Constructing Worlds at the Barbican, London

Do go and see this exhibition. It’s really good. You’ll find something in it you will like, with 18 photographers from the 1930s to today and their different takes on architecture, but with a big smattering of social history thrown in.

It begins with Berenice Abbott’s photos of New York in the 1930s and her desire to capture the ever changing city as the old houses made way for tower blocks, bridges and cars. Its a fascinating study of the city that combines the ubiquitous twinkly lights of the city as seen from the top of the Empire State Building with what was going on on the ground as sky scrapers surrounded tenements or popped up in the middle of otherwise low rise residential streets. Horse and carts and old cars sit alongside towering buildings in a way that doesn’t really seem to make sense.

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lessines, Belgium, 2010 at Barbican

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lessines, Belgium, 2010

Elsewhere, the structure itself, not the city is the focus. I’ve seen Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work a few times now and it may sound a little weird that a wall featuring 21 photographs of water towers all taken to the same scale at the same angle with the same light in underwhelming places such as Kornwestheim and Goole could be something to recommend, so I was very pleased when my friend who I went with also thought they were strangely pleasing. It might be the uniformity of it, or it may be that water towers are indeed under valued things of beauty?! On a similar theme, whether or not you will like Ed Ruscha’s Thirtyfour Parking Lots is probably also something that’s going to be down to personal taste.

Nadav Kander fishermen bridge Chongqing Barbican Constructing Worlds exhibition

Nadav Kander, Chongqing Municipality, 2007

Moving on from the beauty of the mundane we get to Nadav Kander’s Chinese landscapes where people are carrying on their everyday lives along the Yangtze river against the backdrop of huge architectural pieces, such as fishermen gathering by the water’s edge with an unfinished bridge fading into the misty background. The scale of the picture shows the fishermen unaffected by the bridge far off in the distance, they are not connected and could be in completely different photos, but there’s also the idea of progress and change taking place as they fish and that maybe this world will catch up with them, or maybe it already has, but life must go on.

And that’s just three of the photographer’s involved, others will show you aspects of modern day Afghanistan or Venezuela, or the Californian dream of the 50s and 60s, or the light, shadow, architecture and space of the Daniel Liebeskind designed Jewish Museum in Berlin. Like I said, you’ll find something you like here and you should go.

Constructing Worlds: Photography and architecture in the modern age
Barbcan, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS

Adults: £12

Until 11 January 2015


4 responses to “Constructing Worlds at the Barbican, London

      • Loved it. I was most interested in seeing the Nadav Kander photographs. The Chongqing Bridge photo was cool in your post – but far more impressive on the wall of the gallery.
        I spent a long time looking at Berenice Abbott’s photos of New York. I feel a bit stupid that I hadn’t heard of her before.
        The blurred Sugimoto photos were surprisingly affecting.
        The water towers do make a beautiful display, but the carparks were about to give me a headache so I walked away.
        The whole experience was good – and by that I mean the friendly staff and the iPhone app, as well as the photographs themselves. Thanks for the recommendation.

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