By RICHARD CARREÑO
[WC News Service]
Le Corbusier (1887-1965), the professional name of the Swiss-French architect, who was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, is arguably Switzerland's most famous architect, and, along with Alberto Giacometti, the Swiss-Italian sculptor, one of that country's marque-brand artists.
Interestingly, Le Corbusier's profile is not as high in the United States, as in other parts of the world. His only building in North America is the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, built in 1963 at Harvard. It's not very inspiring -- just a layered mass of rough-hewn, poured concrete that's equal parts Brutalism and boring.
There might be another reason for the architect's lacklustre popularity on this side of the Atlantic, namely Le Corbusier's little-known penchant as an admirer of the Soviet social order (one of his grandest commissions was in Russia during the 1930s) and fascist states (Mussolini's Italy and Marshal Pétain's Vichy). Also there's simply the work -- a non-humanist approach in aesthetics and scale. Like I said, mostly Brutalism and boring.
Thanks to a new exhibit at the Pompidou Center, Le Corbusier's standing as a Modernist; and as rightist ideologue, with a totalitarian artistic ethic, is getting a fresh look. In truth, the resulting window into the artist's actual political leanings is foggy. He was never a member of Communist or fascist group, nor did espouse any public anti-Semitic views. Still one wonders.
Thankfully, the French are finally in the lead in re-examining Le Corbusier, fifty years after his death. The Pompidou exhibit runs until 3 August. Next year, the Paris museum will also follow up with a symposium on the architect, attempting to grapple with his art and politics.
Not that you'd know there was any controversy about Le Corbusier from the Swiss themselves.
In fact, on a recent trip to Switzerland (I hadn't visited the country in more than forty years), I discovered that Le Corbusier is honoured in his native land every time one buys, for example, a cup of coffee. High honours, to be sure. At least as 'high,' as having his portrait on the country's ten franc note, about $10. (About the cost of a coffee in this pricey country).
The Swiss apparently aren't very interested in exploring their World War II history, nor their policies that often favoured Nazis and their cohorts. (After visiting numerous bookshops throughout the country, I finally gave up trying to find any books that addressed Switzerland's role as an often suspected Nazi financier, money launderer, and art dealer. I found the books on Amazon when I returned to America).
Given Le Corbusier's high international recognition, it's not surprising that Swiss treasury officials selected the architect to grace part of its currency. And, of course, it's a good thing that a country would feature an artist, not solely, as in the United States, ancient political figures.
Still, I would have preferred to see Mario Botto, a fabulous Swiss-Italian architect, on the note. (Turn to his name listed on the blog roll in the right gutter for my review of this wonderful -- and living! -- architect).
Oddly in Switzerland, despite his ubiquitous appearance on bank notes, Le Corbusier is less a has-been, than simply an unknown. Or, a 'never was."
When I checked into my hotel in in Zurich, I changed some larger notes (Giacometti is on the 100s) to 10 franc notes. (Coffee money at Starbucks). Being in a pedantic mood, I asked the young desk clerk if she knew whose visage was featured on the note.
'Le Corbusier,' I said.
'Oh,' she said.
'Famous Swiss architect,' I said.
'Oh,' she said,
Of course, I didn't bother to mention Mario Botto.