Those who have visited one of the countless museums and buildings designed by Richard Meier might be surprised to know that the architect of such sleek, monochromatic structures also creates vibrant collages. Ahead of Sotheby’s selling exhibition Richard Meier: Artist (22 February–29 March, New York), Julian Dawes, Vice President, Co-Head of Impressionist & Modern Art Day Dale, reflects on his encounters with the Pritzker Prize-winning architect.
NEW YORK – What struck me most upon first meeting Richard Meier was that, save for the proximity of his glorious model museum, nothing about him or his circumstances suggested “architect.” Ensconced in the cavernous studio of master printer Gary Lichtenstein, thronged by hundreds of polychrome paint pots, stacks of masonite and deckled reams, assiduously reaching between crucibles of boiling wax and tarry ink rollers, hands and smock thoroughly stained, everything about Meier said “artist.” And not the recreational sort, but a consummate, practiced, venerable yet burgeoning artist – the archetype I always felt Matisse embodied in his last decade.
RICHARD MEIER WORKING ON A COLLAGE IN HIS STUDIO, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH BY MELISSA MARR
Getting to know Richard I soon learned that making art is – and has always been – as integral to his biography as designing buildings. And while there may be the odd motif in common between his output in the two disciplines, to me they reflect opposite poles of a genius brain, each the antidote to and refuge from the other. Architecture by nature requires submission – to clients, to deadlines, to budgets, to codes and above all to that cruelest of mistresses, physics. Worst of all, once the girders are welded and the concrete set, there is no tinkering, editing, playing.
RICHARD MEIER’S ARCHITECTURAL WORK, THE JUBILEE CHURCH, ROME. ELIO LOMBARDO
Richard's artworks meanwhile are in a constant state of flux, and Richard the artist is utterly free. His preferred techniques of paper collage and encaustic mosaics seem designed to invite endless, indulgent, gleeful revisiting – not to mention the tactile joy of being both designer and constructor. In this world, accommodation is supplanted by appropriation, transformation and automatism born of infinite experimentation. Harmony is achieved not via clean white lines but ragged edges and fractured texts. It’s a dichotomy reminiscent of Le Corbusier, the greatest artist-architect of the 20th century, whose extraordinary paintings and sculptures feature swirling, biomorphic abstraction in garish, electric palettes – worlds away from the aesthetic of his iconic structures. That Le Corbusier is counted among Richard’s greatest architectural influences begs the question of whether both men craved the same relief from order uniquely offered by making art.
RICHARD MEIER, EXPRES, 2014, AMONG THE WORKS IN RICHARD MEIER: ARTIST (22 FEBRUARY–29 MARCH, SOTHEBY’S NEW YORK).
My other indelible memory of meeting Richard was learning that he and I grew up just over a mile from each other in neighboring Maplewood and Millburn, New Jersey, respectively. Fifty years apart, but still that’s pretty close, right? In that 50-year window, my mother was born (also in New Jersey), grew up and decided to become an architect, inspired by Meier and the New York Five. She was pregnant with me, slaving away at a drafting table in Manhattan when Richard won the Pritzker. Suffice it to say that from a young age I knew all about Meier the architect. It has been an unbelievable pleasure to discover Richard Meier the artist, and an honour to share his important work with others via this exhibition.