Gabriele Basilico, Vertical Moscow

Moscou Verticale
Mois de la Photo, Paris
la Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine
23 October 2008 – 30 November 2008

One of the really major shows in the Mois de la Photo, Gabriele Basilico’s Moscou Verticale proved more difficult to find than we expected, and had us checking the information in the programme very carefully.

(C) 2008, Peter Marshall
place du Trocadéro, Paris, Peter Marshall, 2008

The place du Trocadéro is really one of the bleaker areas of Paris, with the large empty square dominated by the two wings of the Palais de Chaillot, built on either side of an open terrace with its well-known view of the Eiffel Tower across the River Seine (and now thronged by young men trying to sell small models of the tower.) Built to impress for the 1937 International Exhibition it embodies every worst element of a classicized  debased modernism, and houses a rather bewildering array of museums, badly signposted in what is almost a French art-form. Even though we knew where we were going it still seemed hard to find, and we were almost put off by the notices demanding an entry fee. But although you do have to pay to visit la Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine, this and some other exhibitions were free.

I’ve long been a fan of Gabriele Basilico (b1944, Milan)  and there were a few good examples of his work in one or two stands at Paris Photo. I own several books of his work, but I think this is the first one-person show of his that I’ve seen. Or at least it was a one-photographer show, because Basilico, wo trained as an architect before becoming a  photographer, worked on the project with architect Umberto Zanetti , photographing and photographing from the seven curiously ridiculous towers around Moscow  from the Stalinist era sometimes known as the ‘Seven Sisters‘.

These were built as showcases for the state, very much to outdo the skyscrapers of New York – and in terms of excess they certainly do. There is a story about Stalin receiving two quite different alternative plans for a building from an architect who had expected him to choose the one he preferred. But perhaps after rather too many bottles of vodka, the plans were returned with both approved by the dictator, and the architect had to build the two together on the same foundations. Looking at some of these pictures I did wonder if it was only two plans.

These are buildings so impressively bad that it becomes fascinating. You can see three of his black and white images of them on the Cohen Amador Gallery site  (you are unlikely to be fooled by the caption which tells you one is in Naples.) Like the black and white images on show, these are inkjet prints, and at least as good as those he has previously printed on silver gelatin.

But while these black and white pictures were very much what we have come to expect from Basilico, the colour work on show actually taken from the ‘Seven Sisters’ took a radically different perspective on both the buildings and the rest of the city, looking down at sometimes seriously vertigo-inducing angles and often concentrating on relatively small building details.

In part the new direction may have come from working with the architect on this project, but it may also have some connection with Basilico having worked with another of my favourite urban landscape photographers John Davies (a couple of whose pictures were also in Paris Photo.) John is one of the photographers included on the Urban Landscapes site I run with Mike Seaborne, and which links to his own extensive site.

Although I can’t find any significant pictures of this colour work by Basilico on-line (we’d be delighted to put some on Urban Landscapes) pictures at Cohen Amador from Naples (probably), Bari, Barcelona and San Francisco show this new viewpoint, as do the 2008 pictures from San Francisco at Studio La Città.

Peter Marshall

(C) 2008, Peter Marshall
Grain Silos, Riverside Walk, East Greenwich (1982) (C) Peter Marshall I don’t often mention my own photographs of buildings (several hundred are in one of our national collections), but you can see some on the web. Perhaps the best site is London’s Industrial Heritage, but one of the first sites I wrote (and showing its age,) ‘The Buildings of London‘  has a few examples from the hundred thousand or so I took.(C) 2008, Peter Marshall
Art Deco Factory, Great West Rd, Brentford, 1980s  © Peter Marshall

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