Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Experiencing Architecture Through ‘Hippie Modernism’

Archizoom in “Hippie Modernism” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Courtesy Dario Bartolini.

In 1965, four artists bought seven acres in southeastern Colorado, intending to make live-in works of art. Their communal project came to be known as Drop City, where residents lived in zonohedron domes of their own creation, sometimes constructed of automobile roofs and other scavenged materials. One dome, made of a fluorescent-painted lattice filled in with Mylar panels, made the trip east in 1968 to the Brooklyn Museum, filled with a five-foot-wide, round, spinning, “collaborative” work of art — “The Ultimate Painting” — that changed composition when illuminated by strobe lights.

After the show closed, both dome and painting were lost — but this fall they will re-emerge in Minneapolis, at the Walker Art Center’s new exhibition, “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia.” Opening Oct. 24, it features a re-creation of the Drop City dome and painting by members of the original commune, along with other full-scale installations that will suggest the counterculture has come alive again.

“Everyone at that moment expected that life in the very near future would be different and better,” said Andrew Blauvelt, who organized the show as the Walker’s senior curator (he was just appointed director of Cranbrook Art Museum in Michigan). “These immersive experiences offered a taste or glimpse of that life. Installations were filled with new media like slide projectors, films, video, light, sound, but also wind, scents, elements of nature.”

“Hippie Modernism” is just one of a number of architecture and design exhibitions opening this fall and winter that will submerge viewers in the world of a designer. Many present-day artists and architects reference the ecological, humanitarian and speculative ideals of 1960s counterculture and are producing their own temporary architectures. Whether contemporary or archival, the aim is to disrupt the static presentation of drawings on a wall or objects in a case and to give visitors the sense of being there.