|Tomas Saraceno’s Cloud Cities installation at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin|
Art galleries and museums seem to be showing with greater frequency artworks about architecture, many of them by artists who have studied architecture.
It’s all very interesting, but is it architecture or is it art?
After all, art is a discipline that is completely open to every conceivable method, medium, and process. It has, for about a century now, been freed from the traditional academic categories of sculpture, painting and drawing to include conceptual art, installation art, performance art, land art, video art, photo-based art; and what we might call “architectural art” (which is arguably a form of installation art). Art is no longer restricted in terms of media, and is no longer practiced exclusively by painters or sculptors, but by artists who use multiple types of media to explore certain ideas from different angles. Architecture can be one of these ideas, and architectural construction one of those media, but if it’s in an art institution, then it’s art, not architecture.
There are fundamental differences between art and architecture. The most important one being that art is autonomous, while architecture has only a degree autonomy. In other words, art has an artistic freedom that architecture does not. But here we’re obviously talking about architecture as “buildings”, not gallery installations. As soon as an architect constructs something in a gallery (or in any institutional context involving a gallery or museum), then architecture becomes art.
When architecture occurs outside the privileged context of an art institution, however “artistic” or “sculptural” it may be, architecture will be architecture and not art.