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A Rebel’s Excursion into Paradise

Contribution to “Influence: Edmond & Corrigan + Peter Corrigan” , a book of essays curated by Vivian Mitsogianni and Patrick Macasaet from the public symposium following the death of architect Peter Corrigan in December 2016 .

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Peter’s library was a source for mythic diversions for him, its contents became a reward for many students, and it cannot be seen outside the framework of theatre and buildings produced by Edmond and Corrigan. It was a legacy he was always worried about.

My intention here is to talk through the contents of my library. It is an observation on the influence of Peter the collector – not to suggest that one collection is like another – mine is greatly limited by budget and only occasionally marked by opportunity – or that mine is the result of contact with his – but to vote along party lines and to justify efforts here today.

First, a book on architecture. With a jacket and endpapers featuring stylized graphics of temple elevations and gothic plans, Norma Jewson’s A Little Book of Architecture is for children ages ten and upwards, a product of the Education Department at the Oxford University Press.

The second book is comprised of a chapter from William Blades’ Enemies of Books first published in 1880. Reduced to a single book, this chapter warns the bibliophile of the dangers of children, servants and wives. on their collection.

Books and architects, it sounds innocent enough, but it’s a conspiracy. I’m not an architect – I’m a sort of Marrano really – and so the artefacts in my library have an uncertain status. The collection rests at best on a lurking suspicion of the compiler. I have – to put it mildly – practiced my eccentricities.

A navy signal card pocket-book, produced in 1942, is printed on waxed linen to resist the harsh realities of ocean life. The 1957 Esquire Drink Book features an attractive debossed gold martini on its cover, and inside offers helpful pointers such as – if holding an outdoor grill invite your guests to try their luck at archery and shooting.

The 1899 Vitalogy – a handbook for home hygiene, medical and moral advice – includes fold out bodily diagrams matched with cautions for men to avoid both masturbation and women who hang around millinery stores.  It contrasts with a cheap little find, an 18th-century study of Japanese fortifications complete with moving comparative diagrams.

Any collection is the result of the incidental as well as the intentional. I have intentionally sought books on architecture.

The proceedings for the famous Tribune Tower Competition of 1923 is a handsome book on architecture, if frustratingly badly made – cheap even – but it is significant for the breadth of architects and styles represented – Adolf Loos’ column skyscraper is perhaps the most famous. The book presents an attempt at a cities self-determinism only, rather defiantly, to award and build the neo-gothic designs by John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood.

A desire to introduce myself to architecture I haven’t seen has meant sourcing publications from foreign sources.  Encyclopedie de L’Architecture is one of many tomes I have by Editions Albert Morance, the French publishing house known for its extensive catalogues collecting the work of modernist architects and artists.

First kisses are important. The first architect I committed myself to as a student was John Hejduk. The catalogue for his first exhibition Fabrications at the Cooper Union in 1974, an envelope filled with large format photos of his sketches on an office notepad, was my first concerted effort to acquire something meaningfully to form a collection. An entire shelf has since been dedicated to this architect-educator. A collection within a collection.

A certain tyranny then takes over. The limited edition folios produced by the Architectural Association to accompany the exhibition in the Front Members’ Room were an early obsession. Eisenmann, Libeskind, Wilson, Tschumi, Takamatsu, Cook, to name a few, were each ennobled through these small reliquaries. Embossed paper, screen printing, metallic inks, acetates… Peter seemed impressed that I had taken the time to source all but one. As a sort-of-apology for being somewhat of a shit in the crediting of the 2010 Venice Biennale project City of Hope, Peter reached to his library shelves and gifted Bernard Tschumi’s folio to me.

A collection is unapologetically personal.  In preparing for this show and tell I documented everything in my library. It wasn’t enough just to see the books.

Notes from lovers – Polish, Canadian, French-Canadian, Brazilian, Brazilian, Brazilian (I had a moment)… evidently a grand tour fell from books.  Unopened mail with the elegant handwriting of my grandmother who always uses my middle name – Albert – seemingly to undermine my mother’s claim to have given birth to me, finds a home with notes and gifts from students – perhaps some of the things I cherish the most– and a photo of my grandfather, who built an imaginary world of trains and spinning carnival rides from plastic toys and lawnmower parts on the base of a pool table that magically dropped from his garage ceiling, whirling and flashing.

The biggest contribution to this detritus has been my twin brother, whose postcards from around the world accrue between books and pages without order or sense. Which is how it should be. I’ve never been able to decipher a single one of them because of his atrocious handwriting.

A library exhibits a level of emotion. There are of course the small identifiers of Peter – an unbanked cheque – but also Yoshifuji’s 1849 woodblock of the cult Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjūrō with wigs, a copy of which sits to the right of the door as you enter the office of Edmond and Corrigan; the profound and mysterious  paintings and drawings of Philip Hunter, whose work asked me to identify where I was from for the first time (not here) and whose charm and generosity engulfed me,  sits opposite The Wolf of Gubbio with St Francis by Arthur Boyd, a lithograph I sourced after experiencing the tapestries from the same series briefly exhibited at Newman College Chapel.

.It would be difficult and shameful not to mention colour. It took a lot of clever talking on my part to ensure that my books on colour didn’t leave my shelves as Peter left my study during my time working for him. He was extremely fond of Dictionnaire des Couleurs Franco-Japonais by Natsuko Yamada that maps the convergence of colours across art and fashion.  The more potent representation is the Japanese artist Sanzo Wada’s Dictionary of Colour Combinations from the 1930s, offering more than 348 combinations in six volumes, with attention given to the naming of colours.

I’d like to complete this short tour of my collection on two books. I’m extremely fond of both because of their importance, their value, their rarity, but because acquiring them suggested I might be serious about it all.

The first is Iz Ljubljanske Sole za Archtekruo 1928, a publication by the Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik at the Technical University of Ljubljana that compiles, through extremely elegant etchings, work of his students alongside photos of his built works and his then nearly complete Church of the Sacred Heart.

The second is Pascal Coste’s Monuments Modernes de la Perse from 1867.  Coste was a Frenchman who had entered the service of the Ottoman viceroy in Egypt where he gained an appreciation of Islamic architecture. It’s one of the grand architectural books of the 19th century, and certainly the first significant consolidation of measured drawings on Persian architecture. This slightly battered copy comes by way of the Avery Library of Columbia University, having been in the collection of the American architect William Stone Post and the Berlin-based antiquarian business of the renowned German publishers Wasmuth.

The surface damage gives way to the most luxurious etchings, chromolithographic printing, gilt foils, envious sections and plans. It’s professional – the objectivity is extremely attractive. It’s a book that confers dignity to the profession. But this is not vanity publishing. Above all else in my collection, this publication communicates aptly the movement of influence, and the invitation to attend to a life in architecture.

In honest desperation to find a credible conclusion I looked to my shelves. An early book on garden designs was selected. It was wedged between a book on the shockingly explicit erotica of Japan and another on the ecstatic visions of the New Zealand painter Bill Hammond. Among the plans and etchings of grand European visions were images of the nymphs in the Vatican Gardens. It made me think, maybe a rebel’s excursion into paradise isn’t so absurd after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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