Komar and Melamid are two Russian artist emigrés who undertook a fascinating project. Their book, Painting by Numbers, explains that “with the help of The Nation Institute and a professional polling team, they discovered that what Americans want in art, regardless of class, race, or gender, is exactly what the art world disdains–a tranquil, realistic, blue landscape.”
Once they received the general consensus, they painted the result. The painting above is what Americans prefer to see, complete with a historic figure (George Washington), deer, and children. It’s an ugly amalgamation for sure, but it is quite revealing of the aesthetic preferences of the general populace. One thing that immediately strikes me is that it looks absolutely nothing like what the Art World tells us is ‘good art.’ Although, I do suspect (like Arthur Danto) that most people would rather not actually hang this on their wall. I know I wouldn’t like to.
Not content to stop there, the duo polled countries from all over the World. The results are in (and not a surprise): People the world over tend to prefer a strikingly similar landscape. The elements we have laid out earlier are all there. What does this tell us about aesthetics and human evolution? The argument has been made that the results are an aberration due to the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars in all the countries polled – that the results have been skewed. I like to think that the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars is exactly the proof we’re looking for: Hallmark is everywhere precisely because that’s what we prefer to look at.
Komar and Melamid have just laid out Hallmark’s market research for them, and Evolutionary Psychology has backed it up: The experience of beauty belongs to our evolved human psychology.
Alan Carroll, An Instinct for Beauty (2011)
Komar and Melamid, USA’s Most Wanted Painting (1993)Komar and Melamid, Russia’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, China’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, France’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Germany’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Kenya’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Italy’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Holland’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)
Designed environments which are thought out, formalized, and complete are usually ‘lifeless’ and unapproachable because (a) they do not invite interaction and modiﬁcation to suit immediate human needs; (b) they are unable to develop and become extended through human use. (…) Oddly enough, many environments which ‘work’ well for people meet few, if any,aesthetic criteria ordinarily employed by designers. (…)
George Rand, quoted in Lawrence Halprin, New York, New York (1968)
For most designers this was a bitter pill to swallow. (…) We do not seem to be able to structure the process of change. On one hand we need citizen participation; on the other the magnitude of he physical needs of rebuilding are enormous.
Lawrence Halprin, New York, New York (1968)
Florian Rivière, Hacktivist Dublin (2012)
Who benefits from landscape architecture? To move beyond the simple, aspirational answer – everyone – raises further questions. Who do we think the beneficiaries ought to be, and what is their place in the texture of society as a whole? Planning and designing our future landscapes takes place in a cultural context, and culture is not monolithic. So whose culture, whose landscapes, are we conserving, enhancing or developing anew?
Catherine Ward Thompson, Who benefits from landscape architecture? (2005)
Joel Meyerowitz, Broadway and West 46th Street (1976)
City landscapes are being increasingly commodified, monitored, and constructed in ways that discourage spontaneous appropriation and unplanned transformation. In resistance to this over-determinism, a few contemporary landscape architects and urbanists are seeking to promote qualities of indeterminacy, open-endedness, and temporality in their work. Their aim is to engender and support engagement rather than objectification. These efforts are particularly applicable to large-scale public, decommissioned, and marginalized lands within or at the edge of the cities. Such spaces resist popular prescriptions of use, identity, and meaning. Is this shift from form to events, permanence to change, identity to void, a recognition for the need to recover essential territories in the city that are “neither wilderness nor home”.
Anuradha Mathur, Neither Wilderness nor Home. The Indian Maidan (1999)
Anuradha Mathur, Dilip da Cunha, SOAK (2009)
Our image of the landscape is the result of complex cultural interpretations. The relationship of our personal experience, based in our cultural milieu to the landscapes around us is often underestimated. This includes how we interpret something even as simple as a public park. Parks have undoubtedly communicated cultural, behavioral and political cues throughout history. Sometimes didactic and sometimes unintentionally instructive about societal norms and preferences, parks are not always as neutral as they might appear. Curiously, parks are instruments of power that seem almost benign in the public realm – few question the creation of a new park.
The design and appearance of a park generally reflects its cultural and geographical position. At the municipal level, parks are furnished with standard “from the catalog” items, such as benches, bollards and trash cans, which vary from country to country, and from city to city. Even in parks that are initially completely custom designed, these standard elements creep in as time and use progress. it is easy to identify the location of some parks from their bits and pieces, such as those in New York City from their dark green wood-slat benches. In contrast to this common quality, Superkilen in Copenhagen looks nothing like any other park in Copenhagen,and for good reason.
Jessica Bridger, Culture Riot (2012)
Topotek 1, Bjarke Ingels Group, Superflex, Superkilen (2012)