La Belle et Le Béton (COLLECT #5)

Robert Stack, Curator, Yellow Peril Gallery

Brutalism, an architectural spin-off of modernism that gets its moniker from the French “béton brut” meaning “raw concrete,” remains as divisive a style today as during its heyday a half century ago. You either love it, or you hate it. Really hate it. In fact, numerous icons of the brutalism movement are currently under fire: vilified in the press and slated for destruction. This impassioned emotionalism is at the heart of Viera Levitt’s upcoming photography show at Hera Gallery in Wakefield, RI, entitled ‘Beauty in the Beast: Photography of Brutalist Architecture’.

Returning from extensive journeys in South Africa, the famous architect Le Corbusier began experimenting with rougher, more “native” forms and surfaces, searching for a more honest solution to building problems. Starting with his 1930 Pavilion Suisse at the Cité Universitaire in Paris, he introduced daring concepts like articulated plans and exposed rough textured concrete. Le Corbusier would continue to explore and exploit such concepts in seminal works like his Unite d’Habitation in Marsailles.

This new style, coined Brutalism, was often focused toward government and government-funded buildings, and was widely adapted in other countries like the UK and USA. It is these American institutions that are the subject for Levitt’s series, focusing on the deep textures and bold repetitive geometries that characterize the style.

Like a theoretical love child of Ezra Stoller and Diane Arbus, Levitt searches for the human beauty in the mocked and shunned faces of these disenfranchised structures. They may not be Hollywood pretty, but they have character. Strength. A different kind of beauty. One doesn’t have to be locked inside a castle against one’s will in order to find that the beast indeed possesses a human heart.

‘Beauty in the Beast’ runs at Hera Gallery in Wakefield, RI, from 28 July to 1 September 2012. Opening reception and artist talk is July 28 at 7PM.

This article by Robert P. Stack originally appeared in COLLECT #5.  Read the magazine in full »