Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Don ZanFanga was especially obsessed with the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
The art Don ZanFagna left behind after his death remains as fascinating as the man behind each piece. A new gallery exhibit wants to remind us that he's worth remembering.
ZanFagna passed away last year at the age of 84. Relatively unknown these days, his prolific career saw him evolve from an popular abstract expressionist in Los Angeles to an artist obsessed with the environment and architecture in New York. From the late 1960s through the '70s, he created hundreds of collages reflecting a restless mind fascinated by mankind's self-destructive habits.
Three series of works, "Manhattan Project," "Cyborg Series," and "Pulse Domes," currently on exhibit at New York's Studio Vendome, show his urban phobias mixed in with his utopian fantasies.
ZanFanga wanted architecture to "be seen as living, breathing organisms," says exhibit curator Peter Falk. In "Pulse Domes," viewers see his conceptual and abstract approaches to sustainable shelter. But in "Cyborg Series," he collaged a future where humans and technology have managed to make everything on earth go wrong.
The artist was arguably at his darkest in "Manhattan Project," which he worked on from 1969 to 1973. In it, ZanFanga often used people, robots, and cyborg parts as a warning about the repercussions of technology and population growth. He especially obsesses over the twin towers of the World Trade Center. "He couldn't believe something like that could even exist," says Falk. "It gave him premonitions of something horrible happening in Manhattan." One especially ominous piece from the series displays a small picture of the constructed towers next to a red circle and text that simply says "EVENT." This was in 1973.
With a new World Trade Center soon to debut and sustainability now a mainstream value in architecture, ZanFangna's collages seem especially worth rediscovering in 2014.
“Don ZanFagna in the 1970s: The Manhattan Project, The Cyborg Series, and The Pulse Domes” is on view at Studio Vendome, 330 Spring Street gallery until May 31, 2014.
All images courtesy Rediscovered Masters.