Robert Slutzky, Painter and Architectural Theorist, Dies. ...lifelong exploration of the connection between painting and architecture influenced a generation of postwar architects, died on Tuesday in Abington, Pa. He was 75 and lived in Elkins Park, Pa. Co-authored (with Colin Rowe) "Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal." NYTimes | ArtDaily
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: May 7, 2005
The cause was complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, Mr. Slutzky's wife, Joan Ockman, said.
For many years a professor of art and architecture at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, Mr. Slutzky was at his death a professor of fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a co-author of "Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal," a pair of influential essays on the relationship of architecture to Modern art, part of the canon in architecture schools worldwide. He also collaborated with well-known contemporary architects, including John Hejduk, Richard Meier and Peter Eisenman.
"It became very important for architecture students to understand not only how space was made in architectural form, but also how it was implied in painting," said Anthony Vidler, dean of Cooper Union's Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. "Slutzky was a natural person to teach art and concepts of color and concepts of space to architects, because he could read them in painting."
As a painter, Mr. Slutzky was intimately concerned with color and form, and with the contrapuntal, almost musical, relation between the two. His abstract compositions of vividly colored squares, grids and lines arranged in perfect geometric balance were a kind of two-dimensional architecture, reflecting the influence of Mondrian and the Bauhaus painter Josef Albers.
Reviewing an exhibition of Mr. Slutzky's work in The New York Times in 1975, Hilton Kramer wrote: "Mr. Slutzky works within the strict pictorial conventions of geometrical abstraction, which, in his hands, is a medium of lyric improvisation. Everything here depends on proportion and placement, on the weight and intensity of color, and thus on delicacy of feeling."
As a writer and teacher, Mr. Slutzky helped architects bring these concerns to their work, training them to look at, think about and organize space as a painter might.
"To understand modern architecture, you have to understand modern painting," Mr. Eisenman explained in a telephone interview on Thursday. "If you take Le Corbusier: Le Corbusier would have been impossible without Braque, without Juan Gris, etc."
Robert Slutzky was born in Brooklyn on Nov. 27, 1929. He received a certificate in art from Cooper Union in 1951 and afterward enrolled at Yale, where he was taught by Albers. He earned a B.F.A. from Yale in 1952 and an M.F.A. there two years later.
In his first teaching job, at the University of Texas, Mr. Slutzky became deeply influenced by two colleagues: Hejduk and Colin Rowe, an eminent architectural theorist. With Mr. Rowe, Mr. Slutzky wrote "Transparency," which explored the idea of architectural space as a painterly entity, as complexly layered as a Cubist canvas. Written in the mid-1950's and circulated for a decade in underground copies, the essays were officially published in 1963 and 1971.
"Transparency" was a reaction against the International Style, the glass boxes of Philip Johnson and others that were sprouting everywhere on the postwar landscape. To Mr. Slutzky and Mr. Rowe, these buildings represented the triumph of the sterile over the evocative.
"They felt that modern architecture had lost the subtleties that were present in Renaissance, Baroque and neo-Classical architecture," Mr. Eisenman said. "That doesn't mean they wanted to turn the clock back and become pasticheurs. They wanted to show that the same ideas that were active in other times were available in Modernism."
The essays in "Transparency" center on the ambiguity of the title word. "Transparent" can denote something that is literally see-through, like a window. But it can also denote something that is not, like the layered planes of a Cubist painting, discernible one behind another. Paint and canvas are opaque; the painter conjures transparency out of pure form.
The illusion of transparency defines architecture. Painters have two dimensions at their disposal; architects have three. Transparency mediates between them. It can give the illusion of depth to a flat canvas; conversely, it can flatten a building into an abstract arrangement of geometric planes. Transparency helps the built landscape meet the eye.
Mr. Slutzky's first marriage ended in divorce. Besides his wife, who directs the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, Mr. Slutzky's survivors include their daughter, ZoÃ«, a student at Columbia; a sister, Rhoda Seidel of West Hempstead, N.Y.; and a brother, Harold, of Los Angeles.
His paintings are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Transparency" was published in book form by BirkhÃ¤user Verlag in 1997.
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: May 7, 2005