In 2011 Monroe was awarded the Freund Fellowship at Washington University in St Louis in partnership with the Saint Louis Art Museum. Monroe delivered a seminar series at the university whilst developing a new body of work for the museum’s long running showcase of contemporary artists called Currents

Currents 105 explores the ‘lost futures’ of technology, aviation, and modernity bound within the history and legacy of a single building in St Louis; Lambert International Airport.

It was designed by the architect Minoru Yamasaki and completed in 1956. It would herald a new mid-century optimism and glamour around air travel and the rapidly globalising world. It was the new headquarters of TWA and was intended to bring global importance and interconnectedness to the U.S. Midwest region. In a strange twist of fate, Yamasaki would go on to design the World Trade Centre in New York in 1971, a complex of buildings that now represent the very opposite of that moment in 1956. 

The imagery and materials in Currents 105 are all used to evoke specific moments that have ebbed away, and to trace a particular trajectory of modernity; water fountains that have been removed from airports to enable more bottled water to be sold, phone booths that have been replaced for mobile wifi, and the jet engines that used to built in St Louis by Mcdonnell Douglas (which was also headquartered at Lambert) that have long since been outsourced to other countries. The work is made from the materials and objects of air travel. Swizzle sticks and high-ball glasses from the first class cabin sit on airport carpet under stainless handrails and machined aluminium components, the collages are made of vinyl used on aircraft and stainless steel. 

For a full text on the show written by Tricia Y. Paik, former Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, please scroll to the bottom of the page. 

 
 
 

Foreground: Ambassadors Club, carpet, swizzle sticks, cocktail glasses, stainless steel handrail, aluminium, Perspex.    Background: see below for details

 

Background, left to right: Arc, vinyl and stainless steel on aluminium , Ghost, vinyl and stainless steel on Perspex

 
 

Fountain, vinyl and stainless steel on Perspex, 50cm x 50cm

 

 

Ghost, vinyl and stainless steel on Perspex, 30cm x 54cm

 
 

Many Long Hours, vinyl and stainless steel on Perspex, 50cm x 35cm 

 

 

Leave Winter Behind Like Magic, vinyl and stainless steel on Perspex, 50cm x 80cm

 
 

The Structure Grew From Stress Diagrams, vinyl and stainless steel on Perspex, 50cm x 35cm 

 
 

                 Arc, vinyl and stainless steel on aluminium, 280cm x 320cm

 

All Interests Could Be Accommodated, vinyl and stainless steel on Perspex, 50cm x 35cm   

 
 

Details of Amassadors Club

 
338.1.PS.jpg
 

For his Currents 105 exhibition, artist Ian Monroe presents a new body of work inspired by the significant history and vernacular language of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. As a BFA student at Washington University in Saint Louis during the early 1990s, Monroe logged countless hours at Lambert, travelling regularly to Dulles International Airport on trips home to his parents. The grandson of an architect, Monroe would admire the majestic, but embracing monumentality of both buildings, the first by architect Minoru Yamasaki, best known for his design of the World Trade Center and its twin towers, and the second by architect Eero Saarinen, the designer of the Gateway Arch. On such travels, Monroe found the aesthetic and conceptual correspondences between the buildings striking. Each succeeded in welcoming the traveler into a grand space produced by a soaring, uniquely shaped ceiling. He was unaware then of their architectural lineage as well as St. Louis’s meaningful contribution to aviation history. 

Indeed, when Yamasaki unveiled his innovative terminal building for Lambert Field in 1956, the architect added one more notch onto St. Louis’s already illustrious timeline tracing the history of flight. It was from St. Louis on May 12, 1927, that Charles A. Lindbergh departed for New York to start his historic solo flight to Paris, an endeavor sponsored by St. Louis businessmen who had the foresight to finance the young aviator’s dream. Lindbergh would name his plane the Spirit of St. Louis in their honor. And it was Lindbergh’s first patron, Major Albert Bond Lambert, an aviation enthusiast and student of inventor Orville Wright, who provided the airfield that would eventually become Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. 

Yamasaki’s Lambert terminal opened to critical acclaim in 1956, transforming the landscape of post-war airport design. As lead architect on the project for Hellmuth, Yamasaki and Leinweber,(1) Yamasaki produced an ambitious, triple- vaulted, concrete-shelled ceiling that swept over the main floor spanning 120 by 412 feet. This building successfully formalized the concept of flight through the architecture itself, becoming a pivotal inspiration for later airport terminals, such as Saarinen’s Dulles International (completed in 1962). Buford L. Pickens, then dean of the School of Architecture at Washington University, said of Lambert, “Here, perhaps for the first time, an airport looks, feels and even acts like it belongs amid aircraft—whether you view it from the inside outside, or circling the field above.”(2) 

Yamasaki conceptualized his expansive terminal interior as a “gateway,” similar to Saarinen’s 1947 design for the Gateway Arch (completed in 1965).(3) Yamasaki greatly admired his friend and slightly older colleague Saarinen who, in turn, would study Yamasaki’s Lambert drawings when planning Dulles and his other triumphant airport building, the TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport.(4) Despite the acclaim Yamasaki received, the status and grandeur of his Lambert terminal, once hailed the “Grand Central of the Air,”(5) has faded due to the passage of time and a series of renovations. It is Monroe’s intention to retrieve and recuperate this crucial moment in both St. Louis and aviation history. 

Through collage and sculpture, Monroe revisits the story of Yamasaki’s Lambert. In a series of collages made with the artist’s characteristic use of meticulously cut and multi-layered vinyl, Monroe offers images of architects at work and vintage cars, as well as water fountains and telephone banks, which are nearly obsolete in airports today. The selection of representational imagery marks a departure for the artist who is known for large-scale geometric abstractions that depict imaginary, utopian spaces. 

Instead, Monroe has turned to the real and actual, pulling from an assortment of archival photographs and airline advertisements. Yamasaki features prominently in two of Monroe’s collages: in the structure grew from stress diagrams, 2011 (cover), three men (Yamasaki at center) huddle around a work table; and in the first task was listening, 2011, the architect ponders his project. As Monroe reaches into the past through these collages, he does not attempt to retrieve every detail. Understanding that the past becomes an abstraction as we move into the future, he extracts his chosen forms from their original photographs, reducing them to their essential shapes. This treatment is also evident in the abstracted fragments of Yamasaki’s vaulted ceiling in when all interests could be accommodated, 2011. 

Monroe discovered the photographs of the architect in a 1956 publication (6) that details the construction of Yamasaki’s terminal. He borrowed their photo captions for his collage titles. One quoted statement by the architect succinctly expresses his corresponding design philosophy: 

I think of the airport as the hub of a wheel. People come in from all directions and converge through the spokes of this hub. Often, the trip is a dramatic and important one for them; so it is important that when they arrive, there is a sense of welcome, an architectural experience of having arrived. This I felt could be obtained through the building.(7) 

Similarly inspired by the airport as a dramatic convergence of people and pathways, Monroe symbolizes the origins of mass air travel in the large-scaled panel, arc, 2011. A gigantic silvery jet engine appears boldly on a runway while in the distance Lambert’s iconic, undulating exterior can be seen. Through such imagery the artist also refers to St. Louis’s ongoing contribution to aircraft manufacture. As he explains, “The title arc is meant to reflect the varying trajectories of travel—of flight, economies, buildings—which are all linked in this case by the technological possibilities of the jet age.”(8) 

Like his other collages, arc is made entirely of layered vinyl cutouts. In almost all cases, Monroe has utilized a silver-hued vinyl that mimics the look of stainless steel ubiquitous in airports, combined with varying shades of yellow, orange, blue, and violet. This latter color scheme pays homage to a memorable artwork Yamasaki commissioned of acclaimed furniture designer Harry Bertoia. When the terminal opened in 1956, Bertoia’s 48-foot-long abstract metal screen of floating, colored planes debuted as a commanding work of public art. Sometime during a late 1960s expansion, it was removed and never returned.9 In the smallest collage on display, ghost, 2011 (illus.), Monroe reclaims the memory of this screen through the use of Bertoia’s original palette. He depicts, however, only a fragment, acknowledging that memory can never be fully redeemed. 

The final element of Monroe’s exhibition is an abstract sculptural installation titled ambassadors club, 2011. Incorporating common airport materials such as stainless steel, carpet, and original TWA cocktail tumblers and swizzle sticks, the installation cleverly references the now defunct airline’s luxury passenger lounge and the post-war promise of air travel. Monroe’s excavation of the past, however, is not one born of pure nostalgia. He looks back to illuminate not only what has been lost, but also to uncover the challenge in accurately retrieving the past. 

For Monroe, the airport serves as a site of journey, transition, and optimism. It is a uniquely liminal public space in which we shift back and forth between our municipal and private selves, navigating our passage from pedestrian to passenger. In today’s global landscape, airports and other public buildings have taken on even greater political and cultural meaning. Buildings like Yamasaki’s Lambert can be lasting exemplars of human achievement or, like his Twin Towers, can be swiftly destroyed in acts of violence. Yet what remains, Monroe reminds us, is the enduring belief that architecture has the capacity to shape our daily life—to uplift, inspire, and propel us into the future. 

Tricia Y. Paik
Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art 

 

1.  The firm Hellmuth, Yamasaki and Leinweber was a predecessor to Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK), which was founded in St. Louis in 1955. 

2.  Buford L. Pickens, “Proud Architecture,” Architectural Record (April 1956), p. 197. 

3.  Frank Peters, “Minoru Yamasaki’s Pivotal Building Years in St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 16, 1986, p. 5G. 

4.  Ibid.

5.  “Grand Central of the Air,” Architectural Forum (May 1956), pp. 106–7. 6. The Story of a Building was published by Washington University to garner the interest of prospective architecture students as many of its graduates had worked on Lambert. Indeed, Yamasaki’s Lambert project architect was Gyo Obata, a 1945 graduate who would later replace Yamasaki as a founding partner in Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK). 

7.  Minoru Yamasaki, quoted in Joseph Passonneau, ed., The Story of a Building (St. Louis: School of Architecture, Washington University, 1956), n.p. 

8.  Ian Monroe, unpublished statement in email to author, February 21, 2011. 

9.  No known record exists of what happened to the sculpture after its removal. The Museum, however, owns an original painted maquette of the screen by Harry Bertoia from 1954–55 (accession number 39:2001), on view in Decorative Arts and Design gallery 131.