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Alvar Aalto, Exhibition in Madrid

Magician of the North


Visitable until 10 January 2016 at the CaixaForum of Madrid is ‘Alvar Aalto, 1898-1976: Organic Architecture, Art and Design,’ a major exhibition which first went on view in Barcelona during the summer, after a first run at the Vitra Design Museum in Basel. Displaying more than 350 models, drawings, furniture, lamps, and works of art, it presents the canon of the best buildings and designs of the Finnish master, so it is sure to draw in a wide audience. But far from succumbing to the banal populism of other retrospectives of the ‘general’ kind, it offers a view of Aalto which can be considered novel in some ways, especially in its particular inquiry into the origins of the career of one whom the Swiss historian Sigfried Giedion, bordering on the sentimental, called the ‘Magician of the North.’ For instance, instead of routinely linking Alvar Aalto’s organic language to the so very spectacular but monotonous forests of Finland, the show holds that his organicism can be attributed to the master’s vast network of international contacts, thanks to which he engaged in very fruitful dialogue with artists like László Moholy-Nagy, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, and Fernand Léger. Another important aspect of the exhibition is its collection of furniture pieces, presented as a fruit of Aalto’s hopes of hitting international markets through his own furniture company, Artek. Completing the exhibition is a rigorous and extensive catalog combining a selection of works of the master with essays and interviews.

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