Harmony is a state of coexistence, it is achieved when two or more entities complement each other and enhance one another’s effects. It is ubiquitous, but when things are in perfect harmony we rarely give a second thought to the disparate elements at play. The connection between art and architecture is too often forgotten, an example of a harmonious relationship.
An oversimplification of the relationship, many people assume that in any given case, architecture provides structure to a built environment and that art is decorative. This is a reasonable assumption, given the minimal amount of time most of us spend contemplating our environs on a daily basis. But what if we stopped and took a closer look?
If we paused and examined the inner and outer façades of the buildings we pass by, inhabit, work and play in we might see that architecture is a form of visual art. We might also recognize that those artistic pieces incorporated into or onto buildings tend to feel integral when they are well suited to the space. In fact, some even seem to be of the building, an extension of the architecture itself or a key element of the design.
From May 30 through July 4, we will be presented with a unique opportunity to further consider this relationship. As the doors of the University Church in Salzburg open to reveal the work of Susan Swartz, on display for just six weeks in this auspicious space, a case study lies before us.
The Kollegienkirche, located just off of the bank of the Salzach river, is widely recognized as one of the most pristine examples of Baroque architecture in the world. The city of Salzburg is known for the uniformity of its architecture on the whole, a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a well-preserved example of a city-state at the intersection of German and Italian styles.
The hallmark of Baroque architecture is the interplay of shadow and light due to the nature of the design. The ornate features of the Baroque style create a sense of movement and a dynamic energy that intrigues the eye. Contrary to earlier classical styles, Baroque architecture treats ornate, three-dimensional elements as integral the structure rather than superimposing them on the surface of other elements.
Interestingly, Susan Swartz is known for her employment of a layering technique in her painting. Rather than striving to give the impression of dimensionality in her work, she allows the paint to physically mask and unveil itself in various ways. Perhaps there is a common tie between the style of the Kollegienkirche and the pieces Susan will display on its hallowed walls.
Something happens, though, when a piece of art is precisely placed on a wall in a beautiful setting. Our experience of the piece and of the space itself changes. We might notice the light playing over the surface of the painting and changing what we see, depending on our vantage point. Invariably, a painting hung in an interior space is impacted by the sources of natural light within the structure.
So, the structure comments on the painting, in a way. But it is not a one-way conversation. It is human nature to find similarities among our surroundings, even unwittingly. A brilliant, colorful painting hung in a beautiful church could not help but draw the eye to the intricate side nave altars, alive with rich and vibrant hues.
People do, of course, display art in homes, workspaces and myriad other venues with the intent of decorating the interior space. We so quickly lose the broader benefit of surrounding ourselves with works of art when we deny the important interaction art should have with space and light. By noting the interchange between architecture and art and actively encouraging the two to mingle, we could enhance our daily experience immensely.
Susan Swartz has a broad range of work to display in Salzburg. As you look through the exhibition gallery, consider the elements at work and play in each piece. Every painting has unique formal elements, lines and curves, shadows and ornate detail – much like the architectural elements of the University Church, these paintings stand alone and work together, in harmony.