Denise Scott Brown: Photographs, 1956 – 1966 at Carriage Trade

Art Scene

Denise Scott Brown: Photographs, 1956 – 1966 at Carriage Trade

An influential architect, planner and theorist, Denise Scott Brown, was a central player in a controversial critique of modernist architecture and a foremother of postmodernist thinking and creation.

Scott Brown used photographs as tools and supporting materials to explore form, sign and symbol in architecture, most notably in the cityscape of Las Vegas. Her seminal work, the book, Learning from Las Vegas, published in 1972 and co-authored with Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour, was an outgrowth of a graduate workshop she co-taught at the Yale School of Art and Architecture in the late 1960s. The book has remained a definitive text on the tension between what could be described as vernacular built environments and their relationship to pop art, and modernist, monumental structures concerned with form and volume.

Denise Scott Brown, Architettura Minore on The Strip, Las Vegas,1966. Giclée pigment on Hahnemuhle archival paper, 12” x 18”, Edition of 10, Photo: Nicholas Knight

In the exhibition, Denise Scott Brown: Photographs, 1956 – 1966, images from the book and her archive capturing the signage, streetscapes, and environment of Las Vegas, as well as some photographs from Venice, Italy, reveal a photographer’s eye. However, despite this fact, included in the exhibition’s curatorial statement is Scott Brown’s disclaimer, “I’m not a photographer. I shoot for architecture – if there’s art here it’s a byproduct.” A sense of her different motives and intentions can be felt as one moves through the exhibition. Several of the photographs and a pair of videos were shot while Scott Brown was in motion. Whether while she moved through a casino, across a waterway or within a car looking through the windshield, the work allows viewers to stand in her shoes or sit in her seat.

Las Vegas Electric Freemont Street, Las Vegas, 1968. Film, 3:31, Learning from Las Vegas studio members / Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc., Installation View, Photo: Nicholas Knight

The exhibition’s installation offers a variety of formats, including a handful of images that appear to be stuck to the wall with adhesive, standard matte and frame photographs, video in a separate alcove, and a wall-length installation of a small-scale linear montage of black and white photographs at 251¾” x 11″, titled Ed Ruscha Elevation of The Strip. A series of four horizontal photographs installed one above the other vertically features slightly different images of a towering Las Vegas casino sign in the shape of a ball. Shot looking up, the effect of the minutely different perspectives may make viewers feel as though they are walking around a tourist attraction, designed to speak directly to them, taking it all in.

Detail: An “Ed Ruscha Elevation of The Strip”. From Learning from Las Vegas, 1972, studio members / Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates Inc, enhanced matte paper, 251¾” x 11″

The repetition of the glittering, loudly colored branding of Las Vegas in the late ‘60s found in Scott Brown’s work is eerily reminiscent of the overload of aestheticized language used in visual branding in the 21st century. Considering the prevalence of signage in chain-store architecture that bombards city dwellers in a contemporary context, Scott Brown’s propositions in Learning from Las Vegasare still relevant today when examining architecture in a broad context. The signs and symbols—language, color, logos or commercial iconography—of the built environment used by everyday people are just as significant as monumental creations by starchitects that speak in the language of form.

Denise Scott Brown, Lagoon, Venice,1956. Giclée pigment on Hahnemuhle archivalpaper, 14” x 18” / 45.5 x 30.3 cm (framed), Edition of 10, Photo: Nicholas Knight 

Denise Scott Brown: Photographs, 1956 – 1966 is on view at Carriage Trade through December 22, 2018.