Issue 6
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
11
PEOPLE
July 15, 2024
Buildings That Grow from a Place
by Anthony Paletta
10
URBANISM
June 24, 2024
What We Lose When a Historic Building Is Demolished
by Owen Hatherley
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 17, 2024
We Need More Than Fewer, Better Things
by Deb Chachra
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 3, 2024
An Ode to Garages
by Charlie Weak
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 28, 2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 13, 2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 6, 2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
April 29, 2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
PEOPLE
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PEOPLE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
PEOPLE
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
PEOPLE
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
PEOPLE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
URBANISM
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
OBJECTS
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
PEOPLE
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
URBANISM
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
PEOPLE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
URBANISM
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
OBJECTS
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
PEOPLE
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
PEOPLE
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
PEOPLE
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
PEOPLE
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
PEOPLE
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
PEOPLE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
OBJECTS
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
PEOPLE
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
PEOPLE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
PEOPLE
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
OBJECTS
07.17.2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose

Some artists get their hands dirty to rebel. Others use disarray to more far-reaching ends.

Piles of dirt in a white gallery
Walter De Maria, “The New York Earth Room” (1977). (Photo: John Cliett. Courtesy Dia Art Foundation and The Estate of Walter De Maria)


In October 1972, just after turning 37, artist Walter De Maria gave a rare interview to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, and discussed the radical work that he had made up to that point. Those formative efforts had included austere plywood boxes and what he called “invisible drawings,” pencil renderings of objects that are so faint that they are barely legible. “But,” he explained, “things were to get wilder, you know, into bringing in three tons of dirt into a gallery. These were things that were so out of control that actually even at this point almost no gallery can manage the new problems that I’m bringing to the situation.”

De Maria had staged that wild dirt piece in 1968, filling most of the Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich with 1,600 cubic feet of soil, piled two feet high. “Munich Earth Room” staked out fresh territory in the fast-expanding field of experimental sculpture and (though he was consistently silent on matters of interpretation) seemed to attempt to disrupt the activities of his art dealer amid an increasingly speculative market for contemporary art. Who would possibly buy such a thing? (The intrepid Friedrich priced it at $7,000, but found no taker.)

This issue of Untapped asks, “Must change be messy?” For certain members of the avant-garde over the past 70 or so years, like De Maria, the answer has been clear: “Of course!” An expansive tale of postwar art could be told that focuses solely on works that are dirty, filthy, and grimy, that desecrate and despoil typically pristine environs, and that are made in an effort to signal transformation, radical thinking, and revolution. It would reveal how the same basic strategy—creating a serious mess—worked … until it didn’t. And it would posit an equally striking alternative to using disorder to foment change: highlighting existing messes that had been long ignored.

De Maria’s Earth Rooms (he made three; the only extant one has been housed on the second floor of a building, in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, since 1977) would be one key part of that narrative, which could begin at many different points.

Among the making-messes-as-rebellion set: There were, in 1964, Carolee Schneemann’s saturnalian “Meat Joy” performances in New York and Paris, in which eight nearly nude performers writhed on the floor with outré props, many of them perishable. The piece opened with a kind of dinner party, but the restrictive rules of civilization quickly fell away. It was “an erotic rite—excessive, indulgent, a celebration of flesh as material: raw fish, chicken, sausages, wet paint, transparent plastic, ropes,” Schneemann wrote.

People wearing white in a circle covered in red paint
Hermann Nitsch, “Orgies Mysteries Theatre,” 155th Action, performed at Austria’s Nitsch Museum in 2018. (Photo: Daniel Feyerl. Courtesy Hermann Nitsch.)


Right at that time, Hermann Nitsch was in his native Austria, presenting some of the initial actions of his “Orgies Mysteries Theatre,” elaborate and shocking rituals that involved slaughtered animals and copious amounts of their blood. He framed his project in language similar to Schneemann’s, terming it a “basic experience of excess and a celebration of resurrection, a sadomasochist excess and catharsis, a brutal dismemberment and a harmonizing synthesis, an incantation of the myth as a contracted worldview and psychoanalytical therapy.” Making an outrageous mess could, in his conception, be a means of not only personal liberation but healing.

Everywhere you alight in 20th-century art history, examples abound. Kazuo Shiraga is in a courtyard in Tokyo in 1955, outside the “The First Gutai Art Exhibition,” wearing nothing but short shorts as he thrashes around a viscous pile of cement, plaster, clay, and other materials. In black-and-white photos he looks both heroic and ridiculous, one man (a soldier, perhaps) fighting an unwinnable fight as the substances cling to his skin. He titled his endeavor, which turned Jackson Pollock’s action painting into a full-body experience, “Challenging the Mud.

A black and white photo of a man crawling in mud with someone photographing him
Kazuo Shiraga, “Challenging the Mud (3rd execution)” (1955). (Courtesy Fergus McCaffrey)


Five years later, one evening in 1960, Jean Tinguely is in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art, activating a kinetic sculpture that he has designed to self-destruct, leaving only wreckage. It works maybe too well, catching fire before its total demise. The fire department extinguishes it.

Not all were impressed with Tinguely’s mayhem. “This is what social protest has fallen to in our day—a garden party,” The Nation opined. Even at this early moment, artists who aimed to make a mess risked being seen as self-indulgent or pretentious, channeling clichés. By 1992, Tony Tasset could actually make that well-worn approach the subject of a brutally funny artwork. In his “Untitled (Event Photographs),” nude performers flop frantically around a small gallery, wielding paint cans, sex toys, and the odd fish. They appear to be having a great time. There is just one catch: There was no performance. The photos were staged.

But even as the mess-making method grew tired over the decades, there were people willing to push it to more and more harrowing extremes, with matters arguably peaking in the mid-1980s. In 1985, one member of the frankly dangerous Japanese noise duo Hanatarash climbed into an excavator in the middle of their concert in Tokyo and used it to smash through one of the venue’s walls. The next year, Chris Burden ripped out part of the floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and dug three deep trenches, doing just what the title of his intervention promised: “Exposing the Foundation of the Museum.” (It was “the best show he—or maybe anyone else—ever had,” his fellow artist Vito Acconci wrote after Burden’s 2015 death.)

No artist has ever completely destroyed an institution as an artwork, as far as I know (though Ed Ruscha did imagine that in his 1965–68 painting, “Los Angeles County Museum on Fire”). However, once you have done major structural damage, it might be time to admit that the mess mode has finally been exhausted.

Uniting these diffuse affairs was an urge to deliver the real world (often quite literally) into the rarefied confines of the theater or the art gallery—the “white, ideal space” that critic Brian O’Doherty posited in the 1970s evinced “the sanctity of the church, the formality of the courtroom, the mystique of the experimental laboratory.” Fill it with soil or trash (think Cady Noland’s late-’80s sculptural “spills” of tabloids and beer cans), tear it up, or populate it with bodies and liquids. Alternatively, just invite everyone outside and let chaos ensue.

A gallery with a skylight filled with trash with graffiti on the walls
“Nest: Dash Snow and Dan Colen” installed at Deitch Projects in 2007. (Courtesy Jeffrey Deitch)


More recently, some leading artists have seemed to look back to these canonical messes, minting updates or sequels that can feel exciting if a touch hollow. There was at least a dash of “Meat Joy” in the “Nest” that Dan Colen and Dash Snow assembled at Deitch Projects in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in 2007. Volunteers shredded 2,000 telephone books and spread the results in the gallery, which became a venue for concerts, graffiti, and general debauchery. (Given the “pummeling of enormous wine, pee, and paint spitballs stuck to the walls, it seemed a great deal took place during these night-into-mornings,” the gallery later deadpanned.)

And Urs Fischer seemed rather aggressively inspired by Burden’s digging when, in 2007, he removed the floor of one of the spaces at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in Lower Manhattan and made a deep hole of his own, titled “You.” (Burden’s gallery, Gagosian, apparently noted the similarity and took out an Artforum ad emblazoned with his L.A. MOCA piece.) The collector Peter Brant acquired the Fischer, and later presented it at his family foundation’s lush estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, removing his own gallery floor (another vanguard garden party?).

A gallery with the floor dug out to reveal mud and rocks below
Urs Fischer, “You” (2007). (Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.)


This genre of artmaking is so vast that we are barely scratching the surface here. One might also mention Paul McCarthy’s most unwieldy and ribald installations, the meticulous but also quite messy immersive environments of Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, and the most ambitious shows of Thomas Hirschhorn, who in 2010 blanketed a Belgian museum with used cans, bottles, and other detritus. (White men seem to have a passion for this approach, it must be said—and they have been afforded the means to pursue it.)

At the 2022 Venice Biennale, the Colombian artist Delcy Morelos presented a massive, piquant installation of soil spiked with cassava flour, cacao powder, cinnamon, and other spices, alluding to her Andean and Amazonian Amerindian heritage while nodding to De Maria. Along a similar vein, the Indonesian Pernambucano artist Daniel Lie has recently been building raw, elegant installations that incorporate masses of soil and jute fabric, flowers, seeds, turmeric, and a whole lot more. Like so much great messy art, they are pungent, even threateningly so, and they look ready to support new beings.

But today, many of the most potent art practices are less interested in making messes than highlighting and responding to ones that already exist in social, cultural, and political realms. Instead of shedding their inhibitions and willfully losing control, these artists adopt the roles of lawyers, investigators, or even businesspeople to alter existing dynamics. And when they choose to create problems, it is typically in the finely calibrated language of fine print.

The German-born Hans Haacke is one pioneer here, creating a piece that examined the complicated dealings of a notorious New York slumlord and another showing the vast corporate affiliations of the Guggenheim Museum’s trustees. Surveying the unregulated (and fast-growing) art market of the 1960s and ’70s, when contemporary works were beginning to trade for huge sums without their makers seeing a penny, he decided to adopt the Artists Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, which requires that he receive a 15 percent cut when his creations change hands.

“Today, many of the most potent art practices are less interested in making messes than highlighting and responding to ones that already exist in social, cultural, and political realms.”


More recently, the group Forensic Architecture has been conducting intensive studies of violence against civilians in Ukraine and refugees seeking asylum in Europe, and other fraught issues. For the Documenta 14 show in 2017, Maria Eichhorn acquired a building in Athens and attempted to create a legal structure so that it would be owned by no one, which could be seen as a protest against both gentrification in the city and the unrelenting commodification of public space. (It could not be done.) And responding to the climate emergency, Amy Balkin has been leading a campaign to have Earth’s atmosphere added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

A black and white rendering of a bombed out building
Forensic Architecture’s 3D model of Mariupol’s Drama Theater in Ukraine after it was bombed by the Russian invasion last spring, recreated from satellite imagery. (Courtesy the Center for Spatial Technologies)



Like Haacke, Cameron Rowland has also tried to change the rules of the art-market game, renting some of his sculptures to institutions rather than selling them, and for his current show at the MMK in Frankfurt, he has upended the entire power relationship between artist and institution. He has formed a corporation called Bankrott Inc. (“Bankrupt Inc.”), which has made a €20,000 loan to the MMK at the highest legal rate, 18 percent. Rowland has written about the piece in the context of compensation that was paid to European slaveholders following emancipation in various places, and how those payments ultimately benefited financial institutions of the kind that populate Frankfurt. The loan is a “demand loan,” which means that the MMK (a city department) only has to pay it back when the loan is called in. “Bankrott Inc. will never demand repayment,” Rowland writes.

But what if the artist’s corporation decided to change its mind? (Corporations have certainly been known to alter their policies.) MMK—which is to say, the city of Frankfurt—would owe around €1.26 billion in 25 years; in 100 years, it would be well over €300 billion. An unfathomable mess of a financial catastrophe is held in abeyance, for now, by the artist’s word.

As it happens, De Maria’s Earth Room also had an element of danger to it, at least at first. Until its nutrients faded away, it teemed with organic matter. Bill Dilworth, the longtime caretaker of the New York Earth Room, has said, “When I first got the job, half a dozen mushrooms would pop up a week, and these were good size mushrooms.” Some thought they were dangerous, but “they were not poisonous at all,” he went on, “they were delicious.”

That is an unusual praise for a work of art. But when artists conceive of bizarre, improbable, truly messy projects, and then have the chance to execute them, to take risks, unusual things have been known to transpire. May that tradition-flouting tradition continue.