Archetypes 1: the Open

July 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have been trying for a while now to build up a catalogue of spatial archetypes – not necessarily architectural archetypes, just archetypes of organization of space. Formal archetypes, if you like. In the studio I’m co-tutoring at the Berlage Institute with Pier Vittorio Aureli, Platon Issaias and Elia Zenghelis, we have been working on the idea of constructing the city through architectural archetypes – a very fascinating attempt indeed, but one that, weirdly enough, is not directly related with this catalogue of ‘not-necessarily-architectural’ formal archetypes.

Actually, my interest in formal archetypes came from a completely different source: a book on Robert Motherwell’s Open series > Robert Motherwell, Open (21 Publishing Ltd, 2010).

Motherwell started working on this series around 1967 and developed it for more than 20 years (he died in 1991). I won’t discuss the book – or the paintings per se (by the way, both are amazing), but just the idea of the Open: because it suddenly hit me when I leafed through the book the first time that Motherwell ‘discovered’ an archetype that is at the same time an incredibly simple concept (as an archetype should be) but also, amazingly, one that has never been really discussed – not that I know of. What is the Open? I think it is self-explanatory…

(Robert Motherwell, Beige Open, 1981)

The Open is a rectangle that is, well, open. As in not closed, missing one side, or pushed to the edge of the canvas so that the imaginary fourth side disappears.

(Robert Motherwell, Red Open with White line, 1979)

We see Open(s) in our everyday life almost everywhere. Open fences, unfinished frames, three-sided piazzas. The section of a glass is an Open. Any room is an Open (provided that it has a door, clearly…). Space is made up of sequences of ‘Opens’ and we hardly ever realize it – hardly ever realize the power of the missing side, of the gap that lets stuff into a space.

These paintings have an astonishing sensual and technical quality but for me they transcend their physical datum because they are the means through which Motherwell exposes, discovers, establishes a whole spatial and formal category.


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