Art and Culture  Exhibition 

Alvar Aalto at Madrid’s CaixaForum

Concert for Woods

Justo Isasi 

With pieces sent in from the Vitra Museum in Weil am Rhein and the Aalto Museum in Jyväskylä, Madrid’s CaixaForum is the current host of a traveling exhibition on the work of the Finnish master: ‘Alvar Aalto 1898-1976: Organic Architecture, Art, and Design.’ But how are we now to interpret his work in such a non-Aaltian context? It’s a bit like that famous phrase, Donatello parmi les fauves (“a Donatello amongst wild beasts”), that the art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined to describe the works presented at the Salon d’Automne held in Paris in 1905. Here we have Aalto’s organic elegance imprisoned in the blind boxes of the Swiss, postmodern, and angular expressionism of Herzog & de Meuron. The contrast accompanies visitors throughout the exhibition, and more intensely as they are aroused by their living and lived memory of Aalto’s spaces... because hanging from walls and panels, under the hard rhythm of beams and in a difficult order, are splendid images of extraordinary Aaltian interiors. The visual narration of the interiors and the quality of the spaces predominate over the usual parade of volumes. We don’t enter the usual display of exceptional buildings, but a eulogy of life inside that architecture of Aalto which has come to be called organic. Interiors are shown in drawings, photographs, and models, and arranged pedagogically in a way halfway between chronologically and thematically, with an unexpected coda on Aalto’s imprecise trail in the Spain of the early 1950s.

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