John Hejduk's work is mystical. That aspect of his architecture became stronger toward the end of his career along with his projects' narrative power. (Hejduk, the dean of the architecture program at Cooper Union for more than two decades, died in 2000.) The exhibit, "Sanctuaries: The Last Works of John Hejduk," recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, was a compact show that explored the mystical side of his work.
Although a member of the group of "Five Architects," made famous in the 1970s by the book and the exhibit of the same name, Hejduk always seemed a misfit. He saw his own work as different from that of the other four architects — Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, and Peter Eisenman — which was relentlessly geometric. Not that Hejduk's own architecture lacked, at least on the surface, formal rigor. Even his early paper projects, such as the Wall Houses, possessed the poetry of habitation: how we make ourselves a place in the world, primarily through the creative acts of narrative and storytelling.
"During the last 20 years of his life," observes K. Michael Hayes, curator of the Whitney show, "Hejduk made successive attempts to shift his architecture away from the more mathematical concerns of his early work, which owed much to Mies van der Rohe and Piet Mondrian, toward an allegorical, 'carnivalesque' mode that he called architectural 'masques.'" In these projects, many of which are included in the exhibit, Hejduk is more lyrical, painterly, and narrative. Two constructions in particular, House of the Suicide and House of the Mother of the Suicide, sit in the Whitney's sunken sculpture court as silent testaments to architecture's power to encompass all of life's triumphs and tragedies.
Yours from New York,
Michael J. Crosbie