born in Israel, came to the city in 2010. Both in concept and in installation, collage acts as a metaphor for other articulations of displacement and co-existence: amid periods of time, perspectives, and the migration of bodies upon different geographies.

—Stephanie Cristello

Assaf Evron: Collages for Mies van der Rohe follows the artist’s installations at the McCormick House (February 16–April 14, 2019), the Esplanade Apartments (September 17–October 1, 2019), and S.R. Crown Hall (August–December 2022).In alignment with the exhibition at David Salkin Creative, the fourth chapter in Evron’s photographic installations will intervene on Mies’ historic glass-boxed travertine marble staircase within the Arts Club of Chicago from January 17–February 23, 2023. The exhibition precedes the forthcoming installation at the Edith Farnsworth House in 2025.

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