Exhibition – May 5 2010 – August 9 2010
11h00 – 21h00

“I am of a generation for whom the big city meant a centre of cultural influence (London, Paris, New York) or economic power (London, New York); now it has become a theme park (Las Vegas, Dubai), a vast camp (the cities of China) or an architectural aberration and utter social hotchpotch (Tokyo)”, said J. G. Ballard, a great observer of contemporary urban change, a few months before his death in 2008.
It is with the first of these transformations, of city into theme park, that the exhibition ‘Dreamlands’ is concerned. Limited in the late 19th century to the enclosed spaces of universal expositions and amusement parks, the motifs and techniques of this architecture of spectacle and entertainment found themselves, during the next century, increasingly applied to urban development. Rebelling against Modernist dogma, in his seminal book, Delirious New York (1978), architect Rem Koolhaas celebrated Coney Island and more especially the fantastical architecture of one of its amusement parks, Dreamland, as the incubator of modern Manhattan. Reliant on generalised imitation and illusion, deploying an aesthetics of accumulation and collage, and testifying to a desire to abolish the constraints of space and time, such Dreamlands have helped form the artistic, architectural and urbanistic imagination of the 20th and 21st centuries. From the utopian projects of the 1960s and ’70s to the realities of contemporary urban design, they have changed our most basic relationships to the world and to time, to geography and history; they have altered our understanding of the original and the reproduction and have blurred the boundaries between art and its old rivals of kitsch and entertainment. Certain places – Las Vegas in the 1960s and ’70s, Dubai and Shanghai today – offer emblematic examples of this process. In the 1960s, the Situationist Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio looked forward to the moment when the earth would ‘transform itself into an immense Luna Park, creating new emotions and new passions’. The reality today is very different from the Situationist dream and the world of ‘universal attraction’ but rarely arouses new emotions or new passions. In creating its first theme parks in the early 1950 the Walt Disney Company developed the concept of ‘imagineering': unlike the art of the engineer, for which form followed function, this new engineering of the imagination subordinated the architectural programme to a narrative, a story, a fiction. These same techniques have now been applied to the development of entire cities, from Las Vegas to Dubai and Shanghai. These developments testify to an increasing interpenetration of fiction and reality, leading to the contemporary invasion of ‘storytelling’ on the American model. All of us, everywhere, are now finding this a part of our everyday lives. More