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Graham Domke on Grey Gardens

#helloDCA

2 March 2016

Our latest exhibition, Grey Gardens, has just opened. We chatted to DCA Exhibitions Curator Graham Domke to find out how he brought together a range of architects and artists for a show exploring the use of concrete in natural landscapes from the 1950s to the present day. 


How did you come up with the concept of the exhibition?

I have a longstanding interest in the crossovers between architecture and art: for Grey Gardens I concentrated on art and architecture inspired by modernity and nature since the 1950s to the present day and focused on several sites across Scotland alongside slightly more exotic locations in Mexico and Italy. The common concern across several generations, locations and work produced in quite different ways, is a pursuit of harmony in the built environment in relation to concrete structures and natural settings. A crucial aspect of the exhibition is the ways in which the structures have integrated over time in their surroundings and the way nature responds over the ensuing decades.

"A crucial aspect of the exhibition is the ways in which the structures have integrated over time in their surroundings"

What work is on show in Grey Gardens?

The exhibition features modernist houses by the influential Morris and Steedman practice alongside Peter Womersley's Bernat Klein Studio in Galashiels and his Port Murray residence in Maidens. Artists Smith/Stewart present a poignant response to the Maidens house, which is on the brink of demolition. The exhibition also considers publicly sited town art in Glenrothes by David Harding and in Cumbernauld by Brian Miller. Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Boyce was influenced by Italian architect Carlo Scarpa for his 2009 exhibitions at the Venice Biennale and DCA for the culmination of our tenth anniversary, so this is a welcome return to our galleries. It always interested me that Boyce was taught at Glasgow School of Art by David Harding and the exhibition looks at these kinds of fascinating confluences and shared ideals. So to me it also felt pertinent to feature Scarpa's Tomba Brion through the sublime photography of Guido Guidi. I have also included the wilfully surreal concrete garden by the Scottish-born Edward James and Plutarco Gastelum in Las Pozas, Xilitla in the middle of a Mexican jungle, brought vividly to life by the architectural photographer Amanda Holmes. James was originally considered highly eccentric for his 'surreal Eden' but is now thought of as a visionary, and the garden attracts around 80,000 visitors each year. 

What was the biggest challenge for you planning the exhibition?

The biggest challenge was leaving amazing material out of the exhibition. The concept would have allowed many other artists and architects into the show but then there is finite space to present the work. I'm really excited to have brought this material together. It has been a real privilege to access the archives at RIAS and Historic Environment Scotland and to meet an architect like Robert Steedman who was taught by Louis Kahn and Philip Johnson. I have loved Morris and Steedman's houses since I first came across the Sillitto House at Blackford Hill nearly 30 years ago in the same way that Smith/Stewart were affected by the Port Murray House. Listening to architects like Mr Steedman talking about being influenced by a painter like Mondrian and artists like Martin Boyce citing Scarpa shows how organic our creativity can be.

"The biggest challenge was leaving amazing material out of the exhibition."

What's your favourite modernist building/concrete structure?

Too many to name, so here are a few I have been lucky enough to get close to: the Flak Towers and the Loos Bar in Vienna, the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the Torre Velasca in Milan, the Get Carter Carpark (now demolished) in Gateshead, MASP in São Paulo and the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo. I would love to visit Unité d'Habitation in Marseille and I am still working on getting to Las Pozas, the Edward James garden that is featured in Grey Gardens.

What can visitors to the exhibition expect?

"I really hope Grey Gardens encourages lots of day trips to the not-so-New Towns Glenrothes and Cumbernauld"

The exhibition features exemplary models, archive and contemporary photography and video, plus maquettes and sculptures. The gallery is back to being in daylight after two exhibitions in the dark. Grey Gardens is tailor-made for Richard Murphy's award winning Dundee Contemporary Arts building. The exhibition is DCA's contribution to the Scotland-wide Festival of Architecture, a cornerstone of the 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design celebrations.  I really hope Grey Gardens encourages lots of day trips to the not-so-New Towns Glenrothes and Cumbernauld or to sites like Galashiels and Selkirk, or to Maidens and Loch Awe and up hillsides such as Bridge of Allan and Blackford Hill in Edinburgh - they are each unique settings for avowedly modern structures.

Thank you, Graham!


Grey Gardens runs until Sun 1 May. Alongside the exhibition itself, we've got a host of great talks and readings, workshops, a salon and a mini season of film screenings to add to your experience.

You can take part in the conversation about our exhibitions by sharing your thoughts and pictures with the hashtag #helloDCA on social media - we look forward to hearing from you!

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