Windy City: Winds of Change
With curator Joseph Rosa's arrival at the Art Institute, design officially joins the department of architecture
Susan Brandabur -- Interior Design, 10/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The first John H. Bryan Curator of Architecture and Design.
From his emerging-designers series at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, his previous employer, a rendering of Lindy Roy's ski station and hotel in Alaska.
A cross-sectional model of the Art Institute of Chicago's planned Renzo Piano wing, future home of the architecture and design department.
A Ludwig Mies van der Rohe house-study drawing, part of the Art Institute's permanent collection.
Birkenstocks by Yves Béhar, shown in Joseph Rosa's "Design Series 2" show at SFMOMA.
As the Art Institute of Chicago's new curator of architecture and design, Joseph Rosa has landed a job that the Chicago Tribune calls "one of the nation's most influential museum platforms for shaping how the public views architecture." And he brings an impressive background as an architect, author, and curator to the role. After working for Eisenman Robertson Architects, Rosa spent five years at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., organizing exhibitions on Frank Lloyd Wright and Hugh Newell Jacobsen, before moving to the Heinz Architectural Center in Pittsburgh and then the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
At SFMOMA from 2001 to 2005, he introduced museumgoers to industrial designer Yves Béhar and architect Lindy Roy—as well as to the idea that the best architecture and design can be viewed on a par with fine art. "His greatest asset is a rare and deep understanding of the interrelatedness of those disciplines," says Art Institute president James Cuno, who brought Rosa on board to reshape the department in anticipation of an expanded presence in Renzo Piano's north wing, due for completion in 2009.
How did your appointment come about?
James Cuno asked me if I could suggest someone for the curatorial position. Somewhat naively, I took his inquiry at face value and said I'd think of some candidates. (He told me later, "I was hoping I was more transparent than that.")
Originally, the position was limited to architecture. But as we began discussing the potential for a wider scope, encompassing 19th- and 20th-century design and the international arena, I became interested. And the idea of working under someone like Cuno, with his tremendous enthusiasm for so many aspects of the art world—well, you don't say no to that.
What sold you on the Art Institute's collection?
The core strength has been an unapologetic focus on the region. Chicago is a city of legacy upon legacy, with deep holdings from the late 19th century and the entire 20th. That's a fantastic foundation for launching an expansion. However, if you're myopic in promoting the stature of one region, you do the subject a disservice.
So how do you proceed?
It might be a matter of finding international doppelgängers to pair with Chicago counterparts. For example, in the land of Mies and Wright, it could make sense to showcase Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.
Historically, Chicago has been shortchanged in that regard. Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock's seminal "Modern Architecture" exhibition at MoMA in 1932 placed Chicago architects Monroe and Irving Bowman in the same room with Gropius and his Bauhaus. When I told Johnson that the Bowman brothers' work was among my favorites in the show, he was dismissive of their later efforts. But I feel that they remain tremendously important.
Will you continue to promote recent work, too?
Well, it's not that simple. I believe that the only way to understand the present is in relation to the past. At SFMOMA, I acquired drawings by Corbusier, Paul Rudolph, and Louis Kahn, along with other prewar artifacts, to create a department strong in objects from the early 20th century. In Chicago, I see the process as looking back and forward at the same time, to present the full trajectory.
Does that mean focusing more on exhibitions or acquisitions?
A museum is only as strong as its holdings—otherwise it becomes a kunsthalle. I'd like to add examples in architecture by Corbusier, Kahn, Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, and Greg Lynn. In modern design, I want Achille Castiglioni and Jean Prouvé. In contemporary design, it would be the Bouroullec and Campana brothers, Mark Goulthorpe, Jakob + MacFarland, and Roy McMakin.
I've also begun to discuss with my colleagues in American and European decorative arts how we might collaborate between, say, the 1920's and 1950's, when the distinction between design and decoration blurs somewhat. Those two departments have terrific collections.
How will the Renzo Piano wing suit your purposes?
The fact that the museum is celebrating architecture with this expansion will provide a constant avenue for discussion about the very disciplines I'm in charge of. So it will suit us very well.
It's certainly an enormous undertaking.
I'll be hiring two full-time curators.
What is a significant trend in design and architecture?
Digital literacy. It has changed the pedagogy and practice of design, resulting in new ways of conceptualizing—and fabricating—buildings as well as furniture. It's an exciting and important moment in the discipline.