'Countryside' by the Numbers

John Hill
11. November 2020
Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

What more can be written about Countryside, The Future, the highly ambitious and much anticipated exhibition by Rem Koolhaas and Samir Bantal/AMO that recently reopened at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City?

In lieu of a review (a few are linked at bottom), we take a look at Countryside, The Future and related output by way of some numbers. Before diving in, if you're not familiar with the much-hyped exhibition, watch this short video made by the Guggenheim for some background:


▲ Number of days Countryside was open before the Guggenheim closed in mid-March ▼

Countryside opened on February 20, 2020 and closed just over three weeks later, on March 13, as the coronavirus pandemic swept through New York City. That Friday the 13th was the same day New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency.


▲ Number of days the Guggenheim remained closed after March 13 ▼

The Guggenheim reopened on October 3, 2020 with a reduced capacity (25%) and timed tickets required for entry.


▲ Number of days Countryside will be on display after the Guggenheim reopened on October 3* ▼

Originally scheduled to run until August 14, 2020, Countryside was extended until February 15, 2021, just shy of one year after it first opened. 

(*Not counting the Tuesdays the museum is closed and the winter holidays when it is also closed.)

Wall text added at the start of the exhibition. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)


▲ Number of perceived changes made to Countryside from its brief run in the spring to its reopened state in the fall ▼

  1. The greenhouse installed in front of the Guggenheim was removed in August, returning to Ohio;
  2. A small piece of wall text (image above) was added at the base of the rotunda;
  3. Arrows indicating the direction of movement and social distancing were added to the terrazzo floors of the ramp;
  4. An empty bay at the top of Ramp 5 – Preservation that was "left fallow" to be updated during the exhibition's run was eventually filled in with statements about "preservation" for the fall reopening (images below).

Three photos showing revisions to Countryside seen on a visit to the Guggenheim a couple days before its October 3 reopening. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)


▲ Pounds of tomatoes harvested every week in the Indoor Grow Module parked in front of the Guggenheim ▼

According to a new piece of wall text, "Last March, when the rest of the museum closed with the city, the farmer David Litvin decided to stay on and tend the crop, keeping an aspect of the exhibition active throughout the crisis. His efforts produced 100 pounds per week of fresh, ripe, nutritious tomatoes, which City Harvest [a non-profit that supplies food pantries] distributed for free to those in need in all five boroughs of New York City."

The Indoor Grow Module parked in front of the Guggenheim in late February 2020. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)


▲ Percent of the world's surface not covered by cities ▼

"An architect who has spent a lifetime investigating, writing about, theorizing, planning, and designing for cities," the exhibition's curatorial introduction states, "Koolhaas — founding partner of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) — began to increasingly turn his attention to the other 98% of the earth’s surface just as over 50% of the world’s population had become urban, about a decade ago."

It continues in the adjacent ?s gallery: "Only 2% of the world’s surface is urban...the rest we are calling 'countryside' for the purposes of this exhibition, knowing that it is not the right name for wilderness, desert, or the Himalayas."


▲ Number of questions posed by Koolhaas in the ?s gallery ▼

A smattering of the absurd, the thoughtful, and the humorous:

  • How close to heaven are satellites?
  • It is me or are sections of Switzerland — and maybe much larger sections of the world — living a new form of afterlife?
  • Is architecture always for humans? Can architecture serve other species?
  • When the UN launched its famous 50/50 subdivision of humanity into urbanites and remnants in the countryside, was it actually true?
  • Were hippies right?
  • What perverted genius thought of the name "fulfillment center"?
The text in the ?s gallery is written with a font designed by Irma Boom, who also designed the companion book, Countryside, A Report. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)


▲ Approximate number of bays across 6 ramps of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim rotunda that are filled with Countryside displays ▼

These include:

  • One devoted to Qatar airlifting 4,000 cows along with milking machines in 2017 to avert a milk shortage caused by an international blockade;
  • Two devoted to gorilla habitats, namely the "buffer zones" of the Virunga and Bwindi Parks in Africa;
  • Three devoted to Chinese villages that reveal "how a mix of state and market interventions directs digital transformation, agricultural technology, tourism, and culture in reestablishing the role of, and life in, the countryside."


▲ Number of words on the ceiling wrapping the rotunda ▼

E.g., "When you live in cities, you are mostly exposed to one species, humans, with all their splendors and miseries; if you live in the countryside, the species multiply—there are plants, animals, intricate ecologies even in the desert."

Text wraps the ceiling as well as the solid guardrail. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)


▲ Approximate number of cutouts that comprise the exhibition's "Unswept Floor" ▼

Inspired by the asàrotos òikos, or unswept floor, common in ancient Greek and Roman dining rooms, the floor of the Guggenheim's rotunda is covered with "remnants of the intellectual feast" that is Countryside. There are tractor tires, figures extracted from pastoral scenes, and animals among the "overabundance of material from the ramps of the rotunda."

The Unswept Floor at the base of the rotunda.  (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)


▲ Number of robotic figures moving around the top ramp ▼

Cutouts of an ancient sheepherder, a photograph of Joseph Stalin, and a painted Eve reaching for an apple greet visitors on the top ramp. Up here, large photographs predominate in this last section of the exhibition, but they are mixed with three-dimensional displays of pixel farming and other high-tech developments being implemented in the countryside.

A figure of Joseph Stalin caught moving in front of Tomas Koolhaas's photograph of Rem Koolhaas, Samir Bantal, and others inspecting the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center in 2017. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)


▲ Number of pages in 'Countryside, a Report,' the printed companion to the Countryside exhibition ▼

The book with index card-size pages features around 20 contributions that delve deeper into some of the places and themes explored in the exhibition. The book, designed by Irma Boom, was featured on this website back in March.


▲ Number of pages in issue #31 of Fantastic Man, devoted to Koolhaas and Countryside ▼

The spring and summer 2020 issue of the Dutch fashion magazine "explores the countryside and the extraordinary world of Rem Koolhaas." Featuring a "superinterview" with Koolhaas plus articles related to the theme and a number of fashion spreads with pastoral settings, the issue was "made with, and on, the Dutch architect" as "a thorough investigation of his current mega fixation with everything rural."


▲ Number of items in the Sies Marjan X AMO collaboration ▼

One of the articles in Fantastic Man draws attention to designer Sander Lak and his label's collaboration with AMO on "a fun collection of museum merchandise." The line inspired by Countryside consists of t-shirts and hoodies but also scarves, umbrellas, a tote, a blanket, a pair of socks, and a pillow that sells for $875.

Cover of Fantastic Man issue 31


▲ Number of articles about Countryside listed on OMA's website ▼

The page on OMA's website devoted to Countryside links to articles in Dutch, English, German, Italian, and Russian, most of them published in February and March. Missing are a number of the negative reviews that accompanied the opening, such as Justin Davidson's take-down in New York magazine and Janelle Zara's review of the "frequently obnoxious" show at Artnet.


▲ Number of those articles that have been published since the Guggenheim's October 3 reopening ▼

On that same OMA page, nothing follows the link to the announcement of the October 3 reopening. Nevertheless, reviews of the exhibition continue to appear, such as art critic Jason Farago's fairly positive review in the New York Times that reads like a corrective to the negative reviews that preceded the lockdown.

Countryside, The Future is on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, NYC, until February 15, 2021.

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