MoMA’s newest architecture exhibition, “Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal,” on view through June 1, is meant as a celebration. The Museum and Columbia University’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library jointly acquired the great architect’s personal archive from his studio at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2012, and they will spend the next several years processing and preserving its contents. Jointly organized by Barry Bergdoll, Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at Moma and Chair of Columbia University's Art History department, and Carole Ann Fabian, Director of Avery Library, the archive's acquisition and display represent a continued partnership between the two institutions. The one-room show in the museum’s third-floor architecture and design galleries announces the compendium’s permanent home in New York and offers a foretaste of things to come: MoMA has a massive Wright archive retrospective in the works, planned to open in 2017.
But despite its celebratory premise, “Density vs. Dispersal” takes on a somber tone once visitors begin to focus on the objects on display, rather than their mere presence. This is a show about utopian American urbanism, staged at a moment when cities across the country are flailing and in some cases failing. Even in an economically robust city like New York, income inequality is at an all-time high, housing stock is more expensive than ever, and homelessness rates are soaring. Detroit, meanwhile, is trying to work out its bankruptcy settlement, while Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey, struggle to maintain the rule of law.
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