Projects in Art, Design and Environmental Regeneration
Conference 6.-7. June 2011
On 7 June 2011, the Utzon Center in Aalborg, Denmark, will open a large exhibition of sculpture, drawing collages, gardens, architectural projects, infrastructure design and urban planning by the internationally known artist and designer Michael Singer. Along with his visual art, Singer’s more recent public and private projects to be shown at the Utzon Center provide an inspiring venue in which to understand how artists, architects and landscape architects are increasingly intertwining their disciplines and are reaching out to collaborate with engineers, biologists, social historians, anthropologists, developers among many professions.
Singer is at the forefront of the integrated design movement. Metropolis Magazine critic Andrew Blum recently wrote, “His works have become models for successful urban and ecological renewal”; his large projects have been realized through what he calls wide-ranging “urban ecosustainable networks”.
Since the 1970’s Michael Singer’s work has opened new possibilities for outdoor and indoor sculpture contributing to the definition of site-specific art and the development of public places. His work has directly confronted a fundamental issue in our time: how to balance and integrate human needs with those of nature, how to live with nature rather than against it.
Michael Singer (born 1945) has become famous in both the USA and outside its borders for his drawings, sculptures, landscape art, architecture, design and city-planning. He has received many prizes honoring his work, including several grants from The National Endowment for the Arts and one from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Several of his large projects, for example, the master-plan for Troja Island Basin in Prague, Czech Republic are supported by large foundations, in this case the Rockefeller Foundation. His gardens and landscapes integrated with the buildings of the Alterra Institute in The Netherlands are described in architecture journals as “leading examples of aesthetically outstanding regenerative, environmentally sustainable projects.” He recently completed the impressive large entry gardens and sculpture for the renovated American Embassy in Athens, Greece with the support of the prestigious Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies.
Singer’s sculptures and collage drawings are in numerous museums and private collections. They can be viewed at such diverse geographical locations as the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, as well as in the following museums in New York: Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art. His sculpture has been included in a number of the most important exhibitions of the past thirty years; these include the Guggenheim’s Ten Young Artists Theodoron Award Exhibition, Dokumenta 6 and at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, Primitivism in the 20th Century. His sculptures and collage drawings were featured, most notably, in a one man exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Already in the 1960s, Singer had a concern for the environmental consequences of modern development’s destruction of nature. He pointed out the importance of addressing ecological considerations through the visual arts. He is among the seminal figures of the "Environmental Art Movement" working, in the 1970's, in remote delicate natural places like the Everglades, New York and threatened Long Island salt water marshes, as well as bogs and forests of New England. His intention was, he emphasizes, that the projects should appear “as if they were nature’s own work” and “woven” into it, so that they almost seem to be an organic inclusion. Singer considers the process of producing his work, which also includes abstract, intense drawings, to be a ritual act of creation, which is carried out in a precise and balanced interaction with the conditions found at the locality; as seen in First Gate Ritual Series (1976). The ritual element of his work process out in nature is later carried over to the indoor sculptures, for example, Cloud Hands Ritual Series 1980-81, in the collection of Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk, Denmark.
Singer has chosen the term “ritual” because his artistic work builds bridges between nature and culture, and is created in response to a deep respect of nature and its forces. Diane Waldman, Associate Director of the Guggenheim Museum and curator of his one-man exhibition has correctly stated in 1984 that “through his arresting evocative sculpture and drawings Michael Singer gives significance and form to both life and art.”
In the 1980s Michael Singer began creating large gardens expressing a poetic and contemplative atmosphere following ecological principles that remind one of Islamic gardens, for example, the Interior Atria Gardens, Becton Dickinson Corporation, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey (1986), which won the prestigious AIA Gold Award. Since the mid- 80s, Singer has increasingly worked with large, new projects, in which landscape art, architecture and engineering systems are united in specific architectura forms characterized by his efforts to respect nature and visualize syntheses between the built and natural. This can be seen, for example in his, J. Parker Huber House, Vermont (1998), a “1999 Architectural Record House of the Year”. Here Singer demonstrates the harmony of nature and architecture. Singer’s larger projects always have an ecological goal and transcend the expected, questioning the assumptions about urban and suburban design and experience. His work for Whole Foods Market addresses this vision in his design of their Jacksonville, Florida store and shopping plaza 2008, or the downtown Floodwall Riverfront Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan completed in 1995.
Singer tries, as much as possible, to restore and regenerate spaces that have been spoilt by technological development and environmental pollution. In large-scale building complexes, where there is only concrete, steel and stone, he establishes gardens, often on a large scale. His integral gardens can be found inside and outside, often including nature in unexpected urban contexts. This aspect can be clearly seen in his large public art project, the sculptural gardens at Concourse C, Denver International Airport, Colorado 1994, where a multitude of green plants reduces air pollution, sends out lovely fragrances into the air and attracts birds, chich fly around between the vegetation and sculptural elements. The moss-covered surfaces lead one’s thoughts to the Moss Garden in Kyoto. Describing this project he says he “took a usually antiseptic airport zone, made it smell, made it wet, and made it grow – and gave life that you don’t get in places like an airport.” His work at the Alterra Institute for Environmental Research, IBN-DLO Wageningen, The Netherlands 1999, unites the building with the gardens and expressively visualizes the ecological principles that characterize the institute’s work - the sculptural gardens function as the “lungs and kidneys” of the building, cleaning air and grey water.
In the public realm Singer is best known for the Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center, Phoenix, Arizona (1989-1993), the first garbage and recycling center in the U.S. to be considered a place for public use, and to be designed by an artist team. Singer’s collaborative work on this project with fellow artist Linnea Glatt has been credited with changing the meaning and experience of public works projects in the U.S., presenting an aesthetically powerful design that invites the community to enjoy, learn, meet and interact within a large infrastructure facility for municipal waste. His work addressed all aspects of this 20 acre (9 hector) $18 million building and landscape design. This project won numerous awards and in 1993 was named by The New York Times as one of the eight most important architectural events of the year in the U.S. In many ways Singer’s challenges to our expectations relate to and address Jørn Utzon’s challenge that both the artist and “the architect should have an imagination, which is sometimes called fantasy, sometimes daydreaming”.
In this inspiring exhibition you can experience five magnificent indoor sculptures and several sensuous drawings and collages; the latter are Singer’s abstract syntax of visual forms that resonate with his built pieces. There is also the opportunity to see and study large photographic panels of his transformational public art, private and public gardens, urban waterfronts, parks, science centers, power and waste facilities, houses, and food markets among others. Many of these projects are the collaborative work of the Michael Singer Studio and his interdisciplinary team. Michael Singer Studio is a multifaceted art, design, and planning studio led by the artist and focused on four core principles; site specificity, ecological regeneration, craft and detail and an interdisciplinary team approach. These challenges also permeate the Utzon Center’s mission and wide spectrum of work. For architect Jørn Utzon, experimental work, broad vision, and wide cultural collaboration were important. He sought responsiveness to what he called “Nature’s Principles of Growth”, and the ability to be in contact with the times and the surroundings. This exhibition of Michael Singer's projects fulfills and resonates with Jørn Utzon's principles in an especially significant way.
The Utzon Center in Aalborg is led by Director Anni Walther and was designed by Jørn Utzon. It is a dynamic and experimental exhibition venue. As a cultural and resource centre it is a gathering place for architects, designers, visual artists, researchers and students from many countries. Fruitful connections between the local and the global, between architecture, art and other forms of expression from different cultures, are made. This exhibition is curated by D. Phil Else Marie Bukdahl who also edited the catalogue.
A seminar entitled “New Alliances: Body, Nature and Social Relations” will be held on June 6-7 in connection with the Michael Singer exhibition opening June 7 thru October 31. The seminar’s themes will be discussed by Michael Singer along with his distinguished colleague, philosopher Richard Shusterman, together with other prominent architects, researchers and students. The seminar and exhibition offers a wide research and educational perspective that is meant to inspire continued collaborations.
For further information please contact:
Anni G. Walther
E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel. : 0045 - 7690 5000
Else Marie Bukdahl
D. phil. Former rector of The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
E mail: email@example.com
1573 Copenhagen V
Tel:0045 - 33-125045
The exhibition is sponsored by: OAK Foundation, Aalborg Kommune, Utzon Fonden, Velux Fonden, Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond, Knud Højgaards Fond, Dreyers Fond og Frimodt-Heineke Fonden.
Concourse C, Denver International Airport
Denver, Colorado, 1994
Alterra Institute for Environmental Research
IBN-DLO Wageningen, Netherlands, 1999
Atria Gardens, becton Dickinson Corporation
Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, 1986
US Embassy, Athens, Greece, 2007
Solid Waste Transfer and recycling Center
Phoenix, Arizona, 1989-1993
J. Parker Huber House
Bratleboro, Vermont, 1998-2008
West Palm Beach Living Docks
West Palm Beach, Florida, 2004-2009
First Gate Ritual Series 10/78 1978
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art
New York City
Ritual Series/ Retellings 1999-2010
Included in the Utzon Center Exhibition
Photography: David Stansbury