Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

July 19, 2013

Inverting Neutra

Bryony Roberts at the VDL House, LA


Architecture, Articles, Bryony Roberts, Richard Neutra

Up on the roof of the VDL house – architect Richard Neutra’s experiment in modernist living built in 1932 – almost amber, late-afternoon Los Angeles sunlight glints off a reflecting pool and a breeze disturbs an array of pale blue satin cords. Entitled ‘Inverting Neutra’, Bryony Roberts’ installation is on view until 7 September in the historic home restored by Cal Poly Pomona. True to the title, the blue strings unsettle the rationality of Neutra’s glass and steel architecture and turn the logic of the mid-century residence on its head.

At the VDL, Neutra (and later his son Dion) used panes of glass, mirrors, and reflecting pools to constantly blur the distinction between inside and outside. Inverting Neutra exists exactly where there is the most spatial confusion and at first the installation is difficult to perceive. It reveals itself slowly on each floor – an abstracted specter haunting in the daytime.

Roberts, who trained both as an artist and an architect, subverted Neutra’s spatial tricks; she filled in void spaces throughout the house with satin cords mounted in precise grids on aluminum frames. ‘I’m interested in the idea of interlocking new and old architecture,’ Roberts explains. ‘There’s potential to create new forms from this kind of codependency.’

Inverting Neutra questions the precise boundaries between historic and contemporary architecture. ‘Modernism is an untested ground for preservation,’ she continues. ‘When you look at older, pre-modern structures, the building is treated as a facade on which history has been written. What is interesting about modernism is the architectural achievement is spatial, not simply about maintaining the surface.’

Her installation carefully attaches to the landmarked house – which last played host to site-specific installations by artist Xavier Veilhan – but refuses reverence. ‘I had a lot of problems growing up in the austerity of a modern environment,’ says Roberts, who came of age in a home designed by A. Quincy Jones, another quintessential mid-century architect. “Purity is not something that I’m interested in.”