the opaque civilization

picked up an exhibition catalog at strand yesterday for a show held at the guggenheim in 1984 called the opaque civilization by artist will insley. i’ve never heard of will insley and a quick internet search turned up very little other than the fact he was born in 1929, studied architecture, and taught at the school of visual arts at some point. image-wise there is a single paltry piece to be seen. the guggenheim show evidently represented a career long fascination with abstract architecture the totality of which insley termed the opaque civilization. in the catalog he explains that theory is a major element in the process and understanding of his work. said theories, will be willfully withheld here, however, because to be totally frank, i can’t figure out exactly what they are. see below for some pieces which make up the opaque civilization.

some look like arcologies ( ), while the bottom one reminds me of the chimneyed rooftops of old london circa mary poppins ( ).

posted by .  on  08/20  at  08:41 PM

hmmm. never heard of arcology before. neat. thanks tom.

posted by jmorrison  on  08/21  at  03:36 PM

Will Insley was my thesis advisor for my MFA at the School of Visual Arts. He is one of the brightest people I have met and has been a great inspiration and influence for my own work and art practice. Glad you stumbled upon his work… he is still making art but I don’t know anyone who has seen his more recent works.

posted by Morgan Croney  on  02/06  at  11:53 AM

thanks for the info morgan. i wonder how long he’s been teaching there? i graduated from s.v.a. in… when the hell was it? 96? he might have been there then. just luck of the draw i never met him i guess.

posted by jmorrison  on  02/06  at  06:03 PM

I just ran across William Insley in a notation to Barabara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s “Objects of Ethnography” as she writes about detachment using the architectural fragments and ruins as an example.  The note follows her statement:

“The antiquarian John Aubrey valued the ruin as much as he did the earlier intact structure.”

The note then states:

“As William Insley, an artist working in New York City, commented upon reading this paper, ‘What was absent from the ruin is often less marvelous than we imagine it to have been. The abstract power of suggestion (the fragment) is greater than the literal power of the initial fact. Myth evlevates’ (pers. comm., 16 Nov. 1989). Insley makes architectual drawings of an imagined future city.”

This ‘paper’ was originally copyrighted in 1990 and appeared in the anthology, _Exhibiting Cultures_, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, published by the now defunct Smithsonsian Institution Press.  It also appears as the first chapter of her own book, _Destination Culture: tourism, museums, and heritage_, published in 1998 by U of California Press.

So since my own internet research on Will Insley brought me to your site I thought I best contribute this little bit of info.  I assume that Kirshenblatt-Gimblett still teaches at NYU.

posted by Jeremy Lundquist  on  02/12  at  04:53 PM

thanks for that jeremy. much appreciated.

posted by jmorrison  on  02/12  at  09:48 PM

will insley was an advisor of mine in the 4th year sculpture program at school of visual arts.  honestly, i could feel his influence was already profoundly shaping my career (meanderings through my own anthropomorphic architecture-at that of a hand to mouth existence), still i knew little about the artist and his dedication to structural investigation in context of the ancient.  the opaque civilization is a fantasy which understands the folly of trainwreck designs we encounter daily, and of certain vicissitudes of architects establishing them.  it is ironic that today, on the eve of the widespread released methodology of building information modelling (bim), this new technology is accurately addressing what will insley may have foreseen culturally, logically, through his investigations.  the timing of his 1977-1984 work, with ONECITY demonstrates his outside observation of architecture, ironically at the time of early digitization and computerization of traditional drafting techniques in office across the world.  i happen to keep a copy of the opaque civilization close at hand, for inspiration to remind me that i learned architecture from a drafting perspective, insley in fact taught me the difference betwwen isometry and axonometry in 1997, although now i do everything on the computer.  i am an architectural technician using bim technology which actauly resembles ancient architectural rituals, ie. building with objects and deconstructing these to better the understand the overall design.  will insley was very influential to me.  did you know he also taught a class “sculpture as architecture” at cornell in the late 60’s.  that would have been the coolest class to take as an architecture student.  if school of visual arts ever launches an architecture program, i’m certain he would be dean.

posted by jj nicholson  on  02/25  at  05:00 PM

I vistited Will a number of times at his loft - so many years ago - I wonder what happened to him - sort of lost track - have an old B&W video tape of his studio and him working - g

posted by .  on  03/09  at  09:38 PM

i’d love to see it, can you burn me a copy?

posted by jj nicholson  on  04/12  at  11:15 AM

sorry jj - once I found out Will was doing just fine - I never came back to the site - only checked today -when I was looking for something - would love to burn a copy of tape - but it is reel to reel from a Sony Prota Pack Video - if anyone knows who can copy these on to DVD’s -love to know - george

posted by .  on  07/07  at  09:23 PM

thanks george, but sorry, I don’t have any resources on that.  perhaps it can be projected and videotaped from screen.  that might be a possibility.  also, moving from nyc to denver in a few weeks.  somehow finding self going in retrograde back to colorado.  i would love to say hi to him sometime and tell him all the crazy shit i’ve been up to.  i have to make a pilgramage to spiral jetty sometime when i’m out west.  he’d be excited to hear about my architectural journeys over last 9 years since sva - keep in touch - jj

posted by jj nicholson  on  08/02  at  01:23 AM


I studied with Will Insley when getting my MFA at SVA from ‘89-91.

He didn’t discuss his thoughts about archictecture very much as I recall. But I’m now doing some incredible photographs of architectural structures, so maybe something rubbbed off on me. I had been doing large ceramic sculptures of cathedrals as an undergraduate also so the seed was there.

He used to tell me I was a better painter than Helen Frankethaler. :-)

If anyone has his contact info I would love to email him or contact him and share some of my recent work with him.



posted by ellie  on  04/16  at  11:57 AM

Will Insley was my professor at SVA in 1977-1979. today I am a successful Engineer and Builder. Will definitely had an influence on my architectural design style. I remember sitting with him at lunch each day as he had his standard coffee and yogurt. Real nice guy.

posted by Brian Phillips  on  08/02  at  10:44 PM

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