The rules of engagement: Jean Leering’s architecture exhibitions (1964-73)

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As architectural representations often render the “conventions of architectural functionality and purpose” unrecognizable to a general public, exhibiting architecture has usually involved its sublimation to the exhibiting conventions of painting and sculpture. From the very first public architecture exhibition in eighteenth-century Parisian salons, architecture has commonly been exhibited through the staging of its representations as either sculpture or painting. Inevitably, the appreciation of architecture became mostly equated to the aesthetic qualities of its representations.

Such sublimation of architecture, however, must be understood as the corollary of the inevitable distance produced between architectural representation and architectural experience, a distance often unsurmountable to an uninitiated wide audience. While models and drawings have commonly been instrumentalized as proxies for architecture within the gallery, by being shrouded in a blanket of disciplinary conventions and jargon, these representations have tended to alienate, rather than engage, the general public with the processes and deeper issues of architecture.

Under Jean Leering’s directorship and curatorship (1964-73), the Van Abbemuseum forcefully opposed such normalized practice of architecture exhibitions by challenging the communicative limitations of traditional architectural representations and (re)focusing on their content. Often, this was achieved simply by translating architectural ideas into spatial experiences, as in 1969 when Van den Broek en Bakema’s project CityPlan Eindhoven was presented as an enormous scale model (1:20) that visitors could walk through.

Considering Leering’s exhibition practices, it will be argued that by bridging the distance between architectural representation and experience, Leering’s exhibitions provided a disciplinary standing – and a voice – to the wider public simply by leveraging architecture’s more commonly understood language of spatial experience. Rather than sublimate, Leering emphasized architecture’s specificity to create compelling architectural exhibitions, thus inherently reconsidering the medium’s rules of engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication69th Annual Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians, April 3-4, 2016, Los Angeles, California
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event69th Annual International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians - Pasadena, United States
Duration: 6 Apr 201610 Apr 2016
Conference number: 69


Conference69th Annual International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians
Abbreviated titleSAH 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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