Architecture book on display at MFAH

Past the photos of blasted rock, bland buildings and burning paper is a book from UH’s William R. Jenkins Architecture and Art Library on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The exhibition, Ruptures and Continuities: Photography Made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection, captures the medium of photography and artists’ books. Jon Evans, the head of reference at MFAH’s Hirsch Library, said these specific artistic practices question the boundaries of mediums in that time period and were viewed as outside the spectrum of “high” art.

The book Learning from Las Vegas is an example of how artistic tradition was broken.

“Without this book, this exhibition would be totally different,” said Yasu Nakamori, the exhibition’s curator.

The page on display is a collection of small snapshots of Las Vegas: gas stations, run-down buildings and neon signs are just a small part of what the page contains.

“The photos really represent intellectually what they were trying to say,” Evans said.

Nakamori said the book was positioned as a rebuke to orthodox modernism and elite architectural tastes.

The 1972 publication contains the studies of the Las Vegas Strip undertaken by a 1968 research and design studio led by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown at the Yale School of Architecture. Steven Izenour also assisted in its creation.

“It came out almost as a term-end graduate seminar project,” Nakamori said.

Graduate students at Yale took several of the photos, Nakamori said. Venturi, Brown and Izenour used the students’ snapshots to create what is now on display at the museum.

The photos are mundane, Evans said, but the collection of photos as a whole is what makes the exhibition intriguing.

“The ideas are more important than the actual images in some cases,” Evans said.

Catherine Essinger, the William R. Jenkins architecture and art library coordinator said this is the second straight year that MFAH has borrowed a book from the library collection for an exhibition.

“I’m pleased that the curators are promoting art books as an important artistic format,” Essinger said.

Interest has increased in the genre of artists’ books over the past few years, Evans said. “This has given them a status equal to other media, which is long overdue.”

Ruptures and Continuities displays work by 80 artists from 20 different countries, according to the MFAH Web site. Some of the artists include Lewis Baltz, William Eggleston, Gordon Matta-Clark, Richard Misrach, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol.

This June, Nakamori will use two more books from the UH library to help complete his latest exhibit.

“UH has been very generous about lending us books,” Nakamori said.

The June exhibition will include the books Katasura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture and Katasura: Space and Time, which portray 17th-century teahouse villas.

“My exhibition (will) develop around how this photo book was made,” Nakamori said.

Ruptures and Continuities will be on display through May 9 in the Audrey Jones Beck Building at MFAH.

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