Stanley Tigerman, American, born 1930, The Titanic, 1978, Photomontage on paper, Approx. 28 x 35.7 cm, Gift of Stanley Tigerman, 1984.802, The Art Institute of Chicago. Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago.
Installation view, Division, "Ceci n'est pas une reverie: The Architecture of Stanley Tigerman," 2012, Graham Foundation, Chicago. Photo James Prinz.
Stanley Tigerman: This is not a dream; it is a life’s work.
-through May 19, 2012
Review by Constantine D. Vasilios
How many times in the previous decades have we heard the name ‘Stanley Tigerman’ in the realm of architecture in Chicago, our windy city? The Graham Foundation is about to close another chapter in this dance with an exhibit called “Ceci n’est pas une reverie (this is not a dream): the Architecture of Stanley Tigerman.” The words are sparse and the visuals plenty. The exhibition opened in the Rudolph Hall Gallery at Yale, where Stanley the student developed under one of his mentors, Paul Rudolph, who presided over the architecture department at the time. From there, the exhibit traveled and opened at The Graham Foundation on January 26.
A life’s work cannot be captured within a tight, short essay. Upon having said that, one can be written about an exhibition. An exhibition of a life’s work can be seen as a glance backward. Then again, that is one way of looking at it. Stanley Tigerman’s lifelong dance with his love, Architecture, falls between passion, intuition and human frailty on one side, and the rigorous pursuit of striving for perfection “to get it right” on the other side.
In its current stage the exhibition is uneasy, it possesses a certain discomfort and collides with the historic Madlener House, as Tigerman noted in his recent lecture, (through no fault of the organizing team) since it was conceived for the opening at Yale. Sectioned in the ‘rooms’ of the house, it has trouble flowing from one portion to the next. However, by coincidence is this not a life’s work? Do we not encounter collisions, contradictions and questions with partial answers, a search for truth, faith, and direction?
I am well aware of the perils of writing about someone’s life work in a short essay. Nevertheless, in a Tigermanesque ‘bite’ of the big picture one can take aim at a fragment.
Walking through the ornate punctured front door of the Graham Foundation, the exhibit begins on the first level and ascends to its final destination: ‘Identity and death,’ as it is titled. The precise cut curvilinear simple Plexiglas covered tables house a collection of specific drawings, models, sketches and objects mostly seen from above as in a drafting table. The emphasis is on the art of conception, prior to a translation into a subsequent reality. Stanley Tigerman’s sketch book was ‘the well’ for nourishment of ideas that translated into the built realities. As such, the purity of thought prized was in the ideas. The simple quality Plexiglas cases speak to this effect. After all, the buildings can be compromised, altered and misdirected. The sketch, the drawing and the model incorporate the poetic syntax of the artist, prior to its release to the mass production where compromise and budgets will have deprecations.
The first stage of the exhibit ‘Yaleana,’ displays the work of the architect’s student days under Paul Rudolph at Yale. Stanley convinced Rudolph that one year would be all that he would need to complete what is required for an architect to receive his masters’ degree. The work reveals the long nights spent at a drafting board:persistent, with quality of line and some perseverance in the possibility of ‘getting it right.’ The outcome is impressive. Lines, dots, shapes are executed better than some of our current computer drawings that at times direct the hand, versus the hand directing the line.
The second space is dedicated to Utopia. The scale changes to large, imaginative structures whose shapes concentrate on their mass. One of them, ‘Instant Football,’ has a hotel above the stadium looking to the freezing fans below from climatically comfortable conditions. Beyond the humor of a hotel straddling, say, Soldier Field with its fine patrons at the top symbolically gazing down on the freezing fans below, the drawings demonstrate a firm inquiry with structure; points of strength and limitation. They are mass-based, unapologetically.
‘Drift’ and ‘Allegory’ follow and introduce a time where the work of the Architect has taken meandering curvilinear shapes in high precision. The Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a personal favorite of this writer, takes the curves from the plan and presents them in elevation. Tigerman mentioned in a lecture long ago that this was one of the buildings that he designed where the plans presented less of a struggle than was usually the case for him. He wanted to work for this type of user. The intellectual and playful components of practice are on display. The library for the blind may be ‘worth a second look’. Who is blind? The texture and vivid color has practical considerations of intensity to those that may not be able to see. Color stimulates the eye and the whole building design is charged with energy. Unfortunately it has not survived ‘improvements to the current built environment.’ In a similar case scenario Tigerman’s Anti Cruelty Society highlighting a band signaling ‘puppies..puppies..puppies’ a humorous and effective communication to pedestrians was also silenced. Recent improvements saw this as useless. A freeze in antiquity accomplished communication. Communication in our age of architectural silence would make anything close to buildings that speak be valid. The work displayed in ‘Drift’ and ‘Allegory’ may be seen as the antithesis of Utopia, except for the rigorous monk-like persistence of the quality of line and the closure of the mass in the projects. This is what Paul Klee would refer to ‘as taking a line out for a walk’ - however, with discipline.
Entering the room named ‘Division’ one witnesses examples of just that. The first, as exemplified in the Baha’i Temple Archives Center in Wilmette Illinois, shapes and textures show the center to be as important by absence. The Urban Villa, a project at Tegeler Hafen in West Berlin, emphasizes the ‘presence of absence’ at the center of the villa by a gap with a black and white checkerboard announcing the void on both sides. Is it East versus West?
Continuing to the next space, ‘(Dis) Order’ is a collection of work that reveals Tigerman’s life long wrestling match with the grid. The Momochi Fukuoka housing in Japan shows a perfect cube grid in the center all dressed in white that erodes and turns black as grids appear at the exterior of the building. One has the opportunity to stand in the center of the interior and experience the perfection. On the other hand the street calls to erosion and disorder where masses push and pull on the grid at times swallowing it in parts.
Humor has its own category in a subsequent space, although one may argue parts of other projects in the exhibition reveal the childlike humor mischievously present or lurking in the majority of the work. The Dasie House is a humorous, complete plan of a hous showing the male and female genital regions in intercourse. Yet, from the point of view of the client (not looking from above) who was requesting the house and was terminally ill with cancer, it spoke to the joke that sometimes life can be.
Taking the Madlener house stairway to the top floor of the exhibit you arrive at ‘Identity and Death.’ The Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois, seems to have driven Tigerman the way the Library for the Blind once energized him. In a brilliant, striking model the original rail car that would bring the Jews to their death is hidden and produced as the wedge of the building between good and evil, black and white, life and death, the [INTERPRETATION OF] Soren Kierkegaard’s [WORK] that Stanley Tigerman questioned and embraced in his search [FOR] meaning.
Ambivalence, complexity, antithesis, thesis, drifts, life and death, humor and - if we are lucky - time for other events, are part of human beings, part of our make up, and what life presents to us unyieldingly. Architecture has the power to express and communicate our human design. Perfection as in a precise grid is an ideal, a search for the unreachable, incurable aspect of life never reached. Stanley Tigerman battled with the energy of a child for decades, the intellectual, theoretical component of Architecture, with its intuitive and practical aspects. In private he is reminiscent of a slice of Frank Lloyd Wright who was paraphrased as saying ‘I prefer honest arrogance over hypocritical humility.’ Over the years he practiced the “kind” and the “arrogant”with his clients and anyone that would listen, for that matter. In his voice, like it or not (and I am not taking sides), he placed Chicago on the architectural map after a gap since the Mies van der Rohe era, by the wind he generated and exhibitions he brought about, his teaching not withstanding.
Like an archer trying to split the arrow time after time toward perfection of an idea in utter frustration Tigerman sought the perfect as in Mies van der Rohe. In Mies’s followers he saw beggars reminiscent of Lorado Taft’s personified sculpture of Time where a line of slumbered tired souls represented in statuary are passing through Time represented larger and more powerful. They walk like beggars to death totally defeated. Architects turning in copies of Miesian glass boxes had Tigerman nauseated. Possibly a fear of imitation is what drove him to reflect the times with his designs. ‘Getting it Right’ and ‘Architecture is a Calling’ are present at the exhibition. Maybe [THEY WOULD BE GOOD TITLES AS WELL?] a good title as well. The rest of his life is in his book Designing Bridges to Burn. Let’s allow him to tell the story, an interesting one for an Architect raised in the Windy City.
After its exhibition at the Graham Foundation, the exhibtion will travel to the Buell Gallery at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Stanley Tigerman’s archives will transfer in 2012 to the Yale University’ Manuscripts and Archives depository.