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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Still Marching towards Liberation

courtesy Library of Congress

Today is August 28, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Remember, it was called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” Civil rights cannot be separated from social and economic justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his best-known speech, “I Have A Dream,” a half century ago. The dream and the pursuit continues. King remains one of the greatest Americans who lived in the 20th century. Great because he tried to find a true north to liberate all Americans from the long shadow of the country’s founding—the shadow of slavery, genocide, and yes, capitalism. He understood that the suffering of African Americans was tied to the suffering of poor people everywhere and was directly linked to the workings of our economic engine. This is why he opposed the Vietnam War and was marching with sanitation workers in Memphis when he was killed.

Martin Luther King, Jr., tried hard to harbor no ill will toward the rich or even towards loudmouth racists like George Wallace and Lester Maddox. He turned to his deep faith to find the strength to keep marching. I am still moved by his profound courage and leadership. He was a nonviolent radical who looked for love.

King believed that the government can work to redistribute the wealth so that all people can have education, healthcare, and shelter, but he was no communist. I mention that because if we are concerned about the recent revelations about governmental intrusion into our privacy, we need look no further than what the U.S. government tried to do to King. J. Edgar Hoover tried to destroy him using extensive surveillance. But he failed. Hoover ended up in the dustbin of history because he did not stand for freedom, but only for power. What a strange twist of fate that an angry, closeted gay man like Hoover couldn’t bring King down, but an out, clever gay man like Bayard Rustin could figure out how to organize King’s incredible march in two months. King stood for all humanity. He is still marching us towards liberation.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Neutra House Coda

The three cottages in 1940 Courtesy of the Department of
Special Collections & University Archives,
Stanford University Libraries

Nearly four years ago, I went to the dedication of a renovated Neutra house in Los Altos and wrote about it.


I interviewed architectural designer Miltiades Mandros, who had been intimately involved in early efforts to save the house. He explained some of the machinations that went on behind the scenes. Knowing that he would later write about the whole episode at great length, I just wrote, “ What happens next gets a little murky.”

Well, now Miltiades has laid it out for you. Some might say in excruciating detail. And while he is settling scores, I found it fascinating reading. Not only because I think most politicians are psychologically unstable, but because there are so many strange lessons that I only touched on in my short piece. You can find the Mandros piece at


The cottage is moved, November 2005
Courtesy of John Gusto

Jacqueline Johnson cottage exterior during reconstruction – 2006,
by Miltiades Mandros

Some of the lessons are:

If someone involved is actually named King Lear, the story is not going to end well.
If someone threatens to sue you from the outset, the story is not going to end well.
If someone tries to use a small-town gay parade for negative political leverage, the story is not going to end well.

There were many conclusions about the nature of preserving modernism in suburbia, some of which I discussed in my original post. The only thing I might add now is that one should be very cautious about moving to small affluent suburban communities in the Bay Area. Little stakes, big drama. Like Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? writ large. But who ever thought a little modernist cottage could cause such havoc?

The repurposed Jacqueline Johnson cottage opens – 2008
by Miltiades Mandros

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Celebrating A. Quincy Jones, FAIA - Part Two

A Conversation with Fred Fisher

Fred Fisher in his office.
Photo: Kenneth Caldwell

Fred Fisher is well known among the cognoscenti of American architecture. In addition to renovating noted buildings by A. Quincy Jones, he has designed numerous projects for the Annenberg philanthropies and buildings for Cal Tech, Colby College, and Princeton University. With the success of the new Annenberg Visitors Center and the renovation of Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate near Palm Springs, the awareness of his talent will spread even further. In 1995, Fisher purchased the office building that once housed the office of A. Quincy Jones and Fred Emmons from Quincy’s widow, Elaine Jones. For several years, he has been involved in projects relating to Quincy’s work, including several residences of varying scales. A few years ago, we met with Fred in his office on Santa Monica Boulevard to talk about this relationship.

Interviewer: I would like to focus on Quincy’s work and your relationship to it. There is your office, where we are seated, and of course there’s Sunnylands, which is the size of a city hall.

Fred Fisher: I’m not sure where I read it, but I think in the course of our research, there was a mention that Ambassador Annenberg actually wanted the home designed in a way that it could be converted into a country club.


It does have that feeling of a public space. It was conceived for large scale private entertainment.

A view into the atrium of the estate house. The sculpture in the center
of the atrium is an original casting of Eve, by Auguste Rodin, 1881.
Photo by Graydon Wood. Copyright The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

When Elaine had to leave the Barn, there was a lot of concern over what would happen to the building, which has been a kind of cultural center in Los Angeles since the 1960s. Now it’s part of the Annenberg Foundation?

The Annenberg Foundation bought it from Elaine, and Wallis Annenberg’s daughter Lauren Bon has her own smaller foundation within the Annenberg Foundation that produces artworks and collaborative pieces that she’s involved with. That entity is the user of the building. It’s called the Chora Council.

Can you tell us a little about what she might do there?

Lauren Bon is an artist, and she is involved in producing artworks of others. She sees it as an actively used and publicly engaged studio for art production.

I think she understands the building as part of the Annenberg legacy, which is inextricably linked to Quincy Jones. There is Sunnylands, the Annenberg School of Communications at USC, and now the Barn. I think she sees the Barn as a collection object, as an acquired object in the collection of the Annenberg Foundation, not as a real estate acquisition.

The Barn
Photo: Takashige Ikawa courtesy Fred Fisher and Partners.

Have you changed much at the Barn?

Lauren has been very deliberate about what we call the Hippocratic philosophy of renovation, “first, do no harm.” Basically, we’re just cleaning it up and improving the forty-five year old mechanical and electrical systems. I mean, we’re literally rehabilitating the refrigerator and reusing a range.

I know that range had been broken for a long time. Elaine did replace some of those refrigerator units, and they were very hard to get, now impossible.

We couldn’t find one that matched it that would fit. So that pushed us in the direction of rehabilitating it.

It’s a 45-year old wood building, and it was ready for the care that the Annenberg Foundation is capable of giving. And they’re also capable of owning a piece of property in that location and not ripping it down and using it for the highest and best use. As a house, it only has a couple of parking spaces, which you don’t even want to use, because that’s the courtyard space in the back off the kitchen and studio.

Right. She always parked in front. She used that space as the garden. How did you first become aware of Quincy’s work?

I met him and visited this office shortly after I graduated from UCLA. I had a cursory meeting with him, like many students did, and then that was the only contact I had with either one of them for a while, until after he passed away. I began to see Elaine and meet her in the art world here.

We would see each other at art openings and things like that, and then I got invited to some events at the Barn, and she became a friend. In 1995, I was driving down the street, and I saw the for-sale sign on the office building, and I was shocked that this building would even be on the market. I called Elaine up, and she said that it just came time and that she was going to liquidate the asset.

I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and called in all kinds of favors and scraped, begged, borrowed, and would have stolen the money if necessary to put a down payment on it, and crossed my fingers. This was not a good time economically, but it was just something I knew I had to have. I’m very lucky that we were able to work something out that could work for both of us, and so we bought it, and just did a very light refurbishment before we moved in.

I continued to see Elaine and talk to her, because we’ve been involved in a few other of Quincy Jones’s houses, including Frances Brody’s house. I am also friends with Cynthia Lasker, Frances’ sister-in-law, who had a house designed by Quincy.

Who published that house after you renovated it?

Interior Design.

The one with the red doors?

Rob Maguire, who bought the house at that time, loves the primary colors. We always wondered whether or not Quincy and his partner Fred Emmons had slightly different aesthetics, because Fred’s house in the Palisades is almost like a Marcel Breuer house. The Lasker House was like that too. And yet it had a real formal symmetry to it, which was unlike either one of them. That might have been the influence of Billy Haines. Billy Haines was involved first, as I understand it. The first collaboration with Billy and Quincy was the Brody House. She brought them together, and then they did many more things together, such as the Lasker House and Sunnylands.

A. Quincy Jones, Sidney F. and Frances Brody House,
Los Angeles, California, 1948-51.
Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

What have you come to learn from knowing these buildings so intimately?

His work had an informality. The obvious thing was the openness and the organic quality of a lot of the materials, expression of structure, and openness to the outside environment, although he’s not the only one who was doing that.

But he was unlike some of the other Case Study House architects, closer to Cliff May, in that he had almost a ranch house domestic vernacular. He employed a strong roof with the low-sloped gable and big overhangs. I live in Crestwood Hills, which he planned with Edgardo Contini and Whitney Smith. I don’t live in a Quincy Jones house, but I moved into that neighborhood before I bought this building, pure coincidence, and I now live and work in environments shaped by Quincy Jones.

In Crestwood Hills, the facility with which he and his collaborators fit those houses onto the hillsides and nestled them together kept their privacy and exploited the views; they have a similarity but a variety. It’s a really unique and successful subdivision and a very good example of the best of that era. There’s a kind of warmth and informality that is different than, for example, Gregory Ain’s subdivision in Mar Vista. There is variety there, but less so, and of course, the flat land makes a difference. And then being in this building, Quincy’s office, day after day, year in, year out, it’s had an effect on me. Most significant is the absolute integration of indoor and outdoor space. Here there are the equivalents of horizontal flow to vertical flow.

A. Quincy Jones, Whitney Smith, and Edgardo Contini, Architects and Engineer.
Site Office, Mutual Housing Association (Crestwood Hills), Los Angeles, California, 1946-50.
Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

What do you mean?

I like tall spaces. I had a big loft space before, and when I came in here I thought, boy, am I going to get used to this eight-foot ceiling? But I never even think about it anymore, because the visual flow is horizontal, and there is a lot of it. And then the simple gesture, it’s a rectilinear building, and yet there is one property line, this one, which has a slight angle, and that adds a subtle but significant dynamism to the whole composition, and he plays on that very well.

I also appreciate what I’ve considered to be the Japanese aspect of it. I’m a great lover of Japanese architecture and gardens, and this has that aspect of the intimate gardens, connected to the indoor space. Look at the informal use of organic materials, like the pebble-seeded concrete.

That flows indoors and out.

Right. And the use of the wood paneling, exposed structure, and the indoor/outdoor gardens. I think that’s one of the distinguishing factors of West Coast modernism versus East Coast modernism, the awareness and embracing of Japanese architecture.

Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects

You can see that in Quincy’s travel sketches. From working on Sunnylands, what else have you gleaned? Of course, that’s an extraordinary project. While the Brody House is large, Sunnylands is baronial.

Yes, Depending on how many guest wings you figure in, you consider it upwards of 30,000 square feet. It’s hard to exactly know what the program given to him was, and how much was Billy Haines’s thinking, and how much was Walter and Lee Annenberg’s thinking, and how much was Quincy Jones’s thinking. It’s grandiose in a way that none of his other domestic spaces are. The Brody House is sizable, but it’s not grandiose.

The spaces in the Brody house are informal in their planning, whereas Sunnylands is very formal and very grand. Perhaps it had to do with how the Annenbergs imagined who they were and what their position was. Remember, they lived in Philadelphia, and this was their winter house, almost like an extended vacation house, but still a place to entertain on a grand scale.

President Eisenhower, as I understand it, was the first guest. Unlike Jones’s other projects, the house had an intention of social positioning, especially with the idea of a private golf course. You can’t put a bungalow in the middle of a 200-acre site. And yet they didn’t always entertain on a grand scale. Originally, there were only two guest suites, and then there were three more guest rooms added.

I think that the dinners would be at most 24 people, except the famous New Year’s Eve party, where there would be a smaller dinner first and then more people invited for drinks and dancing afterwards.

The living room of the estate house, which features
 many original furniture designs by decorator William Haines.
Photo by Graydon Wood.
Copyright The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

Do you feel that Quincy was able to extend the principles that you see in his more modest buildings to that larger scale?

Nominally yes, but I think essentially not so much. It’s also a different kind of environment out there in the desert. The Annenbergs didn’t live in it five months of the year, because it’s basically uninhabitable out there when it’s 110°. You played golf outside, and you could eat lunch and get in the pool, but the house didn’t embrace the outside in the same way as a part of everyday life, as an extension of the interior spaces. I think it’s more contained, even though there’s lots of glass, and you can look out. It’s a more introverted house.

And more formal?

Very much more formal. The main space is very symmetrical. The different wings, the kitchen, dining, and the guest wing, go one way, and the master suite and office area go another way.

So now that you’ve looked at so many of his projects and worked on all these buildings, has it changed your architecture?

Being in this building has definitely changed my architecture. I’ve always loved California for the connection to Japanese architecture that I mentioned and the Wrightian tradition of use of woods and other organic materials. Being in this building all the time has imbedded some of the ideas we’ve been talking about more essentially than might otherwise be the case, because I live in it. The subtleties of proportions and scale take a while to get into your blood.

Even though this is a commercial building, it really has the scale of a house. It’s attuned me more toward a fine-grained scale of his rooms in relationship to outside spaces: the absolute continuity of materials inside to outside and the particular areas of the sizes of the gardens.

It wasn’t an epiphany or a whole new way of thinking about architecture, but it was an immersion and increasing understanding and absorption of those kinds of relationships and sensibilities.

After looking at a lot of Quincy’s buildings, I would say he seems very focused on the roofline and the experience of the roof visually. Of course, I am not the first to observe this.

Yes, the roof was big. And Sunnylands is a perfect example of that. He liked a statement roof. The new visitors center at Sunnylands is meant to have some of the Quincy Jones DNA, and yet it’s not Quincy Jones. But the thick floating roof is a statement, the way that he liked to do those for even the smaller houses. I wanted to be deferential and not compete with the statement pyramidal roof that he had for the estate, which was definitely driven by the client.

View of the reflecting pools and the rear of the Center,
 with the Palo Verde trees in bloom.
Photo by the Office of James Burnett.
Copyright The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

Bust of Diego on Stele III, 1958, by Alberto Giacometti.
 This sculpture from the estate house has been
re-installed in the Grand Hall of the new Center.
Photo by Mark Davidson.
Copyright The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. 
Interviewer: While Quincy focused a lot on the roof, he didn’t seem to obsess so much over the elevations. They could be very simple, sometimes even plain. But it was the experience moving through the building that was what mattered. The spatial experience is the thread, not the thing that’s recorded in a photograph that ends up in a magazine. Do you think that’s an accurate assessment?

I haven’t thought about it that way, but I think you’re right. The elevations are not in and of themselves seemingly highly studied compositions. It does have more to do with the views from the inside out. He was very sensitive to, and very good at, movement through a building. Again, our office building is a nicely choreographed set of spaces.

Perhaps this was his greatest talent, the choreography, and then all of the things that influence that: the lighting, the color of the materials, and so forth. Architectural writers focus so much on the object.

It’s so intangible. And you have to experience it to understand it, and so there aren’t that many people who have carefully gone through and experienced those things in order to write about it. It’s one of the hardest things to observe and critique and express about architecture. It’s not seen as a significant part of all architecture, and yet it’s an important part of his work and one of his strengths.

Do you have other aspects, beyond Quincy’s work, that you want to talk about?

As we been having this conversation, I’m reflecting a little bit on how it was a completely unexpected dimension of my career, and yet it’s such an important one. I’m an architect, like most, wanting to do my own work, and I do. And yet this kind of relationship to Quincy Jones has added to it. It has added a fascinating dimension to my practice and a set of fascinating relationships. It is a legacy that I am connected to and feel and obligation to support. I wouldn’t feel that way as much if I didn’t feel empathetic toward his practice, and what he did, and its relevance. I just find it to be one of those surprises and accidents of life that turn out to open up whole new avenues.

Collaborative design session between FFP Partners and artist Roy McMakin.


Celebrating A. Quincy Jones, FAIA

Part One: The Exhibition and Catalog from the Hammer Museum

A. Quincy Jones Installation
Photograph by Brian Forrest.
Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

I became interested in A. Quincy Jones, FAIA, sometime in the late 1970s because of the modernist tract homes he designed for Joseph Eichler in the Bay Area. In the early 1980s, I bought a monograph about him published by Process in Japan and studied his work more carefully. In 1985, I met his widow (and the editor of the Process book), Elaine Sewell Jones, at the AIA convention in San Francisco. Without realizing it, I found a mentor. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1989, I interviewed Elaine for LA Architect and gave a lecture/tour about Jones’s work for UCLA Extension. For several months, I spent every Friday afternoon at their home, known fondly as the Barn, reviewing images and talking with Elaine. This was my real education in both communications and modern architecture.

The Barn
Photo: Takashige Ikawa courtesy Fred Fisher and Partners.

This summer, UCLA’s Hammer Museum mounted the first museum retrospective devoted to Quincy’s work (curated by San Francisco’s own Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher.) There are many reasons it took so long for him to be recognized in this way. While Quincy, with Elaine’s support and expertise, was very skilled at promoting the work in design publications, he was not looking for fame. He was running a business. As the exhibit suggests, he did not think this work was art, even though it involved artistry. He was happy to collaborate with others and was scrupulous about mentioning those contributions. Perhaps most importantly, his goal was to create not an iconographic photographic image, but a rich experience for the individual as s/he moved through a space from indoors to outdoors and back.

A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, Architects.
Fairhaven Tract Eichler Homes Model LJ-124,  Orange, California, 1961.
Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, Architects.
 Milton S. Tyre House, Los Angeles, California, 1951-54.
 Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, Architects.
 Marvin and Sandy Smalley House, Los Angeles, California, 1969-73.
Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

Elaine spent the many years I knew her processing Quincy’s enormous archive before sending it over to UCLA. It would be a daunting job for any curator to select a few hundred pieces from an archive that must number in the tens of thousands. Which projects merit mention? Which should be given a lot of space despite a lack of a model? Fletcher was a fine editor for this show. I might have a favorite project that was not included, but with so many completed projects, she has done an excellent job of selecting works that represent either Quincy’s approach or were noteworthy because of an innovation or a client.

While it would have been a more varied exhibit with more models, I think that Quincy’s process relied largely on drawings to explore spatial relations and program. The Case Study House Exhibit of 1989, one of the great architecture exhibits about the modern era—indeed, I think it helped launch our renewed interest in mid-century modernism—had two full-scale houses rebuilt and the living room of the Eames House partially rebuilt. It would have been wonderful to have one of Jones’s Atrium model Eichlers in the middle of the show, but I suspect the budget didn’t permit it. Fletcher tries to strike a balance for the viewer who reads plans (i.e. design professionals) and those who do not. There are a lot of photographs, many of them contemporary.

The overall effect of the exhibit is humility, which was the hallmark of Quincy’s work. He used to design buildings that almost disappeared so the individual could have a light-filled experience adjacent to nature. A dramatic gesture had to support the experience of place. In the early work, especially the Brody residence of 1948–51, there are a few more flourishes that show a Wrightian influence, but over time, he achieves a more mature and minimal vocabulary.

A. Quincy Jones and Associates, Architects. Warner Bros. Records building,
Burbank, California, 1971-75. Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012.
Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

A. Quincy Jones, Whitney Smith, and Edgardo Contini, Architects and Engineer.
Gross House, Mutual Housing Association (Crestwood Hills), Los Angeles, California, 1946-50.
Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, Architects. Jones and Emmons office building,
Los Angeles, California, 1954-55 (phase 1), 1957-59 (addition).
Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

The wall text and catalog speak to Quincy’s designing from the inside out. As Elaine told me, he could see the experience that a visitor would have from every room. She used to say something like, “He walked every inch in his mind.” The plan is key to understanding the work. The show might have benefited from a few more notated plans, but then it would be tilted more to the architecture crowd than to the general public.

These two sections and single sketch show Quincy's thinking about
how an individual experiences space. Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012.
 Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

For any student of modern architecture or West Coast culture in the middle of the twentieth century, the accompanying catalog would be a good investment. The format, considerably larger than Cory Buckner’s earlier Phaidon monograph, allows the plans to be read relatively easily. To supplement the several vintage photos on display, the Hammer commissioned Jason Schmidt to record several buildings as they exist currently. Many of the houses have had loving owners who have kept them intact, or in the case of the Gary Cooper residence, tried to return them to their original glory.

A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, Architects.
 Milton S. Tyre House, Los Angeles, California, 1951-54.
Transverse section through living room, dining room, and maid’s quarters.
 Courtesy Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA Library Special Collections.

One of the most telling drawings is a section through Sunnylands, the Annenbergs’ massive estate in Rancho Mirage. In this drawing, you can see Quincy’s idea for the furniture, which was far less opulent than the result. Billy Haines and his associate Ted Graber (who lived in an A. Quincy Jones house) were quite capable of doing restrained work, as their early collaboration at the Brody house shows. In his essay, Mayer Rus explores how the openly gay Haines (well, open for the times) and the more traditional (in appearances at least) Jones built a strong bond. Both individuals celebrated modern innovations, and yet both could bend for the sake of strong-willed clients like the Annenbergs.

The next post will be an interview with Fred Fisher, who owns and works in the office designed and occupied by A. Quincy Jones and his partner Fred Emmons. Fisher recently rehabilitated the Jones residence known as the Barn for the artist Lauren Bon. He also renovated the Annenberg Residence, Sunnylands, in Rancho Mirage and designed the new visitors center for the complex, which respects Quincy’s approach, but is of this moment.

A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, Architects.
St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church, Studio City, California, 1960-62.
Photograph by Jason Schmidt, 2012. Courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

For more information:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Postcard from New York

Gramercy Park

Although it takes five modes of transport to get from Fire Island to Manhattan, it only took us three hours. When it works, it works. But as soon as we got into the taxi line at Penn, we knew it was going to be an oven. We still used the subway a lot because the cars are air conditioned, but waiting at the stations in the middle of the day is a descent into hell. The sign on a church in Gramercy Park said, “The devil called. He wants his weather back.”

Our neighborhood church tells it like it is

The diner at the corner of East 22nd and Third near where we usually stay has been reborn as a Greek restaurant. Nothing fancy, but very fresh. Perfect for the hot weather. The other food highlight was probably the Union Square Café, which was delicious this time.

Mural at Union Square Café

Our regular breakfast meeting spot is Maialino, another Danny Meyer gem. It was one of those places where you have to make a reservation for breakfast, but it wasn’t so crowded this time of year, because the neighbors can afford to get out of town. If you need another breakfast spot in Gramercy, Friend of a Farmer is a good second choice. One place to avoid for breakfast or lunch on the Upper East Side is E.A.T. The food is tasty, but the prices are stupid expensive. Speaking of avoiding places, we were treated most rudely at the Standard. It is not a hotel for the over-30 crowd. Although I still like the spatial experience beneath the pilotis when you stand on the High Line.

The very rude but handsome Standard Hotel

A good friend of ours was able to get us tickets to Book of Mormon. Given its extreme popularity, you wonder if it can be that good. It was. Even Paul liked it. As with other big Broadway hits, the authors built a base with a popular media brand, in this case the irreverent television show South Park. While it makes fun of the absurdities of Mormonism, it isn’t mean. The thread is that we all tell stories to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense. And if you want a wild story, Mormonism is it. Even Kolob is mentioned. Don’t know about Kolob? Worth a Google search.

Book of Mormon

It was a stunning museum summer.

One of our favorite shows was also the most modest. William Menking, founder of the Architect’s Newspaper, and Wolfgang Forster have mounted a simple show about social housing in Vienna at the Austrian Cultural Forum called the Vienna Model. I had never visited Raimund Abraham’s slender landmark on East 52nd Street. The guard only lets you into the exhibit, but even the detailing on the handrails is exquisite. Using construction scaffolding, the curators create a varied armature to provide dimension and variety for what is basically a show of photographs. The catalog won’t be out until the fall, but it will be a valuable tool for all of us who care about social housing. The show reminds us that the original promise of modernism, beautiful housing for everybody, need not be dull or oppressive, but can be life affirming and joyful.


The exhibit constructed of scaffolds.

A handrail at the Austrian Cultural Forum.

At the high end of architecture exhibit budgets, MoMA has mounted Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes. It can be read in any number of ways. Most reviewers like to say his buildings were better than his paintings. I would say his paintings were better than his master plans. Some of my favorite artworks of his are the bolder tile murals. Unfortunately, those were not in evidence. But the curators did reconstruct his rustic cottage by the sea and a typical double-height living room of Unité d’Habitation, which gives the viewer a sense of the beauty of his most modest spaces. They’ve hung a beautiful wood model of Chandigarh on the wall, and that reinforces the strong relationship between the artwork and the landscape. The long scrolls are an insight into this drawing/thinking process. Despite all this research and material, I still think his individual buildings were genius and his plans were mad.


Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) with Pierre Jeanneret.
Villa Savoye Poissy-sur-Seine, France. 1929–31.
Wood, aluminum, and plastic, 16 x 34 x 32" (40.6 x 86.4 x 81.3 cm).
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase.
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/FLC 

In the next gallery, Claes Oldenburg: The Street and the Store resonated strongly with my own introduction to modern art. When I was about 12 years old, our parents took us to the then-new Berkeley Art Museum, where we saw melting electric plugs, light switches, lipstick, food, and all kinds of wonderful craziness. I had never seen a building like Mario Ciampi’s brutalist masterpiece, nor had I ever seen everyday objects memorialized. It was a turning point in my young life. MoMA is showing Oldenburg’s early explorations in cardboard and vinyl, which he designed to get the viewer to really see the everyday. This was before his work got so smooth, so shiny, so much more like the culture it was commenting on.


"Empire" ("Papa") Ray Gun
Casein on papier-mâché over wire.
Gift of the artist. © 1959 Claes Oldenburg.
Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department

Lunette Flag. Wood. Centre Pompidou, Paris.
 Musée national d'art moderne / Centre de création industrielle.
© 1960 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: CNAC/MNAM/Dist.
RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich)
Vinyl, kapok, and wood painted with acrylic.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc.,
Leonard A. Lauder, President. © 1963 Claes Oldenburg.
Photo: David Heald, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Over at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the most sublime ceramics exhibit of recent memory. It’s a long schlep to the modern art side of things at the Met, but worth the walk. Ken Price, who passed away last year in New Mexico, stayed true to his West Coast surfing roots and shows that craft can rise to art. Frank Gehry has designed a subtle (yes subtle!) background for Price’s brilliant work. The glazes are unlike any I have ever seen. His forms seem to come from the ocean and are then recast or reshaped into new life forms. Although they are highly sensuous, they are also calming.


Ken Price, Pastel, 1995. Fired and painted clays, 14 1/2 x 15 x 14 in.
James Corcoran Gallery, © Ken Price, photo © Fredrik Nilsenn

PUNK: Chaos to Couture had very little punk and a whole lot of couture. One thing the Met seems to do especially well are costume/fashion shows. Honestly, I am embarrassed to spend more than an hour looking at fashion promoted as art. But the museum is trying to make a connection between couture and culture, and I am a willing audience.


D.I.Y.: Graffiti & Agitprop
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Facsimile of CBGB bathroom, New York, 1975
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

But the spectacle of the summer belongs to James Turrell. This summer, there are three unique shows devoted to his work in New York, Los Angeles, and Houston. The accomplishment is mindboggling. There will be more on all three shows in a separate blog entitled “Summer of Turrell.” Suffice it to say, it is worth a trip to the Guggenheim to check it out. Go early, avoid the weekend, and buy your ticket ahead of time.


James Turrell Aten Reign, 2013 Daylight and LED light, dimensions variable
© James Turrell Installation view: James Turrell, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
New York, June 21–September 25, 2013 Photo: David Heald
 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Ronin, 1968 Fluorescent light, dimensions variable Collection of the artist
© James Turrell Installation view: Jim Turrell, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam,
April 9–May 23, 1976 Photo: Courtesy the Stedelijk Museum

For you light and space fans, Robert Irwin’s Scrim Veil—Black Rectangle—Natural Light from 1977 has been reinstalled at the Whitney. And what a triumph it is. In his quiet but sure way, he takes the measure of a place and then makes the most subtle and powerful intervention, thereby transforming the space and asking you to question your perception. While I love what Turrell is up to with his complex lighting, angles, and apertures, I am also very drawn to the simple line that Irwin traces through space.


With a bit of scrim, metal, wood, and tape and just daylight,
Irwin gets you to question what you are seeing.

If you are a Hopper fan, there is also a fine show that links his sketching to his most famous works. You get your money’s worth at the Whitney! We will be sorry when they leave the Marcel Breuer fortress for the light-filled Renzo Piano jewel box down in Chelsea.


Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Study for Nighthawks, 1941 or 1942.
Fabricated chalk and charcoal on paper; 11 1/8 × 15 in. (28.3 × 38.1 cm).
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;
purchase and gift of Josephine N. Hopper by exchange 2011.65

Image courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop in
collaboration with Cooper, Robertson & Partners

And this year Grand Central Station is a century old! Talk about enduring design.
Mural at Union Square Café