Graveyard of modernism

By GREG COOK  |  October 17, 2012

ART_CityofMirages_cArchitect_WalterGropius

Iraq's King Faisal II launched plans to modernize Baghdad in 1950 by commissioning a dream team of American and European architects — Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Cambridge's Walter Gropius, Harvard's José Luis Sert, Gio Ponti, Constantinos Doxiadis, Willem Marinus Dudok — to design a university, a sports complex, government offices, and whole neighborhoods.

"City of Mirages: Baghdad, 1952-1982," organized by Barcelona's Collegi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya, uses wall text, illustrations, and models created for the exhibit (no primary sources) to tell the fascinating and melancholy story of dashed Iraqi aspirations and Western Modernist utopian dreams left incomplete, damaged, or unbuilt.

The Western architects rhymed Modernism's clean, minimalist geometry with traditional Arab lattices, geometric decoration, and the warrens of neighborhoods and markets. At times, the Modernists seem to slip into an awkward Orientalist accent — like when Wright took inspiration from minarets and One Thousand and One Nights.

This sort of whimsy ultimately buckled under the intense pressure on Iraq's faults — squeezed by heavily armed world powers, by international addiction to oil, by bloodthirsty, power-mad local strongmen. In 1958, Faisal was executed in a military coup d'état. In 1968, Saddam Hussein became vice president. He rose to president in '79. The following year, Iraq was at war with Iran.

"CITY OF MIRAGES" BSA Space :: 290 Congress St, Boston :: Through January 10

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Photography, Baghdad, renovation,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY GREG COOK
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   PERSONAL POLITICS  |  April 23, 2014
    M eredith Stern creates dreamy fables.
  •   PERFECTLY HUMAN  |  April 16, 2014
    Sometimes I think you can understand everything about our society today by considering it through two themes — the perfection of technology versus the messily human handmade.
  •   THE LAST FRONTIER  |  April 02, 2014
    They say that temperatures in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica haven’t been above freezing in millennia.
  •   ASSURED ABSTRACTIONS  |  March 19, 2014
    “The golden age of abstraction is right now,” ARTnews informed me last spring.
  •   COMMON GROUND  |  March 12, 2014
    “I did everything in the world to keep this from happening,” exclaims the assistant to the rich man in Kerry Tribe’s There Will Be ___ _.

 See all articles by: GREG COOK