Seeking Zohn presents works by Mexican-Austrian architect and engineer Alejandro Zohn (1930-2000) through contemporary photography and design. The exhibition takes as subject Zohn’s robust civic and commercial architecture built in Guadalajara from the 1950s to the 1990s, with an interest in how the city’s social, cultural, and material histories are interwoven with his structures.
Commissioned photography and video by artists Adam Wiseman, Lake Verea, Onnis Luque, Sonia Madrigal, and Zara Pfeifer veer from the documentary conceit of architectural photography toward the subjective. This work is decidedly interpretive, seeking out the many narratives contained within parks, markets, collective housing, malls, and bureaucratic buildings. Zohn, a Jewish emigree who fled Vienna during World War II at the age of 8, dedicated his career to creating a modern Guadalajara. Through these photographs—acts of investigation and translation—we find glimpses of his utopian desire amidst the chaos, beauty, and violence of everyday life.
Seeking Zohn is the first presentation of Zohn’s architecture in Los Angeles. The transposition of his work to L.A. places it in dialogue with R.M. Schindler’s designs. As both architects are Jewish émigrés, a parallel exists between the Austrian-Mexican and the Austrian-Angeleno’s experiences. The installation at the MAK Center creates a resonant triangulation between three cities: Vienna, Guadalajara, and Los Angeles. Billboards placed in the garden navigate between the urban scale of Zohn’s buildings and the intimacy of the Schindler House. Household objects designed by Studio Fabien Cappello and fabricated by artisans in Guadalajara build a bridge between the civic and domestic realms.
As a practitioner, Zohn is a lesser-known figure outside of Mexico, and his work has yet to be widely published or exhibited in the United States. A generation after fellow Guadalajara-born architect Luis Barragán and Mexican-Spanish architect Félix Candela, much of Zohn’s architecture aligns with late modernism, a period that’s recently come under re-evaluation. With this consideration comes an expansion of the conventional parallels drawn between Los Angeles and Mexico, which often focuses on designs and actors associated with midcentury modernism. While Zohn’s early career shows the influence of Candela’s thin-shell concrete arches, which he called “cascarones,” his later designs are marked by expressive structural gestures, forming a singular geometric vocabulary that carries from project to project and a sensitivity to the social conditions of the urban fabric.
Notable projects in Seeking Zohn include his most famous building, Mercado Libertad–San Juan de Dios (1958-9), an indoor public market first proposed as his thesis project; the bandshell Concha Acústica (1958) in Parque Agua Azul; Unidad Deportiva Adolfo López Mateos (1956-59) sports center; the mall and parking garage Edificio Mulbar (1973-74); CTM-Atemajac (1977-79), a collective housing project; and one of his final works, Archivo del Estado de Jalisco (1985-91), a state office building and archive. Artists were each assigned a site for photographic inquiry, and the results suggest an architecture bound to the stories and conditions of an evolving city. These works are accompanied by select images, publications, and artifacts from Zohn’s archive, courtesy of his daughter, Diana Zohn Cevallos.
Seeking Zohn is curated by Los Angeles–based critic and curator Mimi Zeiger and Mexico City–based collaborative practice Tony Macarena: Lorena Canales and Alejandro Olávarri.
Seeking Zohn is made possible, in part, with generous support from the City of West Hollywood, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the Pasadena Art Alliance, and the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as Ago Projects, the Austrian Consul General, Plant Material, and University of East London Production Support.