A New Online Home for Design Faith Blog

I have moved the Design Faith blog to my relaunched website kennethcaldwell.com You'll be redirected there in 10 seconds.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best of 2011

The greatest thing about 2011 has been Occupy Wall Street. At last, the lie that everybody will be rich has been exposed: the one percent is getting richer and everybody else is getting poorer. The government is subsidizing the wealthy. Corporate welfare is worse than we ever imagined. The cost and deception of late capitalism is too high. Now the truth is out. We woke up! Some of the highlights of the year were visiting the Occupy protests at UC Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and of course Wall Street. Interestingly enough, the catalyst for all this good work was a communications publication based in Canada called AdbBusters.

So let’s start there!

Favorite magazine
Culture jammers!

Favorite protest
Occupy Wall Street!

Favorite political blog
Clinton’s former secretary of labor just nails it.

Favorite local policy wonk organization
Great programs, policy discussions, and parties.

I know, enough with the politics. What about the art, design, writing, food, and libations?

Favorite new restaurant (SF)
It was a tie.

The décor is beautiful and the food subtle and incredibly fresh. Pricey but worth it. We also ate next door at sister restaurant Quince, but it was over the top.

La Ciccia
Sardinian. I know it’s not new, but I had never been there. No pretense, no décor really, but excellent food at a fair price.

Favorite new restaurant (NY)
The Dutch
Fresh food and someone is paying attention. Rustic décor with a hint of the modern.

Favorite new bar
Bar Agricole’s drinks are as inventive as the light sculptures by Nikolas Weinstein. Like an update of Richard Lippold’s piece in the Four Seasons. Check out the short video “Cut and Polish” on Nik’s website after you find the Bar Agricole project.

Photo: Matthew Millman

Photo: Matthew Millman

Favorite old bar
The bad juju at the House of Shields is gone and so is the smoke. Too loud, but that’s part of the fun.

Courtesy House of Shields

Favorite new hotel (outside US)
We didn’t try that many this year, but we loved the Château Carbonneau for its shabby chic quality and incredibly personable matron, Jacquie. Should you be near Bordeaux, it’s a great place to rest for several days.

Favorite new hotel (inside US)
If you are going to Healdsburg and Sonoma County without a lot of dough, H2Hotel by David Baker + Partners is great fun. And while you are there, try Scopa restaurant.

Favorite edge
We loved the way this house designed by Craig Steely in Hawaii met the lava field.

Favorite new museum
José Luis Sert’s Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence reminded me that modernism can be very local. One of my favorite museum experiences ever.

Miro Mural at Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence

Favorite solo painting show by living artist
Thanks to our buddy John van Duyl, we saw Kevin Bean’s show at Stanford, and it was a standout. His paintings work in concert or alone.

Favorite solo painting show by nonliving artist
Some blockbuster shows are worth all the hoopla. The Willem de Kooning retrospective at MoMA was overwhelming at times and then poignant in the way it shows him disappearing.

Willem de Kooning. Pink Angels. c. 1945.

Favorite show by living sculptor
Richard Serra may not be the friendliest of artists, but his work continues to redefine the concept of art. Although the show at SFMOMA is called “Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective,” it works like sculpture. We were able to see it at the Metropolitan and at SFMOMA. It works much better in San Francisco.

Favorite show by nonliving sculptor
Seeing “Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited” at LACMA was deeply disturbing. The dark side of all the other Pacific Standard Time shows. Although this piece has not been seen in public since the 1970s, the artist reminds us that racism is still a cancer in the bones. None of us have escaped.

Favorite fashion show
Truth is we don’t see that many fashion shows. But Alexander McQueen went far beyond fashion. Maybe it’s a new model for making conceptual art.

Courtesy of Alexander McQueen.
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

Favorite design show
You can feel optimistic about California again. Or at least its design legacy. Check out “California Design 1930–1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way’” when you are in LA.

Favorite newly discovered artist
We found out about Joe Downing, an American who lived and worked in the South of France. A lot of Klee-like marks on wood, canvas, and even buildings. I hadn’t heard of him, but our South of France expert (and part-time resident) Michael Bernard had met him. There is a small garden in Downing’s memory across the street from the house of Dora Maar.

Sculpture by Joe Downing in his memorial garden

Blind window in Menerbes with drawing by Joe Downing

Favorite new/old retail emporium
The new Marimekko store on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron district is just joy.

Favorite actor on British TV
Tom Ellis. We watched him on a show called “Monday Monday,” and now I keep bugging Paul for anything new where he is featured. If you like guys with curly hair….

Favorite ruin we won’t be able to visit soon
Jack London State Historic Park
The state is planning to close this great Sonoma park in 2012. A sure sign that the end is near.

Favorite memoir
Joan Didion’s Blue Nights breaks your heart.

Favorite diary
The Sixties: Diaries 1960–1969 by Christopher Isherwood
He had a few blind spots (as this reviewer also points out), but Christopher Isherwood remains one of the most important writers in my life.

Favorite design-related online magazine
The must-read online magazine is Design Observer. One of the publications under this large umbrella is Places. Editor Nancy Levinson dares to publish magazine-length pieces that are among the best in the business.

Favorite blog about living outside the US
This year, my favorite personal blog comes from our friend Ann Moore’s daughter, Charlotte. She splits her time between Italy and France. In her blog, “The Daily Cure,” she is “healing the soul one detail at a time.”

Favorite new funny spectacles, another useful blog and a wedding!
We have to see clearly to face the challenges ahead. So when we needed new spectacles we took John Cary’s advice and turned to Warby Parker!

And while we are talking about John Cary he launched a new blog this fall and married a great lady, Courtney Martin, a few days ago! Congratulations John!

Favorite car that goes forward and backwards at the same time.
That sort of captures 2011!

Happy New Year! Hoping for more good change in 2012.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Week of Loss

Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne and Quintana Roo Dunne
in Malibu, California

A great deal of the meaning in Joan Didion’s work can be found in the space between the words, in what is not said. Her detached, fragmentary style leaves the reader a whole lot of room. Like a scrim piece by artist Robert Irwin, you see the shadows, but you don’t quite know where you are, until the scrim parts and the moment of loss is sharp and clear.

Didion’s writing is precise, taut, yet elliptical. What is not told is purposeful. Her new book Blue Nights is about losing her daughter. The day after I finished the book I started reading it over again. I started to write a blog.

And then I got stuck.

Paul rushed to the bedroom, “Josh has been killed in a motorcycle accident.” Of course I didn’t believe him. It’s just what the mind/body does. Josh was Trudi’s son, who would have turned 30 on Christmas Eve. Trudi and Paul went to Dunsmore School together in Rugby, England, had lost touch (last contact 1978), but had reconnected on Facebook. She was from a group of kids who knew they were “other” and were going to find another way. Eventually Trudi and her family got out of Rugby by moving to a small town in France. We visited them in Ste Foy la Grande this past summer.

Josh with his mum, Trudi, August 2011

Josh loved his motorcycle. He had posted on his Facebook page a few photos from a beautiful road trip he took a month ago. When we met him this summer, he was so kind to us, so sweet, so full of promise, with so much left to realize. Paul had started looking for a job for him in the French schools in San Francisco.

Josh's motorcycle

When we had barbequed duck on the patio at his parents’ house near Bordeaux we tried to engage Josh in conversation, but he mostly listened. A few days later, we went to lunch at a fancy restaurant at one of the local chateaux. It was out of his way, and he would be late back to work, but when Trudi declared it important, he was present. There seemed to be a lot of latitude in Trudi’s childrearing, but family came first.

The view from the restaurant where we had lunch
with Trudi and her family.

Joan Didion writes about illusion and loss, and perhaps the gift of loss is that illusion can be stripped away. Can we stay revealed and protected simultaneously? Today, I think not.

In her previous book, The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion examined the loss of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne. Her coolness balances the intimacy required to share the experience of losing a long-time partner – in life and work. But as Didion herself has pointed out in interviews, she doesn’t feel that she caused her husband’s death. She is less certain with her daughter, Quintana Roo, the subject of this new work and maybe much of her earlier work as well.

Quintana Roo Dunne died at 39 of natural causes, a flu that got worse and worse. Those are the facts. But what of the memories? What of all the scraps, the school uniforms, the early attempts at writing? One of the most quoted lines from the book (thus far) is “when we talk about mortality, we are talking about our children.” The death of Didion’s child foreshadows her own demise in a way she wasn’t prepared for. Nobody could be prepared.

There are Payard cakes; smart hotels (“on expense”); famous actors; homes in Malibu, Brentwood, and the Upper East Side; and lots of cashmere. Despite the relative comfort that success and privilege bring, it does not ease the loss of a child. There are also fears of bogeymen (here called “The Broken Man”), depressions, and alcoholism.

Every child who suffers from depression wonders how to measure this? How to gauge where it comes from? The fault of the individual who happened to be the parent, or the mix of genes that make up the self? One wonders how much influence the parent actually has anyway, short of physical or verbal abuse.

When someone dies, Quintana advises her mother, “Don’t dwell on it.” But she does. What decent parent wouldn’t?

On Sunday, I saw the obituary for the painter Barbara Winkelstein, the wife of architect Peter Winkelstein. She was a close friend of Al Baum, one of my oldest friends. For years, the portrait she painted of Al has hung in his home. Although Al is almost always smiling when we are together, she captured him in a moment of sadness, which I found interesting. He also had several paintings she did depicting Stinson Beach, one of my favorite places in the world. She was 82.

Barbara Winkelstein painting

Days later Tim, my good friend from New York, came to visit. His high school buddy Greg Klein had just moved to Florida with his new bride and was killed in a pedestrian accident. Greg was 53.

Donna Kempner and Greg Klein
in Tim's NY apt. early 1980s

I returned to the first paragraph of Didion’s The White Album: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” At the end of the paragraph, she elaborates: “We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

All this loss.

The sky outside has a few clouds, but it all turns to steel wool. Paul tries to work on his opera. We wait for a friend to arrive to teach us about Twitter. I go to UC Berkeley to protest, to remind myself that something matters.

Joan Didion and Quintana Roo

More info:

You can see Griffin Dunne’s video of his aunt Joan Didion here:

You can see a recollection of Greg Klein here:

You can see some of Barbara Winkelstein’s work here:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Postcard from the Mario Savio Steps at Sproul Plaza

Mario Savio

It has been a long time since I saw Sproul Plaza so full of cheering patriots. It was like this when I was in graduate school at Berkeley in 1984 celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement and later protesting against the university’s investments in South Africa. History has shown that most of UC’s board of regents and administrators have been on the wrong side of the significant social justice issues of the last half century. Even they must be appalled by the recent police brutality exhibited by their own force on the UC community. But they seem confused, as do the many mayors of cities across the country, about what the Occupy movement stands for. Professor Robert Reich laid it out for them, and for the nation, Tuesday November 15 at the annual Mario Savio Memorial Speech on the Mario Savio Steps.

One thing I love about Reich is that he maintains a sense of humor—which the left sometimes forgets. You have to be able to laugh at the absurdities and the contradictions. Otherwise you risk getting engulfed by rage.

He began his talk by saying, “I’ll be short.” He only spoke for about twenty minutes, but I could have listened to his reasoning long into the night.

He spoke about the Citizens United decision at the Republican-dominated US Supreme Court. About the falsehood that money is speech and corporations are people, he said, “I will believe that corporations are people when Georgia and Texas execute them.”

He argued that we must protect the First Amendment rights of regular citizens who don’t have money and do not constitute a corporation. He continued that sometimes the First Amendment is messy, but it is more important that we go out of our way to honor it and pay the price of a democratic system of government. Mayors across the country and the UC administration seem to have missed the point. It is critical that the 99% without resources can join together to make their voices heard.

It is absurd that the one percent in cahoots with the government have privatized human rights like education and healthcare. The cost of rising fees at UC now makes a public education out of reach of a broad swath of the public. But Reich pressed a larger point, and this is really the main point of the Occupy movements everywhere. The increasing concentration of wealth in our society means that a few hundred of the wealthiest Americans own more than a few hundred million of the least wealthy.

This intense concentration of wealth means that we no longer have equal opportunity by any stretch of the imagination, and the very very rich are controlling the political system.

Reich said, “We are losing the moral foundation stone on which this democracy is built.” He pointed out that over the last thirty years, the economy has doubled in size, but most Americans have not seen the gain.

And he went on to ask, how can we be the wealthiest nation on earth and provide so little? “Where did the money go?” I think we know where it went.

It’s time to get it back. I hope some radical Santa hears my wish.

Mario Savio went to Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 before he became famous on the steps of Sproul Plaza that fall. Robert Reich concluded his talk by remembering his childhood friend (and protector) Mickey. Mickey (Michael Schwerner) also went to Freedom Summer in 1964, but he never came back. Freedom can cost lives. We have to remember that when those in power are threatened, they stop the media from covering events, let loose police on nonviolent protestors, and even torture and murder people. All we can do is resist in the best way we can. Yesterday I found out that my cousin’s kids were at UC Davis camping out. I am so proud of them for standing up—and lying down—for freedom!

You can see Robert Reich’s speech here: