Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

On February 17, 2009, less than a month after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. A stimulus bill meant to jump-start the nation’s flatlined economy, the Recovery Act, as it was popularly known, promised nearly $800 million to state and local governments for the funding of “shovel-ready” projects.

The following year, the Ojai, California–based photographer Chad Ress stood on a dry lake bed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and watched a tractor maneuver boulders into totemic piles in New Hogan Lake in Valley Springs, California. He was there to document a project funded by ARRA. The resulting photograph is almost boring. The frame captures signs of California’s epic drought; what was once covered in water is now dust. The sky is nearly white. Yet that line of rocks was evidence of money at work.

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Imagining a new society begins with visionary design. What can we learn from the bold architectural schemes of the twentieth century?

The frontispiece of the original edition of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, published in Leuven, Belgium, in 1516, depicts a small island, nearly round with deckled edges. The engraver’s hand shaded the landmass with short, neat hatch marks to suggest topography and a river. More imagined utopia as a self-contained world where communities shared a common culture and way of life. This definition sets up two particular criteria: place and society. To convey these intertwined conditions, the illustrator dotted the woodblock print with buildings.

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The title of our first Opacity monograph: 33.3 This Point In Time, marks the completion of our first Opacity cycle. It is a sweeping publication rich with content, from beautiful imagery and compelling infographics to thought-provoking essays by esteemed writers and critics: Mimi Zeiger on Context; Alissa Walker on Form; Susan Szenasy on Materials; Aaron Betsky on Program; Katie Gerfen on Space; and Chrysanthe Broikos on Sustainability.

Edited by Jenna M. McKnight, this monograph looks to both the past and the future; it also looks inward by exploring the people who make up the firm’s vast architectural practice. As this book makes evident, we are composed of many distinct threads that are woven together to form a powerful collective. The Opacity program celebrates the diversity of this collective, while underscoring the shared goal of design excellence.

Last spring, as stay-at-home orders set in and consumers cleared out store shelves, we learned something that we probably knew all along: You don’t think about toilet paper until you are desperate.

And if the lowly roll is overlooked, the design of the toilet paper holder is even less considered — until now. The Echo Park gallery Marta is presenting “Under/Over,” an exhibition of more than 50 toilet paper holders by an international lineup of artists and designers.

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“Reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays,” wrote Aldous Huxley in his 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World, and the sentiment is acute nearly 90 years later. The pandemic has intensified and accelerated a digital drift, as culture turns to the virtual— to Zoom, Animal Crossing, or TikTok—for ways to escape and normalize current conditions. Going on a reality holiday, however, risks setting up a needless opposition between activities in our daily lives and our online interactions. The truth is that we are all operating somewhere in between—and it is this middle ground where a number of emerging artists, architects, and designers are staking out territory, using this nonbinary space to address questions of subjectivity and identity.

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The works of artist, educator, and social justice activist Corita Kent are packed with slogans and scripture. Her silk-screen posters from the 1960s and ’70s crackle with the energy of a time of social unrest. She pulled text and images from advertising and media, recombining them into compositions reflecting on the Civil Rights and peace movements.

“GET WITH THE ACTION,” demands a 1965 silk-screen titled for emergency use soft shoulder, its primary colors reminiscent of Wonder Bread packaging. “HOPE AROUSES AS NOTHING ELSE CAN AROUSE A PASSION FOR THE POSSIBLE,” says another piece from 1969 in black block letters on a bright-yellow field. Kent’s Pop art style is often compared to that of Andy Warhol— whose paintings of soup cans she saw in 1962 at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles—often as defense of her legitimate claim to be part of the canon. Yet while the more famous artist traded in a cosmopolitan deadpan, Kent’s practice reflected her Catholic beliefs and humanity.

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The long-awaited follow-up to the now-canonical ‘Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films’ (2010), ‘Sad People’ examines the filmic trope of housing unhappy characters inside of modernist architecture.

Case studies via ten characters / homes / films, from Colin Firth’s George Falconer inside John Lautner’s Schaffer Residence in Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man’ (2009) to Brigitte Bardot’s Camille Javal inside Adalberto Libera’s Casa Malaparte in Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Le Mépris’ (1963).

Color imagery throughout. Essays by Erik Benjamins, Andrew Romano, Adam Štěch (Okolo), and Mimi Zeiger. Ed. by Benjamin Critton. Featuring the forthcoming type release ‘Sunset’ (late 2019).

  • 258mm × 352mm
  • 36 page stapled and folded publication
  • Heat-set web lithography
  • Edition of 2000

In fall 2020, the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab sponsored a six-episode series titled Whither Criticism? to question the state of architecture criticism today, and to ask how the field needs to adapt to address the major crises of our time.

Hosts David Rifkind (Architecture) and Dan Evans (Journalism + Media) welcomed some of the leading architecture critics of our time for a frank and illuminating discussion. Speakers included Lee Bey, Christopher Hawthorne, Inga Saffron, Kate Wagner, Alistair Gordon, and Mimi Zeiger.

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The 2020 Exhibit Columbus Symposium: New Middles gathered national and international thought leaders in architecture, art, design, and landscape architecture together with Columbus stakeholders to explore the question, What Is The Future of The Middle City?

The Symposium examined this question through the lens of four topics:

Futures and Technologies: Dan Hill, Vinnova, Stockholm, Sweden; Radha Mistry, Autodesk, San Francisco CA; Moderated by Marcus Fairs, Editor-in-Chief, Dezeen

Resiliency and Climate Adaptation: Iñaki Alday, Tulane University / aldayjover architecture and landscape, New Orleans; Kate Orff, SCAPE, New York, NY; Moderated by Iker Gil
2020–21 Curator, Exhibit Columbus

Arts and Community: Paola Aguirre, Borderless Studio, Chicago IL; Matthew Fluharty, Art of the Rural & M12 Studio, Winona MN; De Nichols, Civic Creatives, St. Louis MO; Moderated by Anne Surak, Director, Exhibit Columbus

Indigenous Futures and Radical Thinking: Chris Cornelius (Oneida), studio:indigenous, Milwaukee WI; Wes Jackson, The Land Institute, Salina KS; Joar Nango (Sámi), FFB, Alta, Finland; Ash Smith, Carson Center of Emerging Media Arts, Lincoln NE; Moderated by Mimi Zeiger, 2020–21 Curator, Exhibit Columbus

Each topic was explored weekly through Thematic Conversations, hosted in partnership with Dezeen, featuring international thought leaders. They were followed by Columbus Conversations featuring community stakeholders in conversation with 2021 Miller Prize recipients highlighting forward-thinking initiatives happening in our community of Columbus, Indiana.

These dialogues have served as foundational research for all New Middles participants—as a kind of Exhibition Design Brief and Community Design Brief — identifying topics, themes, and writings for community partners while growing exhibition participants’ understanding of Columbus’ culture and context as they conceptualize their commissioned installations for the Fall 2021 Exhibition.