1968

LLV exhibit

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It was as whimsical, humorous, and perversely imaginative to think that the architecture of Las Vegas and of Levittown were valid areas for investigation, as Denise and Robert Venturi did. They were right, but it was still a campy idea. In January 1969, "LLV," written in red neon, hung just inside the exhibition space of Yale's Art and Architecture Building. It signaled the Venturi's student research and urban planning problem called "Learning from Las Vegas," which was subsequently published in book form in 1972. Charts, maps, diagrams, and photographs hung on every wall; from the ceiling, hung boomerang-shaped, guillotinelike maps in the configuration of Las Vegas' Route 91--"the archetype of the commercial strip." All was reflected in the silver vinyl of Project Argus, which sprawled diagonally across the space. In attendance, with student and faculty, was a star-studded list of guests chosen from those interested in Pop architecture, with or without Pop architects. What was presented Robert Venturi called "a new kind of urban environment that simply sprawls from the social and commercial needs of contemporary life." One study, "Activity Patterns," used color-coded maps to spot the locations of gambling casinos, wedding chapels, and food stores; another research project, "User Behavior," dealt with the iconography of parking lots, with "vehicular behavior," and with the inadequacy of directional signs in herding motorists into the desired parking patterns. Others, such as "Communication System and Anatomy of Signs," dealt with the scale, visibility, and construction of Las Vegas' flashing bubbling neon supersigns. There were also some spectacular slide shows and films, including one three-screen film of the Las Vegas strip seen while driving up and down it by day and then by night; and another film taken while flying over the casino with their outrageously joyous signs.

One observer called it a Beaux Arts presentation of the most meticulous character, and it did seem, in fact, like presenting measured drawings of outhouses. In that respect, the choice of subject matter and the high seriousness of presentation were campily witty. Yet one substantive benefit was immediately apparent: the investigation opened our eyes to a strong, vital environment in our society that had largely been ignored. The investigation was also, according to Venturi, a step forward, "getting some imagery and inspiration from commercial architecture as early modern architects looked to industrial architecture for inspiration." In this subject matter, it was unquestionably Pop.

Venturi has been called the Andy Warhol of architecture theory, and for this reason the work of Venturi & Rauch is often called Pop--a designation that is not always accurate. I think the camp aspects of Warhol's work are overlooked here. When Venturi & Rauch's work has architectural allusions to our popular "undesigned," commercial, or ordinary world--to gadgets, to roadways, to Las Vegas, or to Levittown--it is clearly Pop. At other times, however, their allusions to art history or to oriental elements--such as the moongate--have nothing to do with Pop. Surely, the allusions themselves should be distinguished from that artistic turn of mind that flips the coin as a means of revealing a subject. This mentality verges more on Camp than on Pop, although the two are similar. When Venturi urges acceptance of bigger billboards, while most others are trying to get rid of them (or at least to cluster them), he is flipping the coin so that we will not overlook whatever values there may be in them and in pop roadway imagery and communication. The content is Pop, but the attitude is Camp.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), pp. 214-16.



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