Mies van der Rohe’s Collages and Minimalism’s Penchant for Chaos

But More is Not Less.

There was a time when architects were the only ones who were allowed to copy-paste. The only ones who were allowed to photoshop lived space. There was a time when no one asked architects many questions. For example, why a building designed as the Bacardi headquarters in Havana would serve just as well as the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. There was a time when architects were the best trolls. Like when Mies van der Rohe erected the Seagram Building across the street from the Racquet & Tennis Club in New York, making McKim, Mead, and White’s renaissance-style building look like a stone houseplant. Or, similarly, when Philip Johnson placed a veil of beaded curtains on the ground floor interior of the Seagram Building, biting his thumb at Van der Rohe’s less-is-more ethos.

Mies van der Rohe’s collage work reflects how architects can be savvy trolls. His layered composition for a Chicago Convention Hall project mirrors “Dante’s Divine Comedy”: a gridded ceiling is heaven, a bureaucratic marble wall is purgatory, and a political mob is hell. Collage: Mies van der Rohe (1954)

Assembled into a book for the first time, Mies van der Rohe’s collages and montages elude to this penchant for conflict. The essays in the book chew over the grandfather of the International Style’s copy-paste jobs, revealing the architect to be more of a content manager than the cold, platonic formalist that he has become in the popular imagination. In some of the collages, Van der Rohe’s gridded expanses become holding spaces for small bursts of chaos – a swirling slab of marble here, a classical nude in contrapposto there, or even Picasso’s Guernica plopped down just for fun.

To say these compositions were intended as pragmatic tools for speculating on museum spaces would be to miss the reality that they point to: that a clean plane is often nothing more than an invitation for flux, messiness, and, most importantly, content. Take, for example, one of Van der Rohe’s most famous collages, a 1954 composition for the Chicago Convention Hall project. Like Dante’s Divine Comedy, this large and expansive room is divided into three layers: on the top, a white geometric roof, in the middle, a strip of green marble with bureaucratic emblems, and, on the bottom, a teeming rally dotted with Dwight Eisenhower campaign signs. Heaven. Purgatory. Hell. All with the American flag hanging from the center-left. Only collage can create such distinctions so immediately, and so brutally.

Collage: Mies van der Rohe

But perhaps the most curious of Van der Rohe’s cut-and-paste works are a series of proposals for apartment buildings, which depict drawings of living room interiors with photographs of city and country views glued onto where the windows should be. These images instantly point to the allure of the Van der Rohe design promise – the idea of a future where walls are replaced by transparent glass planes that spill into grand vistas. But there is a certain uncanniness to how a view looks when pasted onto a drawing in such a way, one that makes the outside world seem virtual. Ten years before Roland Barthes was pouring over the Citroën DS 19 – the car that turned the windshield into a mobile TV screen – Van der Rohe was thinking about how architectural surfaces can hold content. The idea that a rectilinear form can be a container for simulations is reflected in a statement Van der Rohe made about his famous Farnsworth House: “If you regard nature through the glass walls of the Farnsworth House, it is given deeper meaning than if you are standing outside. In the first case, more of nature is expressed – it becomes part of a greater whole.” This greater whole is media.

Mies van der Rohe: Montage Collage is published by Koenig Books (London, 2017).

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Issue #32 — Summer 2017"US vs. THEM"

Issue # 32 — Summer 2017

Issue #32 – Summer 2017: “US vs. THEM”

How do you find truth in an age without facts? The answer: wake up and stick together. In this issue’s dossier “US vs. THEM,” creative director RICHARD TURLEY explores how the Global Right Wing’s blatant disregard for reality has given us all a license to become Nonsense Warriors. Turning away from “them” and towards “us,” CATHERINE OPIE, NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE, and STEFANO PILATI take us into their inner circles of friends, while COLLIER SCHORR turns BELLA HADID into Lisa Lyon. We revisit the work of MICHAEL SCHMIDT, and how his community workshops turned Berlin into a cauldron of contemporary photography. JACKIE NICKERSON shows us what Robert Longo looks like with a faster Internet connection, while CARSTEN HÖLLER takes us into his kitchen to explore the post-digital nature of food. We speak with VIRGIL ABLOH as he plots a fashion industry coup d’état and follow JASON DILL on a skate odyssey to hell and back to Fucking Awesome. And, last but not least, we make a pilgrimage to Santo Sospir, the villa on the Riviera where JEAN COCTEAU created his greatest Gesamtkunstwerk.

Also included with the issue, our “HEAT UP HADID” TRANSFER KIT which allows you to create your own t-shirt emblazoned with this issue’s BELLA HADID cover.

Learn more about the issue below:

Nothing makes sense. Nothing ever will again. The year 2016 marked a total rupture in the theater of politics. Even if the damaging effects of Donald Trump’s election somehow prove to be short-lived, his rise indicates a crisis wherein digital acceleration has led to political regression. In our dossier “US vs. THEM,” creative director RICHARD TURLEY creates a handbook for our new political paradigm. Its central hypothesis: Only within the chaos of this media overload will we discover what is real again.

“I am not sure if the sculptures were even subjects for her photographs …” For her first ever magazine editorial, “Heroines: Paris/Los Angeles,” artist CATHERINE OPIEteamed up with artistic director NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE to create a study on the power of classicism and ambiguity. The exploration begins on the beige stone of the Louvre’s sculpture garden and continues to Opie’s studio in Los Angeles, documenting a sprawling circle of friends and acquaintances.

On a surrealist journey into the past, Martin Mosebach visits the summer retreat of JEAN COCTEAU. At the Villa Santo Sospir, the artist spent a decade’s worth of summers smoking opium and creating his largest total artwork.

Back with a vengeance for her third 032c cover story, COLLIER SCHORR teams up with fashion director Mel Ottenberg for “Smith & Wesson Blues,” a shoot with BELLA HADID, inspired by the body builder and Robert Mapplethorpe muse Lisa Lyon.

“Duchamp is my lawyer.” From his fortress of irony, designer VIRGIL ABLOH is set on turning fashion into the industrial arm of the art world. In conversation with 032c’s managing editor Thom Bettridge, he explains how streetwear is not just a fad, but a logic inspired by Dada and destined to dominate the digital age.

Accompanied by a re-print of MICHAEL SCHMIDT’s 2002 story for 032c, Kolja Reichert explores how the photographer’s community workshops from 1976 to 1986 create a style born out of the “Gray Island” of Berlin.

For the story “Energy Crisis,” photographer LUKAS WASSMANN and designer STEFANO PILATI shoot an editorial inside Michael Sailstorfer’s exhibition “Hitzefrei” at St. Agnes. As his first for a magazine editorial, Pilati’s styling includes garments from his own personal wardrobe.

“It’s an exhausting reality,” laughs JASON DILL. In an odyssey documented with drawings and pictures from his personal archive, the skate legend takes us to hell and back to Fucking Awesome.

In “Push Me Shove You Oh Yeah Says Who,” photographer JACKIE NICKERSON, along with fashion editor Marc Goehring and 032c apparel creative director Maria Koch, presents a yogic meditation on a white collar dystopia.

“I’m very bad at killing, in general.” As an antidote to postmodern culinary mediocrity, artist CARSTEN HÖLLER takes us to his concrete perch on the seaside of Ghana and guides us through the 11 points of his “Brutalist Kitchen Manifesto.”

In the “SSENSE Files,” we bring you scenes of cross-platform madness, including interviews with RICARDO BOFILL, PLAYBOI CARTI, CHITOSE ABE, CHRIS KRAUS, HENRY STAMBLER, AMINA BLUE, and 69.

In our second-ever “BERLIN REVIEW” section, we speak with JEFF KOONS about Plato, retrace MARTIN MARGIELA’s reign at Hermès, dive to the underwater tombs of PHARAOHS, and explore our favorite books of the season.

All this and more on 296 pages!