The University Art Museum has traveled east, opening two new exhibits on Jan. 17 that showcase the fusion of oriental and western perspectives.
The larger exhibit, “Crafting a Modern World,” winds through the museum and the collaborative architectural careers of husband and wife, Antonin Raymond and NoŽmi Pernessin. Active in America and Japan between 1921 and 1973, the couple produced more than 500 structures including homes, offices, churches, schools, furniture and even gas stations, which the museum presents through photographs, models, video and drawings.
Raymond and Pernessin blended cultures and materials like wood and concrete to create contemporary architecture that spoke to connoisseurs in both the US and Japan. The pair moved from blocky, rational works early on in their careers to simple, organic compositions that specifically relate to their respective environments.
In a similar vein to Frank Lloyd Wright, whom the couple worked with in the 1910s, the architecture showcases a sense of fluidity with its surrounding space and function. For the Italian embassy’s villa in Japan, the couple drew from Japanese traditions and oriental materials, utilizing bamboo, river stones and sliding doors to shape the residence.
Throughout their careers, the couple designed cottages with straw roofs, wood cabins and a Pennsylvania farmhouse that looks nothing of the stereotype. Seeking unity with its environment, the farmhouse consists of mostly glass windows, framed with stone and wood, and echoes a traditional Japanese home.
The pair also hunted for unique locations, ranging from the States to India to Europe. Raymond and Pernessin pushed the limits of architecture in a given space, sometimes fusing the two, but also offering a juxtaposition. In St. Paul’s Chapel in Shiki, Japan, the multi-arched church adds height to an otherwise flat landscape, allowing the building and architecture to stand out from its surroundings. It creates a functional interior space but also a work of art to be analyzed.
Curated by UCSB’s Kurt Helfrich and University of Pennsylvania’s William Whitaker, the exhibit marks the first study of the collaborative work of the couple, as well as their influence on architecture in the US and abroad. As relatively unknown architects to many, the museum highlights their achievements, expanding the scope and possibilities for architectural exhibits in Santa Barbara.
The second show, relegated to a small side room, commemorates the trade route connecting China to the Mediterranean. Part of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project – which promotes the study of the Silk Road’s cultural, artistic and intellectual traditions – “Sounds of the Silk Road” displays instruments from UCSB’s Department of Music. The exhibit showcases various indigenous instruments such as the kotsuzumi, an hour-glass shaped drum, and the shakuhachi, a Chinese flute. The artwork supplements an ongoing series of “cultural encounters” around Santa Barbara, including special courses, lectures, musical and dance performances and films in conjunction with the Silk Road Project.