critical reflections
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critical reflections

Granary, Grimentz, Valais, Switzerland, 16th century © Thomas Deckker 2023
Was Vitruvius Right?
2024

Aurelio Galfetti: Castelgrande, Bellinzona 1986 © Thomas Deckker 1996
Two Castles in Switzerland
2023

Nouveau plan de la ville de Paris 1828 © David Rumsey Maps
The Arcades Project
2023

Derelict Building, Kings Cross photo © Thomas Deckker 1988
Henri Labrouste and the construction of mills
2023

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: Barrière St Martin, Paris (1785-1790) from Daniel Ramée: C.N. Ledoux, l'architecture (Paris 1847)
The Barrière de la Villette: the Sublime and the Beautiful
2022

Vauban: Neuf Brisach
Neuf Brisach: The Art of War
2022

Lucio Costa: Competition sketch for the Esplanada dos Minstérios, Brasília 1956
Did Lucio Costa know the Queen Mother?
2022

Vaux-le-Vicomte, Entrance Court, engraving by Israel Sylvestre
Vaux-le-Vicomte: Architecture and Astronomy
2022

Edzell Castle, Ground Floor Plan, from MacGibbon and Ross: The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland
Edzell Castle: Architecture and Treatises in Late 16th Century Scotland
2022

Capability Brown: Plan for Petworth Park from Dorothy Stroud: Capabilty Brown
The Upperton Monument, Petworth
2022

Isamu Noguchi: maquette for Riverside Drive c. 1961
Isamu Noguchi: useless architecture
2022

Jürgen Joedicke: Architecture since 1945: sources and directions (London: Pall Mall Press 1969)
Gottfried Böhm: master of concrete
2021

Thomas Deckker Architect: temporary truck stop, M20
Lorry Drivers are human, too
2021

Marc-Antoine Laugier: Essai sur l'Architecture
John Onians: ‘Architecture, Metaphor and the Mind’
2021

Sir John Vanbrugh: Seaton Delaval, Northumberland (1720–28) from Colen Campbell: Vitruvius Britannicus vol 3 (1725)
Seaton Delaval: the aesthetic castle
2021

Jules Hardouin-Mansart: Les Invalides, Paris (1676) Section showing the double dome
The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead: Architecture and Astronomy
2021

Eric de Maré: Fishermen’s huts, Hastings (1956) © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Eric de Maré: The Extraordinary Aesthetics of the Ordinary
2021

Iannis Xenakis: score for Syrmos, for string orchestra (1959) © Editions Salabert E. A. S. 17516
Iannis Xenakis: Music, Architecture and War
2021

United Visual Artists: Etymologies 2017 © United Visual Artists
United Visual Artists
2020

Margaret Howell: Campaign 2020 © Margaret Howell
Margaret Howell
2020

Palaces of Darius and Xerxes, Persepolis, Iran
The Plans of Antiquity
2020

Cristobal Balenciaga: Skirt Suit, 1964 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Cristobal Balenciaga
2020

Mathias Goeritz: La serpiente de El Eco, 1953 © Sothebys
Mathias Goeritz: 'Emotional Architecture'
2020

Richard Serra: Weight and Measure 1992 © Richard Serra
Weight and Measure
2020

Tony Smith: Playround, 1962 © Tony Smith Estate
Tony Smith: Art and Experience
2020

Highway Construction © Caterpillar Archives
Landscape and Infrastructure
2020

Frank Gohlke: Lightning Flash, Lamesa, Texas © Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevators
2020

Tony Smith: Playground, 1962 © Tony Smith Estate
Tony Smith: Playground, 1962
© Tony Smith Estate

Tony Smith: Art and Experience

Looking back, I consider that I was fortunate, as a child growing up in a small town in northern Canada, to have been able to visit the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Although most of the works in its galleries were figurative paintings of prairie landscapes, the Mendel Art Gallery also exhibited, in the late 1960s, some abstract geometric constructions in its garden overlooking the Saskatchewan River. The exhibition of these constructions followed, I assume, the decisive and formative exhibition 'Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors' at the Jewish Museum in New York City in 1966, that brought abstract geometric constructions to public attention. 'Primary Structures' included work by artists I came to admire such as Tony Smith, Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Anthony Caro, among others.

I remember encountering one construction in the Mendel garden, as a young child, which I have not been able to identify but was reminiscent of the work of Tony Smith. I believe that this work was my introduction to primary structures and a way of appreciating them as experiential objects: although it was strictly forbidden to do so, I used to use this sculpture regularly during the exhibition as a climbing frame. This combination of prairie landscape, abstract geometric construction and child's play seemed entirely natural at the time.

'Abstract geometric constructions' usually fall under the classification of 'minimal sculpture', but that term is not welcome by the artists themselves or accurately descriptive. In trying to explain this work to other people I used to rely on the definitions given by Rosalind Krauss in ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, of ‘site constructions’, ‘site markings’, and ‘axiomatic structures’ which are appropriate but quite heavy-handed. As Kraus notes, these works are concerned with form and space both within and around the objects, and range from abstract geometric constructions to land art.

The American West played an important part in the development of land art in the 1960s, of which Saskatoon could be considered a very northern outpost. The Emma Lake Artists' Workshops, affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, invited prominent artists to run summer schools. Donald Judd ran one in 1968, and I imagine that this rural setting may have raised in his mind the possibility of working in the prairies that he realised in Marfa, Texas in 1971. It may be that Judd inspired the Mendel Art Gallery to exhibit some 'Primary Structures'.

Tony Smith noted that, as a child of four, he visited the Pueblos in New Mexico, which remained thereafter as a point of reference in his memory. This type of construction may explain the name 'minimalism': whatever symbolic meaning they may have had is now lost and we can only appreciate them as spatial objects. There is an integrity and straightforwardness about Tony Smith's work that repays scrutiny. A complete collection of his work may be seen at the Tony Smith Estate.
Tony Smith: Playground, 1962 © Tony Smith Estate
Tony Smith: Playground, 1962
© Tony Smith Estate
The original Mendel Art Gallery has closed and the collection moved to Remai Modern.
Thomas Deckker
London 2020

Update December 2023: Tony Smith and Roads

I had overlooked that I had found out, while preparing my trip to the Chinati Foundation in 1995, that Tony Smith had broken into the unopened New Jersey Turnpike one night to experience the aesthetic of modern roads.

See Tony Smith: Selected Sculptures [New York: Xavier Fourcade 1985].

See also David Salomon: The Highway Not Taken: Tony Smith and the Suburban Sublime in Places Journal.