New Zurich Exhibition ‘Abstracting The Landscape’ Explores the Exhilarating Essence of Zaha Hadid

Despite the fact she was born in 1948, there was something so perfectly turning-of-the millennium about Dame Zaha Hadid. Indeed, despite her sometimes tough-as-nails reputation, her work, like that of say Jean Nouvel and Santiago Calatrava, conveyed the kind of fantastical, anything-is-possible ethos of those years just before and immediately following the ticking of the calendar into the 21st Century.

When she passed away from a sudden heart attack in March of 2016, aged just 65, it felt like a gaping hole opened up in the world of architecture. The accountants had already taken over, forcing the cutting of far too many corners for comfort, and surely leading Vanity Fair in 2008 to refer to Richard Meier’s Perry Street Towers as the “Faulty Towers.” Sadly, that intrepid feeling of post-millennial futurism and possibility would at last ultimately be extinguished by the global rise of authoritarian regressiveness, especially felt in the U.S. and in Britain, the latter which she called home.

A new exhibition has just opened at the Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich, which follows on from exhibitions at the same gallery in 2010 and 2016. Titled Abstracting The Landscape (on show through July 1), it’s the third in a series exploring how significantly influenced Ms. Hadid was by the Russian avant-garde of the early 20th Century, with its acute sense of optimism and thorough rejection of the past. Suprematism, specifically, was a very modernist, deeply utopian movement based on geometric form and abstraction. And while the first two exhibitions specifically delved into her aesthetic relationship to its most high-profile proponents, Kazemir Malevich and Kurt Schwitters, this latest is the gallery’s attempt, using the same team that had worked with her on both the previous, to tell another part of that story via their long involvement with her in developing the original narrative.

And so Abstracting The Landscape displays and juxtaposes historical projects via models and drawings, with sculptural objects that actually came to be realized after her death. But the distinct challenges of bringing it to fruition without her involvement were very much overcome by the gallery’s profound sensitivity to her principles and vision.

“While Zaha was alive,” explains gallery partner Mathias Rastorfer, “the certainty of changes throughout the development [of the exhibitions] were an essential part of her creative thinking. Not having her around to do so was substituted by a dedicated team that knew her well over the years, who emanate her thinking process and apply it respectfully to each new project.”

And so the exhibit allows the distinct feeling of being fully immersed in the aesthetic and ideological world of Zaha Hadid. It notably features site-specific objects, as well as never-before exhibited designs…and even boasts a rather striking floor design that is quite likely just as she would have had it if she were indeed still alive today.

“Zaha has cemented her place in architectural history for eternity,” Rastorfer observes, “and the buildings and projects she finished fill a lifetime. What is extraordinary however is that from her teaching and for having laid the groundwork, her influence goes on and expands, not holding back but solidly grounded in her ideas and principles.”

He continues, “For her time was very precious and she used it wisely. Meaning, if a conversation was of no interest to her she was often perceived as rude by cutting it short; while when a person or topic was of interest to her she was all in. The same for her projects. Zaha’s most successful buildings have this sense of focus and essence, as well as timelessness.”

With so much talk recently focused on what Artnet called a ‘toxic legal battle’ over her $130 million+ estate, Abstracting The Landscape is an exhilarating reminder of how a tenacious, unflinching Iranian woman came to be one of the few greatest architects of her generation.

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