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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Best of 2013

We are off to the UK to see Paul’s family so I thought I would file this before we lift off.

Best Historic Memory
I am compiling this a few days after Nelson Mandela’s passing. In 1990, with my dear friend from college days, Kristina, we went to hear Mandela speak at the stadium at USC. We met at my place in Baldwin Hills and then joined a long march to USC (where her daughter now attends school). Once we reached the stadium we were standing (I don’t know that we ever sat down) with people of all races and presumably classes. I felt, for that night, we were, as Richard Blanco wrote in his inaugural poem, one people. It is one of those rare times I feel like I witnessed history and knew it was happening.

Nelson Mandela in 1990
Photo: Michel Clement, Daniel Janin/AFP/Getty Images
Courtesy wnyc.org

Best Political Story
Edward Snowden. I think history will see him as a hero who challenged a government gone mad. Much like Daniel Ellsberg did. And he will change the course of our country’s history. And the reporter Glenn Greenwald may not have started out as journalist, but he saved journalism for democracy. Which, of course, saves democracy itself. The shadow government will have to come out of the shadows.

Photo: The Guardian, AFP/Getty Images

Best Rediscovered Artist
A few years ago I went to an art fair in San Francisco and saw a few pieces of an artist named Jay Kelly. I can’t quite afford his work but it is one “material” thing I crave. His website is jaykellyart.com.

2009 Metal, Wood, Gesso, Acrylic
Jay Kelly Art

Best New Print
What I could afford this year was a print Caio Fonseca made at Paulson Bott Press in 1998. I keep following the lines somewhere different.

Caio Fonseca
Notations I, 1998
courtesy paulsonbottpress.com

Best Tote Bag
Dear friend Johnny gave me this Andy Warhol bag for my birthday! Isn’t it the best?

Best New Satchel
My pals Maria and Chris gave me this British Schoolboy bag from Cambridge satchels. Isn’t it perfect? Had to put it on Pinterest right away!


Best New Source for Bow Ties
For an early holiday gift my dear friend (from the seventh grade onward!) Cherie gave both of us gorgeous bow ties. We looked inside and the label said Kathleen Kelley. Sure enough it is the same Kathleen Kelley who worked at MBT and later at EBay. One of the most elegant ladies I've ever met. Check out her site at kathleenkelleyartisan.com.


Best Local Restaurant
We finally got around to going to Comal in downtown Berkeley. Excellent high-end Mexican food and a great dining room. If you don’t have much time before the theater you can also walk right out to the patio (with a fireplace) where a lady comes out around with a taco chip and margarita trolley. comalberkeley.com

Best NY Restaurant
My pal in Brooklyn Noel took me to Vinegar Hill House in Dumbo. It’s a bit out of the way, but has the best pate I’ve had in ages. Spatially it’s quirky and intimate. Not for the big boned gal. Check out the tiny kitchen with three people and a brick oven. I would lose weight working there. The after dinner nighttime walk on the Brooklyn waterfront was magical. vinegarhillhouse.com

Best (and Strangest) Thai Food
I’ve never thought of DC as a good restaurant town, but apparently that’s changing. My pal Kristina took me to Little Serrow, which is owned by the same folks who own Komi, which has gotten rave reviews but costs a pretty penny. Downstairs in the basement through an unmarked door is a very noisy aqua colored room with a painted corrugated metal ceiling and not one stitch of Thai inspired tourist dreck. Just high tables, stools and a fixed fresh family style menu. It is spicy but not light your mouth (and digestive track) on fire hot. But each week its different. If you have food allergies forget it. And you had better get in line at 5:15. No reservations and the door opens at 5:30. The the few seats fill fast. littleserrow.com

Best Social Media Toy
Speaking of Pinterest, it is hands down my favorite social media toy. I have no idea how it is influencing my “brand.” Being a visual person it is a way to chart my interests, especially the aesthetic ones. It’s like an autobiography in photos. A harmless addiction right?

Best Wedding/Adoption Celebration
David and Jay’s celebration of their wedding and adoption was full love, tears, wine, and good food. You can read about it here (http://seekingfatherhood.com/adoption/more-and-more-married) and here (http://queersage.blogspot.com/2013/09/in-church-on-birmingham-sunday.html) and here (http://www.sfgate.com/style/unionsquared/article/First-came-kids-then-vows-for-David-Kerr-Jay-4849519.php). It was a big deal.

Best Wedding/Adoption Celebration Photographer
Gabriel Harber did a great job on David and Jay’s celebration so I thought I should give him a plug! www.harberphotography.com

Best Art Show(s)
We saw all three James Turrell shows. Although the exhibit at the Guggenheim was the most spectacular of the three shows (I mean any show that can get socialites to lie down on the floor of the Guggenheim must be a good thing!). I loved the quietude of the Houston show. You never perceive light the same after seeing a great Turrell piece. Question what you think you see.

Best Architecture Show
The A Quincy Jones show at the Hammer in LA. It’s about time he got a show. Besides my deep affection for his wife Elaine (who was mentioned in the show) I felt that his architecture was influenced by a sense of humility. He was trying to figure out the best possible solution to a set of challenges, not building a monument to his own ego. If I were ever to do a book about architecture I would call it “The Humble Moderns: Architecture That Disappears.” Folks like Quincy, Renzo Piano, Joe Esherick, Ralph Rapson, David Salmela. My kind of architecture.

Best Book(s)
It was not a big year for reading books. But I did enjoy Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. I probably liked the gay adolescent love story detail the most. A kind of sweetness within mayhem. On the architecture front, I really enjoyed my pal Pierluigi’s book on Bay Area modernist Don Olsen. Due to the author’s efforts in this and earlier books we aren’t going to lose the modernist narrative in Northern California.

Donald Olsen: Architect of Habitable Abstractions
by Pierluigi Serraino

Best Celebrity
These days the only celebrities I meet are artists thanks to my gig with Paulson Bott Press. I interviewed Maira Kalman and she was as enthusiastic and curious as her drawings suggest. You can read the interviews here (http://www.paulsonbottpress.com/about/oktp/oktp_kalman.pdf) and here (http://paulsonbottpress.blogspot.com/2013/10/maira-kalman.html).

"Easter Parade" 1996

Best Growing Experience
See wedding. It has been the presence of David and Jay’s kids, Shayla and Jaden. I would have been a terrible parent, but I’m a pretty fun uncle!

See you in 2014!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Postcard from Disneyland

The Facebook photos do not lie. I spent a few days on vacation in Disneyland. It was my pal David’s 50th birthday, and he wanted to show his kids the Magic Kingdom. His husband Jay grew up in the San Fernando Valley and fondly remembers visiting on Christmas Day with all the other Jewish families. And I got to go along as the lucky uncle! I could go on about how evil the Disney empire is, but I could also go on about how evil the automobile corporations are, and how evil most banks and mutual funds are, but the truth is that most of us participate, to some degree or another, in these evil empires. A friend of mine wrote to me, “Ask why there are no pigeons or mosquitoes” in Disneyland. That gave me pause. It is important to observe, and maintain a state of critical inquiry, but some questions remain unanswerable.

It was Charles Moore who gave me a new way to look at Disneyland. He wrote about it famously in Perspecta in an essay entitled “You Have to Pay for the Public Life.” That gave the place cred with the intellectual set. But it was his essay in the guidebook Los Angeles: The City Observed that I treasure. He didn’t live long enough to see Disney California Adventure open in 2001, but this newer park has captured some of his love for Los Angeles.

At several levels, Disneyland can be seen as a mirror for the culture. Think about it. It takes an entire subterranean system, endless back lots, and the largest parking garage in the Western hemisphere to make the happiest place on earth function. You don’t see dirty uniforms, nor do you see most of the “cast” that keeps the pedestrian-centric drama going. They are invisible (behind the scenes or in costumes), and so is the ugly car that brought you here. It parallels an idealized life in our own country, but without pigeons and mosquitoes! Easy transit and parking, plentiful clothes, access to nature, controlled density, fresh fruit and veggies year round—all this provided by workers who are largely invisible to us as they toil in the dangerous factories and warehouses of the developing world, the oil tundras of the Middle East, and the fields of God knows where. It takes a huge number of people working in poverty to keep each one of us clothed, housed, fed, and entertained. Disneyland is a microcosm of the global economy that supports our way of life! But without most of the stresses.

What makes Disneyland’s appeal so broad? Why do people keep returning when a one-day ticket to both parks now costs $132? (Never mind the $30 lunches and $300 hotel rooms.) It is because the Disney theme parks are some of the most designed places on earth. Walt Disney believed in the power of design more than any other capitalist I can think of. There have been numerous biographies of Disney, but I am interested in one that focuses on his ideas about aesthetics. What were those conversations about design and narrative like? When Disney built a new studio in 1940 in Burbank, he hired noted modernist designer Kem Weber (whose furniture now fetches high prices at auction and is featured in museum collections) to give it a modern edge, with most workspaces accessible to daylight.

Disney was obsessed with detail and would spend large sums to make his animations better and to innovate. He gambled on new technologies, and often he won. He understood and exploited media synergies to great advantage. When we were kids, we watched Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color every Sunday night and hoped to see shots of the park we had just visited. We only went to a handful of films as a family, and, of course, Mary Poppins was one of them. Each kind of product helped built interest in another. What child in the United States doesn’t know Mickey Mouse (who would have been named Mortimer if Lillian Disney hadn’t had some sway)?

But Disneyland can also be painful. For a child, it is a rich experience, one that lasts well into adulthood. Of course, new films appear, the culture changes, and a theme park must evolve, and in terms of a child’s memory, change radically. Each visit is both nostalgic and sad. When I was young, in the mid-1960s, my favorite icon was the Monsanto House of the Future. I wanted to live there! Tomorrowland felt like a real look into the next decade, which I was impatient to reach. By the time the futuristic house was torn down in the late 1960s, tomorrow was yesterday’s news. Even though the monorail cars have gone through several generations of improvement, they look sort of silly now. It’s hard to say if the future ended when man stepped on the moon, but the future is no longer a place, it’s a cloud. And Tomorrowland feels placeless now. There are still submarines, but now they are all about Captain Nemo.… If you don’t keep up with popular culture (brought to you by Disney and Pixar), visiting Disneyland can be a bit like walking through a dream where you don’t know the cues.

One day for lunch we ate “outside” on the terrace at Blue Bayou, where you are part of the entertainment for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. When I was a kid, passing that romantic café before descending into the watery depths, I wondered where it was located. I probably thought the customers were part of the latest technology, what I later learned was called animatronics. When I was slightly older, I wondered if they were actors. Then I thought perhaps you get a free lunch to perform as happy diners in nighttime New Orleans. In fact, you pay dearly to be part of the show. And this is one the genius concepts of Disneyland. You are a cast member too! When you are too exhausted to go on, finding a bench (outside the restrooms, which are based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer house) and watching this strangely egalitarian parade is almost a fun as looking at the ones that Disney organizes throughout the day. That you can do at no extra charge.

As for the Pirates ride itself, I don’t think it is as much fun since it’s been redesigned around a kohl-eyed Johnny Depp. The same is true for the haunted house, which has been temporarily reconfigured to celebrate Tim Burton’s Christmas. I rather enjoyed Burton’s creepy characters in MoMA’s show a few years ago, but they seem forced in the haunted house. I have to say that the ginger cookie smell that was spritzed at us was especially noxious. But both Johnny Depp and Tim Burton must be a bit surprised that they turned up as features in a Disney theme park. Had Uncle Walt met them on Main Street, he would have had security throw the bums out!

On a trip to California Adventure in 2006, I found the newer park strangely barren, too vast, without the variety of scale and density, mature landscaping, and all-important berms of the original park. Much as the basis for the Disneyland entrance sequence is based on Walt Disney’s own boyhood in Missouri, the new Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle are based on the Los Angeles that Disney experienced when he arrived and first began working in the city he would end up interpreting for the rest of us. The Imagineers went back to their roots, Walt’s own nostalgia.

Interestingly, one of the most popular rides in the old Disneyland park is Autopia, which trains the wee ones for the autocentric future (architect Charles Moore is especially funny on this point). It is also one of the oldest continuously operating rides. Building on that ongoing success (I love that the ride is in Tomorrowland) and the success of the Cars movies series (what’s better than to turn the devil itself, the automobile, into something loveable?), the Imagineers created an entire themed “land.” Irony builds on irony. You park your car a good 20 minutes from the entry to either Disneyland or California Adventure and then walk 20 minutes to wait between 20 and 90 minutes to ride in a miniature car for four or five minutes. Brilliant! But the waiting at Radiator Springs Racers is almost as good as the ride. Beautiful desert landscaping and even a reproduction of a historic bottle house. Reportedly the ride cost $200 million to build. It’s more tied to the Southwest than to California, but who cares? It’s still about cars and movies.

When you walk through Radiator Springs, past the Flo’s V8 Café with its piston supported canopies and the Cozy Cone Motel based on wigwam motels, you see the glorious peaks of Cadillac Range, a spoof on the avant-garde artist collective Cadillac Ranch. Somehow the Ant Farm’s crazy art project in Amarillo, Texas, has been co-opted for Disneyland. It’s almost as sweet as the hippie geodesic dome, which must house some drug taking commune-ists. (Check out the Jumping Jellyfish for a drug-inspired ride!) Even though the founder of the happiest place on earth might be appalled that the counterculture has influenced his squeaky-clean dream, he would love to hear the cash registers ringing—or pinging.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Postcard from Chicago

Room with a view

Chicago reminds me a little of Seattle. Visit in good weather, and you’re ready to move there. The early autumn varied between “warm” and “light sweater required.” I love the form of this city. Great giant orange and silver light boxes strung along the shore of a moody Milton Avery sea (of course it’s really a lake) with intermittent parks, followed by a ring of gritty brick buildings fading into green leafy suburbs. The intensity of the city ends at a highway (named Lakeshore Drive as if it were meandering and calm) and then a beach and then the great beyond. It’s a modern city shaped by Miesian boxes cheek by jowl with the late 19th and early 20th century industrial city of lower densities. Back porches and bedrooms snug up to the elevated railroad. The El works surprisingly well, but this is still a city where you need a car to get across town. And the commute patterns are more and more from suburb to suburb. Which means the freeways are clogged up during the day just like in Los Angeles or Seattle! Or any thriving American metropolis.

We were in Chicago because Chicago A Cappella commissioned Paul to write a piece for the group’s 20th anniversary. It was a complex song based on the poem “The Windhover” by Gerald Manley Hopkins. I didn’t even know a windhover was a bird until Paul wrote this piece. A young priest sees the bird and knows where his true path lies.

Paul taught a master class in the Rockefeller Cathedral on the University of Chicago campus one morning. An impressive neogothic cathedral designed by Bertram Goodhue. But there is something weird about a grand church named after a grand capitalist. Maybe that reveals a deeper truth about this campus?

Rockefeller Cathedral

While Paul was teaching, I wandered over to check out the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, the site of Paul’s concert. The tower anchors the southwest corner of the campus. It is also next to a pretty rough neighborhood. On the night of the Chicago A Cappella performance, cops on every corner stood guard. The limestone conveys both solidity and lightness. Stacking the dense program also allowed for a generous courtyard. There are two entrances—one from the street near the midway and then a porte cochere in the rear. But I wondered who would arrive that way—folks in chauffeured town cars?

Williams/Tsien -
Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts

Next door is the School of Social Service Administration, which I had never seen before. I stumbled across it and thought it was a wonderful Miesian pavilion, only to realize that the master himself designed it. It doesn’t take too much digging to find out it was built because Lillian Greenwald, widow of Herbert Greenwald, perhaps Mies’s most important patron, was a generous donor to the School of Social Service Administration. I was shooed out because of some small function going on in the lobby, so I will have to tour the interiors on the next visit. A casual glance suggested it was mostly intact.

Mies van der Rohe - School of Social Service Administration

The surprise was the Laird Bell Law Quadrangle by Eero Saarinen. Unlike Mies, Saarinen was interested in what was next door to his future buildings. Mies was a European modernist. The new rules were based on some of the old rules, but damn the existing buildings. They wouldn’t last. One could say Saarinen was a more place-based modernist. He didn’t want decorations or class-rooted readings of his buildings, but he also understood the value of what went before him. His courtyard with its sheet of water is beautiful. The law library does not imitate the predominant neogothic architecture of the early campus, but it does try to be a friendly neighbor with its crenellated top and rhythms.

Eero Saarinen - Laird Bell Law Quadrangle

In an ironic twist, architect Rafael Viñoly took Saarinen’s concept of creating a modern building that respected historic precedents even further at the Charles M. Harper Center at the Booth School of Business. One of the main challenges for the project was that the university had to tear down an Eero Saarinen building. However, the Woodward Court dorms were not the famed architect’s best effort. Viñoly not only created a contemporary building with gothic tracery in the structure of the atrium, but also reduced the building’s scale as it approaches the corner across the street from Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, the Robie House. Horizontal forms and a simple cantilever gently reference Wright’s work. The building accomplishes something few campus buildings do coherently; it’s big when it needs to be big and small when it needs to be small.

Rafael Viñoly -
Charles M. Harper Center at the Booth School of Business

Frank Lloyd Wright - Robie House

On the eastern edge of campus, we also checked out the new Earl Shapiro Hall for the university’s acclaimed Laboratory Schools. My pals (and clients) Valerio Dewalt Train also had to negotiate a contemporary expression in the context of the neogothic style. Since the site was a few blocks east of the campus core, they could bend the rules a bit more. The building folds in some surprising ways, but it remains a highly legible building. Blair Kamin likes it too! (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-10-12/news/ct-ae-1013-lab-school-20131012_1_chicago-laboratory-schools-nursery-school-joe-valerio)

Valerio Dewalt Train - Shapiro Hall, UC Lab School

We were foolish enough to venture north on the day before the Chicago Marathon to see Renzo Piano’s addition to the Art Institute. But it was worth the trek (and $30 parking fee!). Piano inserted a simple, light structure into a collage of historic structures. He saw that Frank Gehry’s band shell for Grant Park concluded the main axis of his design, and he celebrates the fact. This is what I love about Piano. He is confident enough to give another contemporary architect his due. And as with many of Piano’s additions, a great deal of the fun lies in watching how the building frames human movement and inquiry.

Renzo Piano - Chicago Art Institute Addition

Renzo Piano - Chicago Art Institute Addition

Our home base for this trip was Evanston, the first suburb beyond Chicago’s city limits. Next time we will check out Northwestern University and report back. We stayed in a Fawlty Towers kind of hotel apartment complex from the 1920s with a stunning view of the lake. One morning, we walked around the residential precinct next to the lake, which has to be one of the prettiest neighborhoods we’ve ever seen. A friend of mine whose partner grew up there said, “Oh yes, it’s a happy place.”

Evanston - A Happy Place

Monday, September 23, 2013

Larry Fournier

Mentor and Friend

There have been waves of loss in my life. In young adulthood, many people were taken by AIDS and related disorders. This slackened somewhat when protease inhibitors were introduced. Shorty thereafter, my parents and my friends’ parents began to pass away. And now, when I’m in my 50s, friends from my age onwards are getting sick and dying. On Friday, my good friend and mentor Larry Fournier passed away when his kidney failed. He was the thread that connected so many relationships that moved all over the continuum from professional to personal.

I met Larry in 1983 when he moved from ELS to Whisler-Patri to become marketing director. He found ways to stretch his budget to hire my sister for a stint when she was between semesters in medical school, and he hired a good pal of mine to take over the slide library when she needed a new job. There are hundreds of these stories. He was always willing to help, but he also expected you to help yourself. If you did, he would be loyal and available forever. We both held degrees in library science but somehow ended up helping architects get work. This is because we loved design, but we also loved those who found it their calling. Larry started out organizing Lawrence Halprin’s slides and became the leader of our profession in the Bay Area. He was not a salesman. He was a connector. One by one, he linked people to each other.

Larry and George at Larry's retirement party.

Many years ago, he knew that his kidney was failing and that he would need a transplant. I was amazed by his calm and courage. His brother came out from Louisiana and bravely donated one of his kidneys. This gave Larry several more years of a good life. He worked hard but made it look easy. He entertained brilliantly in his home in the Berkeley hills and later in Sonoma. After he returned from a trip to Japan, I remember him making the most meticulously prepared Japanese meals. They must have taken him days. He often invited people to stay in Sonoma when they were troubled or lost or just wanting a few days off. He knew what people needed. He didn’t judge much unless you deceived him. He connected me to ELS, where I worked for seven years as marketing director in the 1990s and made many friends. He would drop by the office on Addison Street in downtown Berkeley to be sure he had left his role in good hands. From him, I learned how valuable it is to make a gracious exit. Not only was he my friend, he was one of my key mentors. I also learned that one can be both modest and confident.

George was his partner the entire time I knew Larry. Over the years, as gay couples became part of the cultural milieu, they were both present at many industry events. The two firms where Larry worked the last three decades were relatively conservative, but he taught them that gay people are like anybody else. He just did it by being present and authentic. George was the quiet half, but he always saw the humor that was part of what made the connecting work. I remember seeing in their home a framed check that George wrote Larry when they moved in together in North Beach. They were not embarrassed to say they met at Buzzby’s, an (in)famous Polk Street disco in the 1970s. George makes things, beautiful things from wood. When George needed his own shop, they moved from their Berkeley hills home to a then-rough area of Dogpatch in San Francisco, living in the apartment over the shop. Several months ago, their regular dinner group invited Paul and me to join them there for one of their gourmet meals. It was raucous, delicious, and funny. Towards the end of the evening, Jane Glickman’s husband, John, decided to take a formal group portrait. It was the last time I saw Larry.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Postcard from Houston

Everybody maligns Houston. I like it. But then, I like Los Angeles, too. Houston reminds me a lot of Los Angeles, but with more humidity, more parking, and slightly less traffic. It is much easier to navigate. Basically everything that you are interested in is inside the Interstate 610 loop. So while the city sprawls outward forever, most of the good stuff is within a relatively small circle—unlike Los Angeles.

First, let’s talk about the town of no zoning. This means high-rises next to mansions, laundries across the street from a Dan Flavin installation, dance halls next to middle-class residential districts. Apparently, there are codes on how property can be subdivided, but the voters have turned down zoning repeatedly. Not an experiment worth repeating, perhaps, but it does create some bizarre adjacencies.

The laundry across the street from the Menil Flavin installation.

Museum of Fine Arts - wing by Mies van der Rohe

Quaker meeting house with skyspace by James Turrell

Reyner Banham reintroduced Californians to Los Angeles and got people to see it with fresh eyes. Architect Carlos Jiménez did that for Houston. I heard him lecture a long time ago. He asks you to look at the sky, at the possibilities of a new city.

The Houstonian Hotel is one of those buildings where the architecture is irrelevant and the décor is everything. I call it “we are rich now” décor. Some of the fabrics and details are lovely, but the overall effect is sort of Hearst Castle for the parvenu. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun! In Houston, like Los Angeles, you just add water and you have a jungle. Nobody remembers that the Houstonian is actually a banal, modern, office park-like structure, but rather that all the rooms look out onto dense foliage. It’s like staying in a baroque terrarium!

Houstonian lobby

Houstonian pool and jungle

Driving around Houston, we did smell gas occasionally. This is a town built on oil. Even the parts that I am drawn to—the art and architecture that arrived with the largesse of the de Menil family—came about because of oil. The Schlumberger oil drilling fortune paid for the Rothkos, Philip Johnson, and Walter De Maria. The most challenging and spiritual of good works are rooted in Texas gold.

Driving is a divine right in Texas, and nobody bothers with a Prius. It’s all about big fortress cars being aggressive on the freeways. We had a few near-accidents. Some of this is to due to the confusion of the lane markers and last-second lane changes. But when you are sitting by the pool, these folks couldn’t be nicer, and everybody wants to help you find a good restaurant. Foodie culture has definitely come to Houston. Two places that we tried and enjoyed were Hugo’s, which offers haute Mexican cuisine, and Triniti, which would have fit right into any affluent coastal city in California.

Our purpose in visiting Houston was to see the James Turrell exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. (More on that in a later post.) We nearly missed an exquisite show at the Menil Collection entitled Byzantine Things in the World, which links various pieces in the Menil Collection over history. Although I still struggle with Cy Twombly’s work, the lighting (only natural light when we visited) in the Twombly Gallery at the Menil is simply stunning in its subtlety. That little building is one of Renzo Piano’s great accomplishments in lighting. If only he had done the Rothko Chapel! We were also lucky enough to stumble on Soo Sunny Park’s sculpture at the Rice Gallery. Although made of chain link fence and Plexiglas, the sculptures seem to float and change shape before your eyes.

Rothko Chapel with sculpture
by Barnett Newman (gift of the de Menils)

 Soo Sunny Park’s exhibit at Rice University

Another architectural highlight was tracking down the de Menil’s home (designed by Philip Johnson in 1950) on San Felipe Drive. There are no sidewalks on that section of the busy street so you have to park on a side street and walk on along a verge and cross the street and peek down the drive. Johnson fought with Mrs. de Menil over the windows on the right side of the front elevation. She won. He hated them. But he really hated the interiors by her Charles James, her fashion designer. Now they are legendary. James knew that Johnson needed to be softened up several decades before he realized it. Unfortunately, the public can’t visit the house but it is owned by the Menil Foundation and completed a extensive restoration about ten years ago. By the time we returned to where we had parked, two cars from the River Oaks Patrol were on us. The ruling class don’t screw around. I doubt the security folks get many people telling them they are architectural writers checking out significant landmarks. Because from what we could see River Oaks doesn’t have very many!

Typical River Oaks residence

de Menil residence in River Oaks

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