Finishing school

A show dedicated to the great Finnish Modernist Alvar Aalto, ‘through the eyes of Shigeru Ban’, might suggest the use of designers and architects as flavours, like so much cinnamon added to a Starbucks cappuccino. However, the exhibition works. Apart from supplying an exquisite design for the exhibition (which includes a suspended ceiling wave made from his trademark paper rolls), Ban has engaged with Aalto with great empathy and intelligence. While there are clear stylistic affinities between the two, Ban makes it clear that his passion for Aalto (hatched while designing a 1986 Tokyo show of Aalto’s work) is more fundamental. ‘I didn’t just want to show it as a work of art,’ says Ban, and indeed the show is far beyond chairs on plinths. ‘To reintroduce, rather than reinterpret, Aalto,’ is how Ban puts it, expressing a concern that current computer-based design methods are at the expense of a traditional engagement with contexts and materials. In fact, the exhibition is populated with ‘analytic models’ painstakingly created by Ban’s students at Keio University over the past four years. It’s ironic that this show should be housed in London’s Barbican, which despite unveiling its 25th anniversary overhaul last week, remains somewhat challenging. Perhaps the humanising delicacy of Ban could be harnessed for the Barbican’s next revamp?

Alvar Aalto: Through the Eyes of Shigeru Ban runs until 13 May at the Barbican Art Gallery, London EC2

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