SAH News

Michael Graves: The Mouse that Roared

by Fred A. Bernstein | Nov 20, 2014
During this season of Michael Graves, the architect's work is being celebrated in exhibitions and is the subject of a daylong symposium.

Assessing the legacy of Michael Graves is no small task. During a 50-year career, Graves has completed so many projects that the current retrospective at Grounds for Sculpture (an indoor-outdoor art park near Trenton, New Jersey) requires several buildings. Some parts of the exhibition are organized by decade—starting with the all-white houses of the 1970s and ending with the anything-but-white buildings of recent decades; others are arranged by category (toasters alone could fill a room, salad bowls get a large vitrine, and canes form a jaunty tableau); and still others, by client—Target, Disney, JCPenney, and the two companies that underwrote the exhibition, Alessi and Kimberly-Clark. In short, Graves has more types of projects than most architects have projects. 

The fecundity is particularly poignant for this reviewer, who studied under Graves in the late 1970s. At the time, he had built practically nothing—a kitchen addition near the Princeton campus, completed for $22,000, was a big deal back then. There was no sign of the torrent of creativity to come, nor could anyone have predicted that Graves would continue to thrive after two apparent setbacks: the decline of post-modernism, which could have dragged him under, and an infection that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Along the way, he built two large companies, Michael Graves & Associates (architecture) and Michael Graves Design Group (products, branding, and graphics). As the show demonstrates, his partners have translated his ideas into a sprawling output, including buildings that— because of his disability—he has never visited.
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