OMA On And On And Ever Onwards


Barbican Art Gallery opens its OMA/Progress architectural exhibition



Review – Architecture exhibitions are notoriously difficult, because the one thing they always have to miss out from the exhibit is the architecture itself: you can’t put a building in a gallery. In the past, the architectural practice OMA has tried to get round this obstacle by focusing on theoretical ideas and working method, exhibiting in particular the hundreds of sketch models that they produce for each project.


But this time OMA has ‘surrendered’ the curation to Rotor, a Belgian collective of ‘not-architects’, ‘experts at dismantling constructions both material and rhetorical’. The result is an investigation into the office itself, as well as a display of selected productions. On show are e-mails printed out and pinned to the walls, sketch models, transcripts of meetings, slides from a business strategy presentation, and even bits and pieces literally picked out of waste paper bins (Label: ‘Is this a model, or just a piece of rubbish? – we don’t know’). Mixed in with this are the beautiful drawings and presentation models one would expect, but here presented as objects in themselves, often in thick perspex cases, detached from the workings and process around them. The classic ‘art-frozen-on-a-plinth’ style of display vies with the semi-anthropological approach to the show as an investigation into the every-day life of the office – a sympathetic and successful dismantling of the OMA way of exhibiting. 


The space of the Barbican gallery is reconfigured with roughly cut plywood and cheap corrugated plastic sheeting, at times feeling almost like a building site – with bits of tape left on the walls and paper pasted over holes. In fact, while going round the show, I noticed someone still taping annotations onto the floor, since, every time the architects go on a site visit, the curators will put up a fresh photo of the construction. It is the ideal setting in which to present architecture as a process, and a messy one at that. The unaesthetic aspects of practice – from hard-nosed business to inter-office memos about tidying up – are presented alongside the stunningly beautiful results, with a provocative lack of hierarchy. Like OMA, a practice that constantly re-visits and recycles their own projects, the show is made to feel like a work unfinished – in progress. This makes for an exciting visit.


Words: Laurence Lumley © 2011 ArtLyst

Exhibition @ Barbican Centre, Silk Street EC2Y 8DS (Mon-Sat 9am-11pm, Sun 12noon-11pm, until 19 Feb)



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