Ipek Tureli, Ph.D., Assist. Prof. of Architecture, McGill University

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Frame + Essence

February 23, 2017

In “The Picture Frame” (1902), Georg Simmel distinguishes the great work of art from applied arts: The products of the latter are utilitarian and do not have the hermetic (“island like”) nature of the work of art; e.g., furniture cannot be a work of art: “The essence of the great work of art,” he argues, “is to be a whole for itself, not requiring any relation to an exterior…”

Simmel goes on to distinguish the boundary condition of the work of art and natural being: The boundary in the latter is a site of exchange. For the work of art, boundary has no such function; and in fact, the frame enhances the boundary, and places the work in a distance from the viewer for the aesthetic enjoyment of the viewer.

A similar distinction was historically mapped by the discipline in the Pevsnerian distinction between “Architecture” and the “bicycle shed” (or the everyday built environment). The task of framing was assigned to architectural criticism and to the academic subdiscipline of history and theory. Yet, Architecture is akin to furniture (an applied art, a useful art) in Simmel’s argument. It is “something for us.” And indeed, this is the essence of architecture: Architecture is something for us. The question, then, is how to construe “us”; how to invite to the conversation groups who are not part of the preconceived “us”; how to open up space for agonism as well as dissent.