Do You Remember How Perfect Everything Was? is the first retrospective exhibition of the British artist Zoe Zenghelis, representing an enquiry into absent architectural projects that span abstract metropolitan tectonics and landscape structures. This two-part exhibition, held at the Architectural Association in collaboration with Betts Project, jointly presents and reviews a broad range of Zenghelis’ paintings, from the 1960s through to 2020, alongside a unique collection of her work as a member of Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Accompanied by a selection of studies, sketches and archival documents, it reviews the working process behind Zenghelis’ OMA paintings and explores her teaching methods at the AA. Alongside the exhibition, a comprehensive monograph of her works will be published by AA Publications, which will be launched over the course of the show.

Born in Athens in 1937, Zenghelis received her first painting lessons from Oresti Canellis, then studied stage design before returning to painting at Regent Street Polytechnic in London under Frank Auerbach, Lawrence Gowing and Leon Kossoff. She began her career as a founding member of OMA, and went on to create a large body of work expressing a playful yet iconoclastic combination of visual and mental ecstasy that evokes a very particular urban form; one that is perhaps a surreal mix of the Aegean landscape of her youth and the metropolitan tectonic of cities such as Paris, Berlin, New York or London, where she has lived and worked since 1955.

In 1982, Alvin Boyarsky invited Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp to run Colour Workshop at the AA, a project that continued until 1993. Their legacy effected a seminal change in the way that architectural representation was thought of at the AA, and also reintroduced painting as a mode of thinking about space, light, colour and proportion: a fundamental shift in the architectural pedagogy.

Inspired by metropolitan structures, landforms and abstract tectonics, Zoe Zenghelis’ paintings create an unprecedented imaginary; a form of critique that represents reality as an assemblage of selected spatial, political, social and psychological relations. The distinctive colour palettes, abstract planes and jagged forms within Zenghelis’ work locate her quite comfortably within the lineage of modernist painters, who challenge conventional aesthetic rules and incite a search for paranoid-critical rationality. Her work developed within the context of mid-century contemporary art in London when, beyond the aesthetics of common sense, the post-war British modernist painters abandoned grand narratives and refused to serve institutional social or political projects; they chose to be, as Frank Auerbach once claimed, ‘sole coherent units’.

Curator: Hamed Khosravi
in collaboration with: Platon Issaias
Design and Production Assistant: Daryan Knoblauch

AA Public Programme: Manijeh Verghese, Liam Green, Catherine Antoni
AA Print Studio: Oliver Long, Anna Lisa Reynolds, Ryan Dillon
AA Publications: Maria Shéhérazade Giudici
AA Facilities: Nicholas Day, Anita Pfauntsch, Mariusz Stawiarski, Grzegorz Jan Korcel, Leslaw Skrzypiec, Colin Prendergast, Martynas Vinksna
AA Audio: Joel Newman, Thomas Parkes
AA Archives: Edward Bottoms

Animation © Daryan Knoblauch, 2021

Thanks to:

Marie Coulon | Betts Project, Niall Hobhouse | Drawing Matter, Peter Klimt, Nicholas Boyarsky, Lefkos Kyriacou, Albert Hill, Alexandra Papadakis, Joanna Zenghelis, Dimitri Zenghelis, Rod Taylor, Yannis Gabriel, John Miller & Su Rogers, Elias Veneris, Kimon Veneris

The exhibition is partly supported by