Sleek modern buildings look best when they're clear of clutter (preferably free of people too), their gleaming surfaces and perfect state of cleanliness seeming to exist without mundane maintenance. Well, Architect Andrés Jaque and the Office for Political Innovation have decided to challenge that myth. Commissioned to produce an installation at Mies Van der Rohe’s iconic Barcelona Pavilion, the group dug through the basement and revealed the inevitable junk and tools that any building -- even an uninhabited one -- accumulates over time.
"PHANTOM. Mies as Rendered Society" presents the invisible, ghost-like mechanism that works to maintain the Barcelona Pavilion, a quintessential icon of modernist aesthetics. The pavilion was dismantled in 1930 and reconstructed more than 50 years later with a secret basement area, built to hide a storage and maintenance room. In Jaque’s view, this configuration makes the pavilion a two-story “battle ground,” where foundational politics occupy the upper floor and the contingent the basement. The installation proposes a reconciliation of these separate worlds. Twenty-three interventions pair the "ordinary" with the "sublime," bringing upstairs the objects that are used to clean or repair the pavilion such as replacement pillows for the famous Barcelona chair, a vacuum cleaner, a broken door, salt once used to keep the pool water clear, and cracked travertine from the pavilion's floor.
Drawing on Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the intervention exposes the hedonism cultivated by modern architecture. Just as the book's mysterious portrait enables its owner to maintain his apparent youth, the basement makes it possible for the building above to maintain the illusion of self-sustained perfection.
"PHANTOM. Mies as Rendered Society" follows previous interventions in the pavilion space by Ai Weiwei, SANAA, and Jeff Wall, all commissioned by the Mies Van der Rohe Foundation and the Fundació Banc Sabadell. The installation is based on the two-year work developed by Jaque and the Office and will be on view through February 27.
Photos: Miguel de Guzman