Q&A: Brooke Hodge

Photo: Brooke Hodge, Courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum
Photo: Brooke Hodge, Courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum

Over the past 25 years, Brooke Hodge’s bi-coastal career has been one of blurring the traditional boundaries in curating shows on architecture. Following her decade-long tenure at Harvard Graduate School, where she also worked with the Fogg Art Museum (1991-2001), organizing exhibitions with Italian architect Gio Ponti, Iraqi-born British Zaha Hadid, theater designer and artist Robert Wilson, among others, Hodge took on the role of curator of architecture and design of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where she organized the interdisciplinary architect-meet-fashion designer “Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture” exhibition in 2006. Following MOCA’s financial distress of 2008-9 and its aftermath, Hodge took on the position of director of exhibitions and publications at the UCLA Hammer Museum (2010-2014). From there, she traversed the states to return to the East Coast as deputy director of Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (2014-2016), during which she curated the traveling exhibition, “Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio” introducing the adventurous British architect/designer to the US. The summer, Hodge returns to SoCal to the helm in the newly created position of director of architecture & design at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s recently opened Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion. She recently spoke to us about her new position at the A+D.

art ltd: Welcome Back to Southern California! Your career has taken you back and forth between the East and West coasts, what excites you about coming back to SoCal?

Brooke Hodge:Well, this position was really interesting to me; it has a really great combination of creative potential and also lets me use the administration experience that I gained in New York at Cooper-Hewitt. That was the main attraction. I also just love being on the West Coast, I’m originally from Vancouver BC, and I really feel more at home here.

AL: With three different locations and the new A+D Center, the Palm Springs Art Museum has a unique situation, and one that seems to lend itself to a “blurring of the boundaries” beyond what a traditional architecture exhibition might be. 

BH:  I think that is definitely the case, and that’s how the director, Liz Armstrong, and I are thinking about it and that’s one of the things that attracted me to the position, because I’ve always been in interested in artists that work in areas that are related to architecture and architects who interested in the art world, art practice and other disciplines. I do think that we will explore those blurred boundaries here at the Architecture + Design Center and also at the main museum.

AL: What is the greatest challenge of curating shows on architecture, as opposed to exhibitions on painting, sculpture or something more tangible that is shown in the museum?

BH: There is definitely a huge challenge in that we never really show the “real thing” in an exhibition that is always going to be a representation of architecture. So its never going to be like painting and sculpture where you can show the actual painting or sculpture, and as such usually one needs to include many more pieces in order to tell the story. For example, there might be architectural drawings that an architect might produce that are more technical, then there might be photographs of the finished building, material samples, or sketches. Because we can’t show the real thing in the gallery space, we have to think of other ways to tell the story to the visitor so they can try to have the experience of the architecture. It’s a challenge that I’ve always been interested in throughout my career, and it’s, I would say, not something that I have found the answer to in a satisfactory way. It is showing to the general public and general museum goers architectural drawings, and they don’t really understand how to read them or what they’re looking at necessarily, whereas with a model of a building, they probably get that more, but then they’re still there not experiencing what the materials are like, or what the light is like, or how you would move through it. It’s a really interesting problem and its something that I think I will continue to explore in thinking of different ways to show architecture in a gallery space.

AL: A recurrent theme of your work, and something you mentioned earlier is blurring boundaries, and one specific boundary is between fashion and architecture which you did at Harvard with Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons and at MOCA with the massive “Skin + Bones” exhibition, do you have plans to mine that territory again in the future?

BH: I would like to, I think it’s still a big topic and something that I’m interested in. The exhibition at Harvard is what got me thinking about the connections between fashion and architecture and it became my major project while I was at MOCA and something I did a lot of research on and teaching a few classes at SCI Arc related to it. There are aspects of that connection that could still be explored, you know showing fashion in certain ways in an architecture exhibition also causes people to think about and look at clothing design in different ways, and I would say that is one goal for any exhibition I do, to try to get people to look at things differently, and make different connections when they see them out in the real world.

Exterior view of the Architecture + Design Center, Edward Harris Pavilion Photo: Daniel Chavkin, courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum
Exterior view of the Architecture + Design Center, Edward Harris Pavilion
Photo: Daniel Chavkin, courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum

AL: When one thinks of Palm Springs, there is such a legacy of modernism, with the likes of Lautner, Wexler, Cody, Williams, etc. and etc., What do you think people overlook?

BH: I think there has been so much attention focused on the midcentury here, that I think that’s what people zero in on when they come to visit Palm Springs. Of course we have a lot of really great examples, but I think people forget what Palm Springs was like before that time. That is really interesting to me: what were the original buildings like and what happened to them? 

Also, just thinking about contemporary architecture and what are the possibilities? There is a lot of potential, and how can contemporary and young architects riff on midcentury modern, the history of Palm Springs, and the architectural fabric that exists here and still create something new? It’s an interesting conundrum. It is a city where there haven’t been that many young architects practicing here. Of course, at a certain point in time, all the midcentury legends were contemporary architects. I would like to see things keep moving forward into the future and using the legacy of midcentury modern as an anchor or inspiration of what could happen in the future-like they were all looking to the future with their projects. Say, like Lance O’Donnell is someone who is practicing here, and is doing really beautiful work that is inspired by the midcentury architects, and was a protégé of Donald Wexler.

It’s a very sophisticated city, for such a small city, and so many people coming from other places coming with knowledge of the world, I think that is reflected, and getting more reflected, in the renaissance that’s happening here, with the revival of downtown and new building that is planned.

AL: The stated mission of the A+D is to preserve the architectural history of the region, which leads to a challenge: how do you preserve it without it simp
ly becoming a time capsule and how do you connect it to the future?

BH: Right (laughs)… Exactly, that is the challenge. It’s all about acknowledging and honoring that legacy, but not focusing only on it. There are still other exhibitions to be done on the midcentury work here and the thinking around it. … [I’ve also been] thinking about cities and urban spaces, landscape … issues that face a region like Palm Springs and the Coachella valley, things like mobility, water supply, all of that. How can we use the A+D Center as a catalyst to help people in thinking about those issues?