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The Architecture and Art as a Whole
In the art of the Exposition the great underlying theme is that of achievement. The Exposition is being held to celebrate the building of the Panama Canal, and to exhibit to the world evidences of the progress of civilization in the decade since the last great exposition - a period among the richest in the history of civilization. So the ideas of victory, achievement, progress and aspiration are expressed again and again: in the architecture with its triumphal arches and aspiring towers; in the sculpture that brings East and West face to face, and that shows youth rising with the morning sun, eager and unafraid; and in the mural paintings that portray the march of civilization, and that tell the story of the latest and greatest of mankind's triumphs over nature. But perhaps the most significant thing of all is the wonderfully harmonious and unified effect of the whole, that testifies so splendidly to the perfect co-operation of American architects, sculptors and painters.
The dominant note artistically is harmony. At no other exposition have the buildings seemed to "hold together" so well; and at no other has there been the same perfect unity of artistic impression. The Chicago Exposition of 1893 focused the artistic expression of the nation at that time. It brought about the first great awakening of the country in artistic matters, and it practically revolutionized American architecture. The St. Louis Exposition of 1904, while less unified in plan, gave another great stimulus to architecture, and especially to sculpture. But the Panama-Pacific Exposition should have a more far-reaching effect than either of these, because its great lesson is not in the field of any one art, but in showing forth the immense value of coordination of all the arts in the achievement of a single glorious ideal. The great thing here is the complete harmony of purpose, of design, and of color, in the combined work of architects, sculptors, painters, and landscape gardeners. The sensible plan that results in perfect convenience in getting about, the clothing of this plan in noble and fitting architectural forms, the use of sculpture and painting as an integral part of the architectural scheme, the tying in of buildings to site with appropriate planting, and the pulling together of the whole composition with harmonious color - these are the things that will leave their impress on American art for all time to come. If each student of the art of the Exposition takes home with him an understanding of the value of this synthesis, of this co-ordination of effort, he will have the key to the Exposition's most valuable heritage to the American people.
Physically there are three distinct parts to the Exposition: the main group of exhibit palaces, the Zone, and the state and foreign buildings. The art-lover will be concerned almost entirely with the first of these; for artistically the Zone expresses anarchy, and the state and foreign pavilions are given over almost entirely to social and commercial interests.
The architecture of the central group of palaces and courts is a notable departure from that of most of the expositions of the past. There are none of the over decorated facades, none of the bizarre experiments in radical styles, and little of the riot of extraneous ornament, that have been characteristic of typical "exposition architecture." The whole spirit here is one of seriousness, of dignity, of permanency. The effects are obtained by the use of long unbroken lines, blank wall spaces, perfect proportioning, and a restrained hand in decoration. Color alone is relied upon to add the spirit of gayety without which the architecture might be too somber for its joyous purpose.
The ground plan is remarkable for its perfect symmetry. On the main east and west axis are grouped eight palaces, about three interior courts. At the east end the axis is terminated by the Palace of Machinery, which cuts off the main group from the Zone. On the west the axis is terminated by the Fine Arts Palace, which separates the central group from the state and foreign buildings. The main cross axis is terminated at the south by the Tower of Jewels and the Fountain of Energy, and at the north by the Column of Progress on the Marina. The two minor cross axes end at the south in the Horticulture Palace and Festival Hall - the two great domed structures that naturally would separate themselves from the main plan and at the north these axes open on the Marina and the beautiful bay view.
This plan is admirably compact. It has the effect of a walled city, giving a sense of oneness from without, and a sense of shelter from within. The plan eliminated the usual great distances between exhibit halls, at the same time providing protection against the winds that occasionally sweep over the Exposition area. More important still, the throwing of the finer architectural effects into the inner courts allowed freedom in individual expression. In the court system the architects obtained unity with great variety of style, and harmony without monotony.
The plan was worked out by a commission of architects. But the greatest credit must be given to Edward H. Bennett, who first conceived the walled-city idea, and who brought his long experience in city-planning to serve in determining the best method of utilizing the magnificent site.
The style of architecture cannot be summed up in any one name. Practically every historic style has been drawn upon, but there are very few direct copies from older buildings. The old forms have been used with new freedom, and occasionally with very marked originality. As one looks down on the whole group of buildings, the Oriental feeling dominates, due to the many Byzantine domes. In the courts and facades the Renaissance influence is strongest, usually Italian, occasionally Spanish. Even where the classic Greek and Roman elements are used, there is generally a feeling of Renaissance freedom in the decoration. One court is in a wonderful new sort of Spanish Gothic, perfectly befitting California. In the styles of architecture, as in the symbolism of painting and sculpture and in the exhibits, one feels that the East and West have met, with a new fusion of national ideals and forms.
The material used in the buildings is a composition, partaking of the nature of both plaster and concrete, made in imitation of Travertine, a much-prized building marble of Italy. This composition has the warm ochre tone and porous texture of the original stone, thus avoiding the unpleasant smoothness and glare which characterize stucco, the usual Exposition material.
In one way more than any other, the sculpture here surpasses that of other expositions: it is an integral part of the larger artistic conception. It not only tells its individual stories freely and beautifully, but it fits perfectly into the architectural scheme, adding the decorative touch and the human element without which the architecture would seem bare.
The late Karl Bitter was chief of the department of sculpture, and although there is no single example of his work on the grounds, it was he who, more than any other, insisted upon a close relationship between the architecture and the sculpture. A. Stirling Calder was acting chief, and he had charge of the actual work of enlarging the models of the various groups and placing each one properly.
The material of the sculptures is the same as that of the buildings, Travertine, thus adding to the close relationship of the two.
The mural paintings as a whole are not so fine as either the architecture or the sculpture. The reason can be traced perhaps to the fact that painting does not readily bow to architectural limitations. In this case the artists, with the exception of Frank Brangwyn, who painted the canvases for the Court of Abundance, were limited to a palette of five colors, in order that the panels should harmonize with the larger color scheme.
Never before was there an exposition in which color played such a part. Here for the first time a director of color was placed above architect and sculptor and painter. Jules Guerin, chief of color decoration, has said that he went to work just as a painter starts to lay out a great picture, establishing the warm buff of the building walls as a ground tone, and considering each dome or tower or portal as a detail which should add its brilliant or subdued note to the color harmony. Not only do the paintings and sculpture take proper place in the tone scheme, but every bit of planting, every strip of lawn and every bed of flowers or shrubs, has its duty to perform as color accent or foil. Even the gravel of the walks was especially chosen to shade in with the general plan.
As seen from the heights above the Exposition - and no visitor should go away without seeing this view - the grounds have the appearance of a great Oriental rug. The background color is warm buff, with various shades of dull red against it, accented by domes and columns of pale green, with occasional touches of blue and pink to heighten the effect.
In the courts the columns and outer walls are in the buff, or old ivory, tone, while the walls inside the colonnades have a "lining color" of Pompeian red; the ceilings are generally cerulean blue; the cornices are touched with orange, blue and gold; and occasional columns of imitation Siena marble, and bronzed statues, set off the whole.
In connection with the color scheme, great credit must be given to John McLaren, chief of the department of landscape gardening, who has worked so successfully in co-operation with architects and color director. The Exposition is built almost entirely on filled ground, just reclaimed from the bay; and it was a colossal task to set out the hundreds of thousands of flowers, shrubs and trees which now make the gardens seem permanent, and which set off the architecture so perfectly.
When one's soul has been drenched all day in the beauty of courts and palaces and statues and paintings, dusk is likely to bring welcome rest; but when the lights begin to appear there comes a new experience - a world made over, and yet quite as beautiful as the old. Walls are lost where least interesting, bits of architecture are brought out in relief against the velvet sky, and sculptures take on a new softness and loveliness of form. Under the wonderfully developed system of indirect illumination, no naked light is seen by the eye; only the soft reflected glow, intense when desired, but never glaring. If this lighting is not in itself an art, it is at least the informing spirit that turns prose to poetry, or the instrumental accompaniment without which the voice of the artist would be but half heard. Too much credit cannot be given to the lighting wizard of the Exposition, W. D'Arcy Ryan.