This essay by JJ Bauer (Visual Resources Curator and Lecturer, Art Department, UNC-Chapel Hill) includes selected information and images from her February 24th Art For Lunch talk at the Ackland.
Modernist Architecture and Hans Hofmann: Some Added Context
Before they worked with Hans Hofmann on mosaic murals for building projects in New York, there is evidence that architects William Lescaze and Kelly and Gruzen were already incorporating modernist abstract mosaics into their designs and rethinking the place of other forms of art in modern architecture in the 1950s.
A Known Precedent
Noted International Style modernist architect William Lescaze incorporated a 60 foot wide mural by Max Spivak on the long interior wall of the two-story lobby of the Calderone Theatre in Hempstead (Long Island), New York in 1948-1949, in his own words, “to bring life and interest to a very large wall located in a strategic area.” The mural was then reflected back at movie-goers from a mirror on the opposite wall as they arrived at the mezzanine level via escalator from the lobby. The architect was not unique in thinking Spivak’s non-objective mosaics were appropriate artworks to be incorporated into modernist architecture that otherwise eschewed anything that could be considered superficial or applied decoration. Writing about the nascent career of Spivak in the New York Times, critic Aline B. Louchheim states, “And it seems equally astonishing that modern architecture and mosaic decoration, deeply compatible by nature, should not by this time have had a long and prolific marriage. For modern architecture finds its beauty through expression of its structural design and through emphasis on the intrinsic handsomeness of its materials. And mosaics, becoming an integral part of the architectural elements, enhance them without obscuring their function.” She then goes on to speak about mosaics in terms comparable to those Clement Green
berg was also just beginning to apply to the New York School of painters that included Hans Hofmann, emphasizing mosaics’ use of color, variations in tone, irregular pieces, and, above all, flatness and formal patterning.