AW: I’ve never been to the museum, but I hear people say the internal spaces are really well designed. So you’re lucky. You made good mistakes.
FG: Bilbao was done [in 1997] with an interesting provocation from Tom Krens [then the Guggenheim director]. Tom said, “For the artists who are dead and can’t defend themselves, I want you to make rectilinear galleries; for the artists who are alive, I want you to make provocatively shaped galleries.” Sol LeWitt, Anselm Kiefer, Jenny Holzer — all these great artists came in and took on the galleries that were not rectilinear. Artists told me they felt secure because it wasn’t perfect, so it felt like an invitation to play.
AW: What I hate most are the white-box situations at museums, because they don’t have any meaning. I think that architecture and art have to coexist. You can use a basement — or shopping mall or prison — because it challenges and creates contradictions with the art. Like when I had a show in 2016 at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy, which usually shows older work. They had their windows covered for years. So I asked them to open the windows to let the light in and expose the original architectural elements like the fireplace. “What’s wrong with the fireplace?” I said. “I’d love to have the memory to play against.” And the 2014 show we had at Alcatraz, you couldn’t touch the prison walls, you couldn’t hang anything. It was really strict, but I think freedom comes from those restrictions.
FG: So why did you pick Legos to work with?
AW: When I was working on Alcatraz, we got a lot of photos of these political prisoners from Amnesty International that were not clear or were very dark. Some political prisoners may have had only one photo from their life before they disappeared, like this Tibetan lama who has been missing for over 20 years. How am I going to use these photos to make a show when the quality isn’t there? I thought Legos would be a good idea to even it all out because it’s pixels — pixels will make everything, clear or not, sharp: a strong image. So we made 176 portraits of political prisoners, from Chelsea Manning to people in Iran and Russia and China, and they all looked fresh and clear.
FG: I met with the guy who owns Lego years ago; I wanted to discuss the possibility of doing a new kind of Lego.
AW: Another kind of Lego sounds interesting. You can see, if you walk on the streets of most cities, all the buildings are the same. All the cars are designed the same. Why does it have to be that way? It’s such a waste. A society based on artists could be trouble, but a society without artists could be really horrifying.
FG: When I started in architecture, I was aware that I was coming into a world where the cities were being built quick and ugly, and there was a lot of denial. People hated it, but they didn’t seem to care they were doing it. I was curious about how you connect to that denial, so I picked the worst material that everyone really hates, chain-link, and said, “What if I tried to take chain-link and make it part of the art, part of the beauty? What if it became more positive?”