|Graves's studio at the American Academy (#9)|
|The Portland Municipal Building (1982)|
|Graves, sketching in Rome, 1961. He sold some|
to tourists for $50.
|A Graves sketch of the Villa Borghese, c. 1961|
|A Graves-designed school building|
|Enrico del Debbio building, 1931-33|
|Graves, the Denver Public Library|
Rome transformed Graves, but that experience was iconic in a larger way, too. By 1960, existing movements in architecture and the arts had reached a point of exhaustion. In painting, abstract expressionists had reduced the form to an extreme of simplicity: a canvas painted in one color. There was nothing beyond, except perhaps not to paint the canvas at all. The rectagular glass box had done the same in architecture, showcasing a rigid and extreme modernism that suggested that the form, having been perfected, was untouchable. They ran out of ideas in Detroit, too, desperately attaching huge, space-like fins on the new models in an awkward, failed effort to tap the future.
Why Graves would start thinking about designing commercial products while in Rome is less clear, but he was hardly alone in connecting the artistic and commercial. In 1962, while Graves was wrapping up his European sojourn, Andy Warhol was having his first important solo exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York, featuring representations of Campbell's Soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Graves designed products; Warhol used products to make designs. Both understood the limits of modernism; both had a playful side; both drew on the unparalleled dynamism of American consumer culture to revitalize aesthetic forms.
There was one big difference--well, surely more than one, but one that's especially relevant here. Warhol cared little about the past, and he had not been to Rome--at least, not that we know of. Where Graves discovered the a glorious past that could be fashioned into the future, Warhol imagined only irrelevance. "They call Rome 'the Eternal City,' he wrote, "because everything is old and everything is still standing. They always say, 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' Well, I say maybe it should have been, because the quicker you build something, the shorter a time it lasts, and the shorter a time it lasts, the sooner people have jobs again, replacing it. Replacing it keeps people busy."
We highly recommend Brian M. Ambroziak's lovely book, Michael Graves: Images of a Grand Tour (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005). Foreword by Michael Graves.