Saturday, 6 August 2016

Intruding eye sore

The modernist aesthetic transcends boundaries of genre. It has no clue of the relationship between the nature of materials and the psychology of the linguistic aspects of any art form, which can be considered a type of 'language', full of references, a network of meaning, developed over the ages.

The palace of Versailles, creation of the Sun King in the 17th century, is one of the most famous architectural works of art in the world, and a symbol of French and European culture, an example which was followed all over Europe. Because of the increasing flow of tourist visitors, something had to be done to have this attention ordered in a better way. So, they invited a modernist architect to insert some contemporary extensions for practical use, plus some aesthetic ornamentations to add to the long history of different building stages that characterizes Versailles. The glass piramid of the Louvre, this deplorable, vulgar eye sore in the midst of an impressive classical building, served as an example.

The modernist intrusion in the Versailles complex demonstrates the problem with modernism's attitude towards history in the most obvious and embarrassing way. In this article in the New York Times (underneath), the modernist intrusion is treated as merely another extension to a complex which has grown over the years as a cumulation of various different stylistic additions: in every period after the completion at the end of the 17th century, things were changed or built in the style which was current at the time. So, there is 17C baroque - Louis XIV style, there is rococo - Louis XV, and different versions of the later neoclassicism. The interior was adapted time and again according to the tenants' taste and current fashions. But all these styles organically developed out of each other, are referring to each other, and all can be seen as variations within a context of classicism: all elements fit together and never form aesthetic / stylistic clashes. The different styles follow the same fundamental aesthetic dynamics, and show the immense variety which is possible within a classical language. But this context has boundaries: for instance, it would have been an impossible clash if a neogothic addition had been built, since this style has an entirely different repertoire of references, aesthetic as well as psychological. And so it is with modernism.

This problem can be compared with the inclusion of a piece by Xenakis in a classical concert programme, justified on the linear narrative which was projected into the past by modernist ideologies: 'at those earlier times, composers wrote in that way, and now they write in this way, the art form just developes and we have to accept this natural way of history developing.' As we know, in postwar modernism - in all genres - contemporary style was consciously and intentionally based upon a fundamental break with the past, and in the same time presented and defended as a mere further development of that same past - a crazy contradiction and a transparant demonstration of the intellectual dishonesty which formed the core of the movement.

Some people, and not necessarily the less culturally-developed, wholeheartedly dislike Versailles and all it stands for: overblown, pretentious, undemocratic, too many ornaments and too much gold, monarchical ideology, symbol of hierarchical suppression, etc. etc. But above all, it is a most remarkable architectural achievement, in all its aspects. As soon as a modernist gets his hands on such structures, it will be defiled, as usual. Why didn't they invite a classicist architect? Probably because the responsible authorities are still under the delusion that the modern world requires a certain aesthetics, and they routinely think conventionally, and unintentionally further damage the impressive cultural heritage of France, of Europe.

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