The Philadelphia Museum of Art is presenting a new exhibit of the work of architect Zaha Hadid.
In the firmament of the world’s current “starchitects,” Hadid’s organically shaped buildings won her the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. She was the first woman to win the prestigious award.
But this exhibit is not about buildings.
There is nary a straight line nor a right angle anywhere in the sculpture gallery of the Perelman Building, across the Parkway from the museum. A curved and tiered wall bisects the room, as though cut by a river. (Informally, the staff calls it “The Canyon.”) Its rounded, laser-cut tiers serve as shelving for shoes, jewelry, furniture, and household objects designed by Hadid.
Her exhibition manager, Manon Janssens, says the room is designed to be explored.
“The element of surprise is really important,” said Janssens, who was visiting from London to oversee the installation. “You shouldn’t be able to enter the gallery and understand what it’s about. You really have to go through it to discover the spaces, to go behind the wall. It really encourages people to go through the whole environment.”
“Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion” is dominated by furniture. Low benches, dining tables, chairs, and shelving systems–made from molded aluminum and polyurethane resin–are shaped like viscous flows, as though the architect were channeling pulled taffy or stringy webs of a biological virus.
Hadid designed the interior of the room to reflect the philosophy of the objects inside. Curator Kathy Hiesinger says it’s the most complicated show the museum has ever attempted to build.
“As an institution, we don’t collect buildings, but we have collected since 1876 objects of decorative arts—design, chair, furniture, lighting, ceramics. So for us showing decorative arts of the present is continuing our historic mission,” said Hiesinger. “Although I don’t think our founding fathers would recognize many of the objects on display here as serving a function they would recognize.”
The museum will bring Zaha Hadid to Philadelphia in November, when the product design committee Collab will present her with its annual prize.