By CATHERINE LIE December 28, 2023
Upon entering the sunlit space, our attention was immediately seized by the minimalist precision of Gschwandtner’s thin, crisp lines. Mostly situated at knee height, these steel drawings dominated our view, resembling 1:1 architectural blueprints—a direct homage to Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s room of her own. These orthogonal lines delicately but precisely marked the room's boundaries within the gallery, echoing Lihotzky’s modernist gestures.
The mention of the Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky evokes images of a narrow, utilitarian kitchen with modernist-industrialist traces. Renowned for the Frankfurt Kitchen, Lihotzky's clean and efficient design traces back to her earlier work, featuring compact and ingenious designs that collapse multiple functions into single furniture pieces. Examples include a bed doubling as a sofa and storage unit, or a convertible wall panel transforming into a desk, as seen in Frau Neubacher’s bedsitting room—a room of her own.
While Lihotzky embedded furniture into thickened walls, Gschwandtner's reinterpretation relies on free-standing delicate surfaces. Each piece in the exhibition stands independently, revealing the original design intent. Referencing Virginia Woolf's ‘a room of one’s own’, essential for independent women’s thought, Gschwandtner’s pleated fabric, frozen in time between glass sheets, appears to float, balancing the grounded elements. Though solid, these surfaces exhibit a semi-transparent quality, contrasting with the walnut veneer in Lihotzky’s space. Illuminated from above, these surfaces layer transparency, gently containing and revealing the space, simultaneously evoking and draping the (absent) bodies it contains.
In Gschwandtner’s meticulously transformed fabric, each canvas bore intricate pleats and stitches, resulting in fossil-like drapes with transient imprints—a delicate interplay between hardness and softness, labor and non-labor. Collaborating with New York artist Louis Eisner, Gschwandtner extends this treatment to reinterpret paintings as sculptures, infusing the exhibited pieces with a tangible, almost transient quality.
Upon entering Gschwandtner’s curated space, we encountered a bed-sitter, a lounging chair, and an arrangement of ashtrays. These pieces embody Gschwandtner’s profound interest in the subtleties of body language and its interaction with furniture—an exploration of how people engage with everyday objects. His meticulous attention to details, again found in drapes and intricate folds for these objects, radiates an ethereal grace. Embedding each piece with temporary imprints left when interacted with, particularly when someone stands up, Gschwandtner captures an ephemeral quality, poetically expressing the connection between the artwork and the (absent) bodies. This fleeting moment showcases his keen observation of seemingly overlooked aspects of daily life and infusing his work with a sense of intimacy and relevance.
The meticulous exploration of fabric and form seamlessly integrates with the broader themes of Gschwandtner and Eisner’s exhibition. The delicacy of the drapes and folds harmonizes with the minimalist precision of steel drawings and the utilitarian echoes of Lihotzky’s design. Gschwandtner's room of her own becomes a multi-layered narrative, inviting viewers to engage not only visually but also tangibly with the interplay of design elements. In doing so, Gschwandtner transforms the mundane into an immersive experience, redefining the boundaries between art, architecture, and everyday life. WM
Catherine Lie is a designer, researcher, and critic based in New York and Mexico City. Interested in culturally sensitive design, she works in the intersection between art, design, and anthropology. She has been published in New York Review of Architecture and The Architect’s Newspaper. Catherine received her M.Arch from MIT.view all articles from this author