Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona (1999), View from Above (2017)
In the spring of 1999, photographer Jeff Wall spent two weeks staging and digitally capturing a man cleaning the inside of the German pavilion designed by Mies van der Rohe and Lily Reich for the 1929 Exposición Internacional of Barcelona. The cool image, along with its coolly observed architecture, is at odds with itself.
Foremost, the depicted pavilion is a replica (built in 1986). Also, Wall’s near-documentary tableau illuminates how commonplace themes might appear in a building that is anything but common. The cleaner’s actions are inadvertently severed from the pavilion’s modern plan, its dissonant structure and the now faded analogies to a new German Republic that would ultimately fall to National Socialism. We are presented with a building reconstructed in 1986 and a photograph imagined in 1999. Each iteration relocates the identity of the original and moves it elsewhere. To reveal that which unifies, or further separates, Wall’s absorptive image from the modern pavilion itself, Norman Kelley reconsiders several ways of looking disinterestedly. By reconstructing the pavilion in Wall’s image, the architecture will continue to resist a single theme, a single author, a single origin story, towards the accumulation of new meanings.
Norman Kelley is an architecture and design collaborative founded by Carrie Norman and Thomas Kelley. The practice was established in 2012 and is operated jointly between New York City and Chicago. Carrie Norman (B.Arch University of Virginia, M.Arch Princeton University) is a licensed architect and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University GSAPP and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Thomas Kelley (B.Arch University of Virginia, M.Arch Princeton University) is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome and an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture. Together, their work reexamines architecture’s relationship to vision and prompts its observers to look closely. Their design work is currently represented by Volume Gallery in Chicago.