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Hadid: Diva Indeed

Nicolai Ouroussoff, in his NY Times review of Zaha Hadid‘s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, called her “architecture’s diva.”

He doesn’t know the half of it.

After the unusually elaborate press conference preceding the press preview, she started up the ramp but stopped short almost immediately, at the double-height gallery that displayed her earliest work.

Whereupon, in full view of members of the press, she proceeded to throw a diva’s fit.

For starters, some of the work was not hung to her liking. “That has to come down,” she insisted. Someone said he’d “see what we can do.” “Don’t see what you can do. It HAS to be done,” she shot back.

The glass top of her table was upside down, she repeatedly complained. This seemed a legitimate gripe, because its irregular shape, as installed, did not fit properly over its base, which jutted out beyond the glass.

She also wanted her furniture moved away from the wall, so that people could circle around and view the backs.

Despite all this, Hadid could not have been too displeased with a show that turned over the entire rotunda to her mostly unrealized plans. Patrik Schumacher, a principal partner in her firm, told me that of some 85 projects in the show, only about 12 had actually been built and a few more were “ongoing.”

Hadid also got to mess around with Frank Lloyd Wright, in another of the Guggenheim’s provocative “interventions” to reinvent or subvert Wright’s notoriously challenging exhibition space. On the upper ramps, she hid Wright’s bays behind new curvy walls and jutting display cases.

Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, brashly predicted at the press conference that this show’s attendance would top the record-breaking crowd for the Guggenheim’s glorious Frank Gehry show. Fat chance. While Gehry’s retrospective was substantive, alluring and mostly composed of real buildings, Hadid’s seemed padded: Her few built projects kept reappearing—in different forms (models, drawings, photos) at different points up the ramp—in an installation that was billed as chronological but that actually kept jumping back and forth in time.

Even more problematically, the show did not make it clear that the vast majority of the plans have remained just that. This could have been remedied by just one word on each of the relevant labels: “Unbuilt.”

This is not to deny the considerable achievements of this first Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning woman, whose Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati has been widely acclaimed. It’s just to say that this bloated show seems more a promotional offshoot of Tom Krens’ undying dreams of a Global Guggenheim than a fitting measure of Hadid’s accomplishment.

More on this tomorrow.

an ArtsJournal blog