Brutal truth: the artists inspired by high-rise horror

Karim Kal
Entourage 1, la Guillotière/Lyon (2017).

Karim Kal, Entourage 1, la Guillotière/Lyon (2017). Photograph: Courtesy Karim Kal/carlier | gebauer

The original architects of modernism had grand utopian visions. Decades later, a new exhibition asks how their creations became the stuff of nightmares

Could the first modernist architects have guessed that their utilitarian dream of houses as “machines for living” would turn into a nightmare? Maria Taniguchi’s sparse 2010 film Mies 421 draws out the surprising violence in the fabric of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Pavilion. Initially built to broadcast the progressive values of Weimar-era Germany, the building is pictured in old black-and-white slides showing its facades and uninhabited interiors. Images of hard-edged marble slabs and glass sheets flick past to the knife-sharp tick of a metronome. Stab! Slice! Sever!

Taniguchi is one of 20 contemporary artists reflecting on this architectural legacy in Horror in the Modernist Block, a new exhibition addressing the way modernist buildings themselves have become emblems of horror. It is set, fittingly, in one of the country’s most bombed and heavily redesigned cities, Birmingham.

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