Guggenheim Museum in New York through August 14, Guggenheim Foundation. But working definitions of terms like city, rural, non-urban, etc. Koolhaas and the curatorial team primarily AMO, led by Samir Bantal, plus two Guggenheim curators and an army of graduate students document various connotations of the rural throughout history—from a place of creative and idealized experience to a commodified site of neoliberal relaxation today. Here, the curators pilot a strategy that persists throughout: the assertion of self-evident theses that are then supported by handpicked examples. The narratives are interesting something for everyone and the visuals are striking and memelike if not science fair—esque , though one wonders if each of these were better left as term papers or journal articles. A more complete and less neoliberal look at the exclusion and friction associated with these demographic changes is absent. The implication is that visitors, invariably urbanites, have a lot to learn about the rural other at this exhibition. Indeed, if the countryside has been defined by its opposition to the urban, then these stories are random, unaffiliated environmental topics, disconnected to the foil of the urban or the cultural evocation of the rural. The result is a kitchen sink of adapted book chapters, recycled conference papers, expanded blog posts.
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The aim is to highlight advancements in rural areas through a series of case studies. Koolhaas' talk took place in the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum 's lecture theatre ahead of the exhibition's opening. The event marked 40 years since he launched his city-focused book Delirious New York in the same venue — and a drastic switch in topic. Koolhaas said he chose to move his focus away from cities as the "massive neglect of the countryside" had made him "nervous" and "dissatisfied" in the past 10 years.
Suspended above his bald head was a miniature yellow submarine with a long needle at one end, like a bayonet. The device, Koolhaas explained, was something Australians developed to exterminate starfish. But the juxtaposition of eclectic exhibits had the feel of Koolhaas free-associating. Koolhaas, who is seventy-five and was wearing a version of country attire black turtleneck, brown slacks, black sneakers , loped up the ramps at a decidedly urban pace. There was an inherent respect for nature.
Highly artificial and sterile environments are employed to create the ideal organic specimen. As Rem Koolhaas explains in the introduction to this exhibition, over the last 20 years he had noticed changes in a Swiss village he often visited. Then it was the discovery of a charming photograph of Russian peasant farmers along with another of the alienating, red-lit space of a contemporary Dutch greenhouse growing tomatoes. Working with lots of live ammo from AMO the research group of his Office for Metropolitan Architecture , his posse takes off to four continents; north, south, east, and west, to study ways to save Mother Earth. The result is a torrent of words, images, and artifacts—including farmer Barbie dolls—unspooled along the great Guggenheim ramp on the walls, floors and ceilings. This hot mess of a show is at once provocative, fascinating, enraging, disturbing, barely hopeful, and contradictory. But for a show that presents itself as research and reportage, it has curious lacunae in its historical perspective and contemporary context. For example, global warming is dealt peripherally with examples such as the melting Siberian permafrost. The exhibition starts off auspiciously enough with a discussion of two ancient concepts of the countryside, the Roman otium or leisure, and a similar idea in China of xiaoyao. All hell breaks loose in the political section.