Langsam speaks at VACI lecture series about modernism and utopia

Brian Smith | Staff PhotographerJulie Langsam teaches a painting class Monday at the School of Art.

Brian Smith | Staff Photographer

Julie Langsam teaches a painting class Monday at the School of Art.

Julie Langsam’s latest series features paintings of the floor plans of famous buildings, realized as a combination of colored rectangles that look like an updated Piet Mondrian piece.

“I have this big pile of paint chips,” Langsam said. “I have every color and I shuffle them up like a deck of cards. Then I just pick them off in order so they’re selected by random chance.”

Langsam, an assistant professor at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, will share slides of her new work at 7 p.m. in the Hultquist Center, as part of the Visual Arts Lecture Series.

After she selects the paint chips for each room of the floor plan, Langsam translates the colors into a watercolor version of the plan. She enlarges the watercolor for the final stage: painting it on a gallery wall.

In a show she did earlier this year in Barcelona, Spain, she painted the floor plans of buildings by Josep Lluís Sert, a prominent Spanish architect known for his modernist buildings. Langsam likes that the big floor plans are only temporarily displayed on a gallery wall.

“You can have this idea about one thing,” Langsam said, “and then all of a sudden, the contextual circumstances change and the meaning of what you’re thinking about changes.”

Modernist buildings influenced Langsam’s last series, which she will also show during her lecture. She chose modernist buildings in utopian landscapes, like the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and painted them in a barren desert at sunset.

“When you think of modernist architecture,” Langsam said, “there’s this home with nothing in it except pristine furniture and surfaces, a beautiful view and all glass. It’s very much about a rich, elite kind of existence. But that’s not what it was supposed to be when these artists, architects were first proposing their buildings. They were much more modest. They really were about proposing a new paradigm for society.”

Langsam, a visiting artist at the School of Art this year for the third time, plans to work with the students to help them fully realize their own work. They will read “Success and Failure,” a chapter in Katy Siegel’s book Since ’45: America and the Making of Contemporary Art, to think about what success means to an artist. Langsam enjoys teaching at Chautauqua Institution because the community shares ideals with the utopian societies in her work.

“The whole history of Chautauqua is fascinating to me,” Langsam said, “how it came into being. It’s not a utopian community in the strictest sense, because most of them have failed, but it’s still unique in that way [that utopian communities try to be]. I don’t know that there’s any other place like this.”