Leger Analysis

According to Colin Rowe and Robert Slutsky, the Ecole de Paris was responsible for the development in painting of "abstract shallow space" in which they as painters attempted to render the presence of recessed planes located behind and parallel to the picture face. Through this strategy a "phenomenal transparency" or "simultaneous perception " of different spatial locations occurs for the viewer. The traditional singularity of Rennaissance vision is replaced by a fluctuating, contradictory reading of space, with the "inference" of deep space constantly punctuated by the "fact" of shallow space, thus developing an unresolved experiential tension in the viewer. This "interpenetration without optical destruction," as Kepes calls it, was first used extensively in architecture by Le Corbusier in his L'Esprit Nouveau pavilion and later to a more refined level at Garches. [10]

For Rowe, the most clear example of this phenomenon in architecture comes from a comparision between Leger's Three Faces of 1928 and Le Corbusier's Villa at Garche, both of which juxtapose two-third of the picture plane or facade with shallow space, and the other third constituting a "coulisse" disclosing a location that both advances and recedes. Frampton finds this "stratification of space" also employed in the Maison de Verre: "It is to be remarked that an almost exactly parallel phenomenon occurs in Maison de Verre, where horizontal planes are deliberately placed over each other, partly to emphasize areas and partly to make a synthetic expression in the cubist sense." [11]

It is interesting to see a somewhat different "spatial reading" of Leger's later work coming in the mid-thirties from contemporaries, most notably his close friends Christian Zervos and Paul Nelson.

In 1934, Zervos wrote an article on Leger entitled, "Fernand Leger and Le Poesie de l' Objet." His primary point was that whereas Matisse and the cubists had maintained the rather "classical concentration upon the object," Leger in his later work was now cultivating the object's "spatial dispersion." He then goes on to describe the four step process of Leger's new work:

1. The transformation of the appearance of the object
2. The reconstitution of the object.
3. Accentuation de la forme reele de'l 'objet. Abandon du principle cubiste de concentration, remplace par le principle de la dispersion des objets. Les objets sont dans l'espace. . .
4. An abandonment of the relationship of objects in space for their interpretation in color
(le truchement des valeurs chromatiques).
(Zervos, "Fernand Leger and Le Poesie de l' Objet."1934)

The third step, the reconfiguration of cubist montage back into perspectival space, reestablishing spatial relationships between objects, is perhaps the most pertinent here, for a similar reading will be found in Nelson's own reading of Leger later in the decade. In 1937, Nelson, a close friend of Leger for over ten years, published an article on the the spatial qualities of Leger's paintings in Cahier d'Art. Entitled "Peinture Spatiale et Architecture, " the essay is interesting in that proposes a fluctuating experience of space far less binary and stratified, and which results from the three-dimensional "spatial resonance" of certain elements in the work: There is a new quality to Leger's last paintings that could be called "spatial." It is according to me the essential factor of his development. Not only do his paintings leave the frame to become murals, but they command space. . . Waves and beams emanate (from the painting's objects), equally spatial and in perfect agreement with an actual volume, so that one can close his eyes, not see them anymore and feel nevertheless pierced through by them.

Each element develops its own "signature in space," a volume that it projects three-dimensionally from itself. In the late twenties, Nelson had apparently used similar metaphors for Giacometti's "caged structures," noting the "spatial echo" that occurred from each of the clashing forms.

This influence of art on the space-making of the Nelson/Nitzchke partnership is significant in that one sees the same language of "object densities" "and "spatial release" being employed by Nelson to describe his own later work, particularly the Maison Suspendu in an article entitled "New Use of Space determines Design of Proposed House." There he describes how "high concentrations of useful space -- through the use, for instance, of the Dymaxion bathroom -- serve to release space for leisure activity." [12]

It is interesting to note that in virtually all of their projects of the 1930s, Nelson and Nitzchke employ the "cut-away axonometric" as one of the primary ways of representing architectural space. Particularly in the Ismailia Surgery Pavilion and Nitzchke's later Maison de Publicite, there is an unusually systematic progression to the cut-away, passing through the building section by section, floor by floor, offering a level of information and spatial experience not usually found in one architectural drawing. In many respects, the cut-away axo is the only drawing method that can adaquately represent the designs of Nelson and Nitzchke. While the parallel projection itself conveys the structural nature and essential "buildability" of the work, the cut-away makes explicit the varying spatial and programmatic densities that their transformable plan and free section" strategies would generate.

[CONTINUE] "The Problem of the House" and "New Uses for Space": Helion and the Maison Suspendu

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