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Most of us think of Le Corbusier as an architect, renown for such prominent and ground-breaking edifices as Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France and the Carpenter Center at Harvard. But now through December we have the valuable opportunity to view a selection of his two-dimensional work, housed in the building which he designed.
Le Corbusier: A Marriage of Contours
Organized by the Farish Gallery, Rich University
At the Carpenter Sert Gallery
October 19 through December 9
Le Corbusier: A Marriage of Contours is an arresting exhibit, interesting for its unique context, as well as the quality of the artwork shown. The collection of drawings, in pastel, watercolor and pencil, was assembled by Le Corbusier himself with the goal of representing the breadth and spirit of his pictorial work. This goal is admirably realized and results in an exhibit which is both dynamic and unified. Almost without exception, each individual piece is worthy of close inspection. But Marriage of Contours also displays a temporal progression in the style of this vibrant artist. The exhibit is an education not only in Le Corbusier's aims, but in learning to see forms.
The colors in his works are vivid and the forms solid but curvaceous. Forms rendered by line and those denoted by blocks of color are in a captivating interplay. One piece which exemplifies the interchange remarkably well is the 1947 work, Woman at a Window. The solid blocks of monochrome color are seen through the decisive black curves that define the nude figure. We cannot be certain that the figure is the subject matter of the work. We begin to suspect that the blocks of color--overpowering the transparent figure by virtue of their expansiveness and contrasting tones--are themselves the true subjects.
It is interesting to view this piece in contrast with a study of the same name and subject done eight years earlier. Considering these two pieces, we can see a progression in Le Corbusier's work from a more traditional composition and depiction to more adventurous experimentation with form and color. In the earlier Woman at a Window, the outlines of the subject contain a color distinct from that of a fairly sizeable background. In the later work, Le Corbusier uses color independently of the constraints of subject and background.
In his earliest works, the artist displays a decidedly cubist influence. The dimension, subject matter and composition of such pieces as Bottle, Teapot, and Accordian are reminiscent of the distinctive collage still-lifes of the French artist Braque.
Le Corbusier's progression from direct representation becomes apparent in Head and S-Curve, a lively drawing rendered in brazen colors. A purer example of this trend in his pictorial art is the figure drawing Two Bathers, in which he extracts the shapes suggested by the two figures with a black wash. The figures are then reduced to background lines.
Le Corbusier's drawings are characterized by a lack of depth, which allows the formal elements of line, color and form to have full reign over the composition. The three elements are given equal weight, and as a result, the works tend to be both sumptuous and harmonious.
Marriage of Contours is certainly an elucidating and engaging exhibition. It allows us to see another side of Le Corbusier's genius. But although that angle is interesting, it should not over-shadow the strong merit of the works themselves.
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