More Than Metaphor

Recent exhibitions merging art and architecture, such as the Royal Academy’s ‘Sensing Spaces’ in 2014 and Do Ho Suh’s recent exhibition ‘Passage/s’ at Victoria Miro, have attempted to address the disciplines’ similarities and ways in which they are mutually influential. Griffin Gallery’s current exhibition, ‘Architecture as Metaphor’ presents work by artists addressing architectural themes and spaces, and what they might signify for the viewing public. It showcases architecture as not only metaphor, but as a relatable element of daily life.

(Image above: 'Port' by Stephen Robson)

The ‘where’ and the ‘how’ of new architectural projects is undoubtedly a political matter, perhaps more so when they alter a familiar land or cityscape. Witnessing a space in this way, alongside its architecture, can have great emotive and symbolic effect. Stephen Robson’s ‘Port’ is a fine example of this, where the architectural is identified as a theme rather than a static element of the painting. Using a palette of tranquil blues, we are reminded of the power colour has to trigger memories of space and place. And with a contemporary twist, his choice of perspective eschews a traditional horizontal view of historical landscapes.

(Image above: 'Florentine Window' by Arturo Di Stefano)

Albeit a mixed media show—encompassing video, painting, sculpture and prints—given the exhibition’s ambitions, it’s the wall-based works that could be considered the most powerful. Architectural symbolism is an exciting part of the show, one which incorporates personal opinion and memory, throwing the viewer into the world of architectural history. Arturo di Stefano’s ‘Florentine Window’ does just that, arresting the viewer from a distance with its grandiose proportions and the ambiguous centre of the canvas, which resembles the bricked-up windows of the 17th century window tax in the UK. The works in this show do not wish to confront or scandalise, but instead act as a catalyst in assessing how architecture has been moulded by social, political and geographical forces.

At a time where political action and activism is in a more urgent place than ever, it is important that exhibitions do not step aside from their potential to engage our memories and ideas. At Griffin Gallery, many of the works play with the viewer’s nostalgia, and Steve Johnson’s ‘Academic Angst’ skirts around the borders of painting and sculpture as the artist forms a discussion on institutional architecture. Schools, universities and government buildings have traditionally been distinctive and therefore rather predictable; Johnson’s use of grey to create models of administration supplies and features also emphasises the struggle of contemporary art to break free from not only the institutionalisation of the field, but the academisation. Both issues certainly stem from the commodification of the education system, but in making a piece as accessible and representational as ‘Academic Angst’, we are granted a glimpse into this mindset from the inside looking out.

(Image above: 'Puddle' by Evy Jokhova)

In an exhibition directly addressing architecture, it is interesting that Becca Pelly-Fry, the show’s curator, decides to enhance the discussion by using large-scale sculptures carefully placed around the space, which cleverly leaves the viewer to navigate the gallery’s own architecture. Presenting this dichotomy of open and closed spaces ensures there is a highly human feel to the works and the show as a whole, bridging architecture and contemporary art exactly as one would hope.

‘Architecture as Metaphor’ is at Griffin Gallery, London until 21st April 2017.

Image Credits:

–'Port' by Stephen Robson, 2013. Oil on canvas, 50cm x 50cm. Griffin Gallery, London.

–'Spring Tide (Wells)' by Stephen Robson,

–'Florentine Window' by Arturo Di Stefano, 2015. Oil on linen, 182.9cm x 167.6cm. Griffin Gallery, London.

–'Puddle' by Evy Jokhova, 2011. HD film, 11 minute loop, dimensions variable. Griffin Gallery, London.