The Artist — Le Corbusier | The artist
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The artist

Le Cor­bu­si­er can­not be com­pre­hen­ded wit­hout inclu­ding in one’s visi­on of him the pain­ter, the draft­s­man, the gra­phic artist. Art was the foun­da­ti­on that he built upon and it was his way to try things out, to deve­lop his arse­nal of forms. In art, he explo­red his con­cep­ti­ons of space, ide­as which had so far never been rea­li­zed, and here he expe­ri­men­ted with the dis­so­lu­ti­on and recon­struc­tion of the three dimen­si­ons that could later be seen in his buil­dings and even in his urba­nistics pro­jec­ts. The deve­lop­ment that he under­went as an artist was par­al­lel to his deve­lop­ment as an archi­tect. It is not wit­hout rea­son that he pla­ced impor­t­an­ce on the state­ment that the key to his archi­tec­tu­re was to be found in his artis­tic work.

 

This fact can be seen most clear­ly in the tran­si­ti­on from his first lar­ge group of works, the struc­tu­red, puris­tic works, to the works in which from the end of the 1920s onwards he expan­ded his voca­bu­la­ry of motifs to inclu­de the fema­le body as well as his “objets à réac­tion poé­tique” such as seas­hells, roots, bones, and snails. Whe­re­as in the 1920s Le Cor­bu­si­er was still buil­ding the radi­ant, see­min­gly pris­ti­ne archi­tec­tu­ral icons like the Vil­la Savoye or the Weis­sen­hof-Häu­ser, star­ting in the 30s his con­struc­tions dis­play ele­ments of more sculp­tu­ral, natu­ral forms. The world of mea­su­red con­struc­tion expan­ded to inclu­de the essence of what is orga­nic, inven­ted, and immea­sura­ble: in some crea­ti­ons, like the cha­pel of Ron­champ, it even gains the upper hand.

 

That Le Cor­bu­si­er never tired of empha­si­zing that he was basi­cal­ly and at heart a pain­ter shows that from his per­spec­tive the public never gave suf­fi­ci­ent reco­gni­ti­on to this fact in the light of his fame as an archi­tect. Inde­ed, in 1923, he faced the pro­blem that the world­wi­de atten­ti­on that the publi­ca­ti­on of Vers une archi­tec­tu­re brought him overs­ha­do­wed his signi­fi­cant suc­ces­ses as an artist. Even when pain­ters such as Pablo Picas­so or Fer­nand Léger – who for a time par­ti­ci­pa­ted in Le Corbusier’s Purism move­ment – awar­ded him reco­gni­ti­on for his artis­tic work, he deci­ded initi­al­ly no lon­ger to exhi­bit.

 

Not until 1938, by this time an estab­lished archi­tect, did he agree to a first solo exhi­bi­ti­on devo­ted to Le Cor­bu­si­er the artist. Fur­ther shows fol­lo­wed, but the appre­cia­ti­on of the true role and signi­fi­can­ce of his artis­tic work did not beco­me estab­lished until a few years ago – for­ty years after Le Corbusier’s death, with the heigh­te­ned per­cep­ti­on and eva­lua­ti­on of the artist on the art mar­ket.

 

Over many years, the artis­tic work of Le Cor­bu­si­er has beco­me bet­ter known and increa­singly popu­lar. This has been mani­fes­ted in exhi­bits by renow­ned muse­ums, all of which also pre­sen­ted his artis­tic work in con­nec­tion with his 125th bir­th­day in 2012 and the 50th anni­ver­s­a­ry of his death in 2015: in 2013, the Muse­um of Modern Art in New York devo­ted an exten­si­ve show to LC, as did the Moder­na Muset in Stock­holm, or in 2012 the Push­kin Muse­um in Moscow. Last year, the Cent­re Pom­pi­dou in Paris focu­sed on his work, and in the sum­mer of 2014, two lar­ge shows were devo­ted to him for the first time in Chi­na: in Hong Kong and Shen­zhen. In 2012, the Munich Pina­ko­thek der Moder­ne even con­cen­tra­ted sole­ly on the litho­graphs of his “Poè­me de l’angle droit.”

 

T. Rab­a­ra

Le Cor­bu­si­er in 1953 in the
stu­dio of his apart­ment in Paris.


© Key­stone / Rue des archi­ves / Michel Sima; FLC / 2019, Pro­Lit­te­ris, Zurich