Making a mark

The Architecture Drawing Prize

Making a mark

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As the announcement of the WAF Drawing Prize winners comes close, a small but remarkable exhibition stresses the importance of drawing in contemporary architectural practice and in establishing relationships with artists. 

The exhibition is Josephsohn/Märkli at Hauser and Wirth in Somerset. The first was a Swiss sculptor who died aged 90 in 2012, the other a well known Swiss architect who is still very much alive. 

Curator Niall Hobhouse, who has a longstanding collaboration with Märkli, has assembled a range of the architect’s drawings and sculptor’s pieces, from maquettes to finished works. The result is a fascinating account of a dialogue that went on for almost 40 years, manifested in drawings that range from the naïve to extreme sophistication, and sculptures that swing from almost gothic grotesques to enigmas where figuration seems to want to break through technique and medium.

Hans Josephsohn (1920 - 2012), Untitled, 1962-1964, Brass
Photo: Kesselhaus Josephsohn, St. Gallen, courtesy Josephsohn Estate, Kesselhaus Josephsohn/Galerie Felix Lehner, St Gallen, Hauser & Wirth

In 1975 as a young ETH graduate Märkli sought out the middle-aged sculptor Josephsohn, not to discuss collaboration, but to find ways of moving beyond the reductivist language to which modernism had descended. Josephsohn’s practice of working first in clay, then plaster and finally making a bronze casting gives his work a rough energy, even transgression, because worked surfaces are so unusual in this medium.

Märkli’s works, in particular a series called Language Drawings, seem to be searching for different ways of resolving age-old architectural conundrums, such as how to bring columns and beams together. These studies seem to be present in another series, Drawings of Façade Studies, where despite their tiny scale a single one of Josephsohn’s castings are clearly placed.

Peter Märkli, ‘Drawings of Facade Studies’, 1980-1999, Pencil on paper & Pastel and pen on paper
Courtesy the artist and Betts Project © Peter Märkli

They did eventually complete a collaborative project, La Conguinta, a building which has all the characteristics of a tomb – a blank, unprotected concrete box – in which several of Josephsohn’s sculptures are carefully positioned in relation to the deceptively complex space and lighting of the interior. It speaks of a contingently tight relationship between architecture and sculpture, which shows adds new dimensions to the works themselves which may not be present in other situations.

Bu the drawings in the exhibition chart a fluid relationship between art and architecture which took almost 20 years to achieve this denouement. Entries to WAF’s drawing prize may be harbingers of similar rich cultural endeavours.

Jeremy Melvin

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