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D e s i g n   A r c h i t e c t u r e   A r t   F a s h i o n






Oct 18
AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
The Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney is splendid art world spectacle.  The lines are long, the crowds are lively, and the artist’s sculptures and paintings, particularly the monumentally-scaled works on the higher floors, spring to life inside the museum’s cavernous white-walled, stone-floored galleries.
The art varies tremendously in terms of materials, but it’s all of a piece: bright, synthetic, energetic, and relentlessly positive.  Rather than beauty or pleasure, it goes after happiness.  In his work from the 80’s Koon was focused, more intellectually, on consumer culture and advertising, and their promises of satisfaction.  In later work, to get at the same, he crafts his own iconography of happiness.  He shows us candy, toys, cartoon figures, pop culture heroes, romantic love and (very literally) sex.  Embedded in all of this is a notion  — sweet, uncomplicated, contemporary, and profoundly American — of what happiness is.
The most powerful pieces are from the 1994 Celebration series, massive sculptures and paintings based on popular imagery.  The series includes the iconic sculpture Yellow Dog, a 10-foot high yellow stainless steel rendition of the kind of balloon animal distributed at childrens’ birthday parties.  (It’s an elegant piece, and the most popular spot in the exhibit for selfies.)  Also on display, from the same series, is a monumental, multi-colored aluminum sculpture of a pile of Play Dough, and paintings of toys: action figurines, plastic horses, stuffed animals, and building blocks.
My favorite painting shows of slice of birthday cake wrapped in pink mylar.  It’s gigantic, about the size of a double door, and rendered in vivid, baroque perspective, as if it’s about to be shoved into the viewer’s mouth, in a palette of bracingly artificial colors.  The cake is no longer food — a form of nourishment — but a symbol of bliss.  The painting is set in a futuristic, hyper-real style, yet remains a literal, innocent image.  There are no hidden depths here, no irony and no commentary.  The dazzle is, for Koons, what happiness is all about.

Image courtesy of Jeff Koons.  Jeff Koons.  Cake, 1995–97. Oil on canvas; 125 3⁄8 x 116 3⁄8 in. (318.5 × 295.6 cm). Private collection. © Jeff Koons.

AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

The Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney is splendid art world spectacle.  The lines are long, the crowds are lively, and the artist’s sculptures and paintings, particularly the monumentally-scaled works on the higher floors, spring to life inside the museum’s cavernous white-walled, stone-floored galleries.

The art varies tremendously in terms of materials, but it’s all of a piece: bright, synthetic, energetic, and relentlessly positive.  Rather than beauty or pleasure, it goes after happiness.  In his work from the 80’s Koon was focused, more intellectually, on consumer culture and advertising, and their promises of satisfaction.  In later work, to get at the same, he crafts his own iconography of happiness.  He shows us candy, toys, cartoon figures, pop culture heroes, romantic love and (very literally) sex.  Embedded in all of this is a notion  — sweet, uncomplicated, contemporary, and profoundly American — of what happiness is.

The most powerful pieces are from the 1994 Celebration series, massive sculptures and paintings based on popular imagery.  The series includes the iconic sculpture Yellow Dog, a 10-foot high yellow stainless steel rendition of the kind of balloon animal distributed at childrens’ birthday parties.  (It’s an elegant piece, and the most popular spot in the exhibit for selfies.)  Also on display, from the same series, is a monumental, multi-colored aluminum sculpture of a pile of Play Dough, and paintings of toys: action figurines, plastic horses, stuffed animals, and building blocks.

My favorite painting shows of slice of birthday cake wrapped in pink mylar.  It’s gigantic, about the size of a double door, and rendered in vivid, baroque perspective, as if it’s about to be shoved into the viewer’s mouth, in a palette of bracingly artificial colors.  The cake is no longer food — a form of nourishment — but a symbol of bliss.  The painting is set in a futuristic, hyper-real style, yet remains a literal, innocent image.  There are no hidden depths here, no irony and no commentary.  The dazzle is, for Koons, what happiness is all about.

Image courtesy of Jeff Koons.  Jeff Koons.  Cake, 1995–97. Oil on canvas; 125 3⁄8 x 116 3⁄8 in. (318.5 × 295.6 cm). Private collection. © Jeff Koons.


Oct 13
ISN’T IT FANTASTIC
I was horrified when I found out that Kenneth Branagh is directing a live-action version of Cinderella for Disney.  He seems far too classy to retell this politically retrograde fable.  In a recent interview he explained, gorgeously and somewhat convincingly, “It’s a story with which we all identify.  Somehow, the idea of, when life is tough, having things work out, sometimes with a bit of magic … for certain kinds of moments it’s a marvelous thing."  For "magic" why don’t we substitute fantasy, or voodoo, or wishful thinking, or pornography?  At the heart of the Cinderella story lies a notion that’s a little bit troubling, that a romantic partner will come along and solve all of our problems for us.  It’s a fantasy that doesn’t play out too frequently, and, for many, remains persistent.
Then last month I attended an event with Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay.  In addition to being an accomplished academic and novelist, she’s a fearsome television critic and live tweeter.  She spoke, enthusiastically, about how much she loved shows like Scandal, The Good Wife, and SVU.  When asked why she explained, “Without fantasy, we don’t have a lot of hope.”  She pointed gleefully to some of the more far-fetched elements in Scandal, including the way Kerry Washington’s character works as a political fixer while sleeping with the married president, and can wear a white cape and drink red wine.
If fantasy is necessary for the long slog through adult life, the content of the fantasy we allow ourselves to fall into matters too.  A successful professional woman leading a stylish and sexually satisfying life  is one fantasy.  A young woman waiting to being rescued from poverty and drudgery by a prince is another.  Fantasy might be a deeply human need, but it can also mask genuine desire and conflict, and cloud crucial life decisions.  There’s truth in what Branagh and Gay say about it, and there’s truth in what Yeats says too.

ISN’T IT FANTASTIC

I was horrified when I found out that Kenneth Branagh is directing a live-action version of Cinderella for Disney.  He seems far too classy to retell this politically retrograde fable.  In a recent interview he explained, gorgeously and somewhat convincingly, “It’s a story with which we all identify.  Somehow, the idea of, when life is tough, having things work out, sometimes with a bit of magic … for certain kinds of moments it’s a marvelous thing."  For "magic" why don’t we substitute fantasy, or voodoo, or wishful thinking, or pornography?  At the heart of the Cinderella story lies a notion that’s a little bit troubling, that a romantic partner will come along and solve all of our problems for us.  It’s a fantasy that doesn’t play out too frequently, and, for many, remains persistent.

Then last month I attended an event with Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay.  In addition to being an accomplished academic and novelist, she’s a fearsome television critic and live tweeter.  She spoke, enthusiastically, about how much she loved shows like Scandal, The Good Wife, and SVU.  When asked why she explained, “Without fantasy, we don’t have a lot of hope.”  She pointed gleefully to some of the more far-fetched elements in Scandal, including the way Kerry Washington’s character works as a political fixer while sleeping with the married president, and can wear a white cape and drink red wine.

If fantasy is necessary for the long slog through adult life, the content of the fantasy we allow ourselves to fall into matters too.  A successful professional woman leading a stylish and sexually satisfying life  is one fantasy.  A young woman waiting to being rescued from poverty and drudgery by a prince is another.  Fantasy might be a deeply human need, but it can also mask genuine desire and conflict, and cloud crucial life decisions.  There’s truth in what Branagh and Gay say about it, and there’s truth in what Yeats says too.


Oct 6
BOOM WITHOUT THE BOX
Stumbling from the subway station to the office on Friday morning, in an end-of-the-week haze, I was overtaken by a young man playing a lusciously-textured slow-moving rap song out loud on his black Beats Pill XL portable speaker.  The music hit me when he passed, a big warm cloud of sound.  The Pill is a simple, sleek baton-like device that broadcasts audio from a remote player.  Though it’s been branded “XL” it’s small, about the size of an evening bag, and could be tucked easily under the arm or in a tote bag.  This man carried his from its handle, swinging it back and forth as he made his way breezily, otherwise unburdened, up Broadway.  He was dressed smartly, in Levi’s straight legs with deep cuffs, a plain black t-shirt, a White Sox cap, and black high tops with a thick white sole.  Brandishing the Pill, he was an image of supreme cool.
This encounter me took me back decades, to a time when young men in the city carried suitcase-sized boomboxes, with shining silver knobs and multiple cassette decks, that required six or more D-sized batteries to operate.  Today the fashion is to listen to music on small devices like iPhones, through headphones with cushioned earpads the size of hamburger buns, retreating deeply into an inner world.  Broadcasting one’s music in public has become outrageous, an act of transgression and aggression.  The young man I saw was asserting his taste, his identity and his turf, and also sharing his tunes — something of himself — with the city.  It would be tiresome, certainly, if everyone on the sidewalk played his music out loud.  But that morning it made for magnificent street theater.
Image courtesy of Beats Audio.

BOOM WITHOUT THE BOX

Stumbling from the subway station to the office on Friday morning, in an end-of-the-week haze, I was overtaken by a young man playing a lusciously-textured slow-moving rap song out loud on his black Beats Pill XL portable speaker.  The music hit me when he passed, a big warm cloud of sound.  The Pill is a simple, sleek baton-like device that broadcasts audio from a remote player.  Though it’s been branded “XL” it’s small, about the size of an evening bag, and could be tucked easily under the arm or in a tote bag.  This man carried his from its handle, swinging it back and forth as he made his way breezily, otherwise unburdened, up Broadway.  He was dressed smartly, in Levi’s straight legs with deep cuffs, a plain black t-shirt, a White Sox cap, and black high tops with a thick white sole.  Brandishing the Pill, he was an image of supreme cool.

This encounter me took me back decades, to a time when young men in the city carried suitcase-sized boomboxes, with shining silver knobs and multiple cassette decks, that required six or more D-sized batteries to operate.  Today the fashion is to listen to music on small devices like iPhones, through headphones with cushioned earpads the size of hamburger buns, retreating deeply into an inner world.  Broadcasting one’s music in public has become outrageous, an act of transgression and aggression.  The young man I saw was asserting his taste, his identity and his turf, and also sharing his tunes — something of himself — with the city.  It would be tiresome, certainly, if everyone on the sidewalk played his music out loud.  But that morning it made for magnificent street theater.

Image courtesy of Beats Audio.


Oct 4
PLAID PASSIONS
After last month’s independence referendum in Scotland, I’ve got tartan on my head.  These plaids, woven and worn for centuries, originated to distinguish Scotland’s clans (i.e. families) from one another.  Some standard ones date back to the seventeenth century.  Now their specifications, old and new, are officially administered by The Scottish Register of Tartans, established in 2009.  I wonder if Scottish identity is essentially clannish, and, if so, what happens if Scotland becomes nationalized?  Will there be a need for a universal tartan, a federal tartan?
This little dress by McQ, that’s been photographed, flatteringly, on a number of non-Scottish celebrities, points one way.  It mixes Rupert and Paddington tartans in a manner that’s simple, stylish, and politically progressive.  It’s a classic sheath with a scoop neck and straight hem, complicated with a syntactical riddle.  Its skirt is draped conventionally, with the grain of the fabric running orthogonally.  But its top is draped on the bias, running at a 45 degree angle in front, falling along the left side like a shawl, and then resolving itself in a different, more acute angle at the back neck.  I’ve studied pictures of the dress from all angles and still don’t understand how the side seams in the bodice work, and where the back zipper is hidden.  The two plaids don’t match in color or tone, but the dress makes a harmonious whole.  They are boldly scaled, but don’t seem tritely Scottish.  Can happily mismatched tartans be the uniform for a modern, independent Scotland?
McQ by Alexander McQueen, Tartan Drape Top Dress (Rupert tartan draped top dress with Paddington tartan mini skirt, with zip closure at the back), Pre-Autumn/Winter 2014.

PLAID PASSIONS

After last month’s independence referendum in Scotland, I’ve got tartan on my head.  These plaids, woven and worn for centuries, originated to distinguish Scotland’s clans (i.e. families) from one another.  Some standard ones date back to the seventeenth century.  Now their specifications, old and new, are officially administered by The Scottish Register of Tartans, established in 2009.  I wonder if Scottish identity is essentially clannish, and, if so, what happens if Scotland becomes nationalized?  Will there be a need for a universal tartan, a federal tartan?

This little dress by McQ, that’s been photographed, flatteringly, on a number of non-Scottish celebrities, points one way.  It mixes Rupert and Paddington tartans in a manner that’s simple, stylish, and politically progressive.  It’s a classic sheath with a scoop neck and straight hem, complicated with a syntactical riddle.  Its skirt is draped conventionally, with the grain of the fabric running orthogonally.  But its top is draped on the bias, running at a 45 degree angle in front, falling along the left side like a shawl, and then resolving itself in a different, more acute angle at the back neck.  I’ve studied pictures of the dress from all angles and still don’t understand how the side seams in the bodice work, and where the back zipper is hidden.  The two plaids don’t match in color or tone, but the dress makes a harmonious whole.  They are boldly scaled, but don’t seem tritely Scottish.  Can happily mismatched tartans be the uniform for a modern, independent Scotland?

McQ by Alexander McQueen, Tartan Drape Top Dress (Rupert tartan draped top dress with Paddington tartan mini skirt, with zip closure at the back), Pre-Autumn/Winter 2014.


Sep 27
ANALOG DAYS
The Nam Jun Paik retrospective at the Asia Society, Becoming Robot, is a bright blast of 80’s nostalgia.  The video and robotics technologies that were available to the artist then, when he completed his best known works, are now obsolete.  The CRT monitors he incorporated in so many installations and performances — his trademark — are deeper than they are wide, and even the smallest ones require remote adapters and transformers, and bundles of cables to tie them together.  The technologies are mechanical rather than digital, and imposing physically as well as conceptually.  There’s a wonderful photograph of Paik from 1990 in one of the galleries that shows him sprawled, ecstatically, on a studio floor, surrounded by a mess of televisions, cords and plugs.  These elements give his work, when seen today, a sweet low-fi, high-tech, Radio Shack kind of aesthetic.
Paik’s videos also have distinct 80’s stylings.  The resolution is grainy and the lighting is clouded.  Colors are acid-tinged, as if we’re watching through an infrared lamp.  Shots dissolve into one another slowly and are held for uncomfortably long stretches of time, as if they were edited by stoners.  These videos remind me of very early programming on MTV and Nightflight.  And they remind me of amateur Super 8 footage, with shots slipping in and out of focus, frames drifting unintentionally downwards, and everything hovering slightly off-center.
Despite these formal limits, Paik’s videos are jarring and often deeply funny.  One shows him dressed in a tuxedo playing a piano, while a naked cohort, Charlotte Moorman, sits on top of it and keeps time by tapping his head with her foot.  Another shows him crashing a five-foot high robot — a delicate jumble of metal angles and wire — with a white sports car on Madison Avenue.  Today just about every smartphone is equipped with software to record, edit and distribute high-quality video.  We’re inundated with clips, but rarely find ones that surprise or move us.  The technology has moved forward, but for what?
Robot K-456, 1964. Twenty-channel radio-controlled robot, aluminum profiles, wire, wood, electrical divide, foam material, and control-turn out. 72 x 40 x 28 in. (183 x 103 x 72 cm). Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnof, PAIKN1792.01. Photo: Courtesy of Nam Jun Paik Estate.

ANALOG DAYS

The Nam Jun Paik retrospective at the Asia Society, Becoming Robot, is a bright blast of 80’s nostalgia.  The video and robotics technologies that were available to the artist then, when he completed his best known works, are now obsolete.  The CRT monitors he incorporated in so many installations and performances — his trademark — are deeper than they are wide, and even the smallest ones require remote adapters and transformers, and bundles of cables to tie them together.  The technologies are mechanical rather than digital, and imposing physically as well as conceptually.  There’s a wonderful photograph of Paik from 1990 in one of the galleries that shows him sprawled, ecstatically, on a studio floor, surrounded by a mess of televisions, cords and plugs.  These elements give his work, when seen today, a sweet low-fi, high-tech, Radio Shack kind of aesthetic.

Paik’s videos also have distinct 80’s stylings.  The resolution is grainy and the lighting is clouded.  Colors are acid-tinged, as if we’re watching through an infrared lamp.  Shots dissolve into one another slowly and are held for uncomfortably long stretches of time, as if they were edited by stoners.  These videos remind me of very early programming on MTV and Nightflight.  And they remind me of amateur Super 8 footage, with shots slipping in and out of focus, frames drifting unintentionally downwards, and everything hovering slightly off-center.

Despite these formal limits, Paik’s videos are jarring and often deeply funny.  One shows him dressed in a tuxedo playing a piano, while a naked cohort, Charlotte Moorman, sits on top of it and keeps time by tapping his head with her foot.  Another shows him crashing a five-foot high robot — a delicate jumble of metal angles and wire — with a white sports car on Madison Avenue.  Today just about every smartphone is equipped with software to record, edit and distribute high-quality video.  We’re inundated with clips, but rarely find ones that surprise or move us.  The technology has moved forward, but for what?

Robot K-456, 1964. Twenty-channel radio-controlled robot, aluminum profiles, wire, wood, electrical divide, foam material, and control-turn out. 72 x 40 x 28 in. (183 x 103 x 72 cm). Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnof, PAIKN1792.01. Photo: Courtesy of Nam Jun Paik Estate.


Sep 23
WHAT PEACE THERE MAY BE IN SILENCE
The heart of a small solo show by Korakrit Arunanondchai at PS1 is an installation called 2012–2555.  It consists of a theatrical trompe-l’eoil architectural backdrop, colored fluorescent lights, an effigy of the young artist, piles and piles of plastic flowers, and — presiding over it all — two flat-screen video monitors set on easels.  The artwork is right on trend, a willfully eclectic assemblage that deflates distinctions between sculpture, video, and performance, and conventional notions of composition and aesthetics.  It’s just way too much: too much light, too much color, and too much stuff, all shot through with too many ideas.
The video content is similarly eccentric.  The monitors are programmed with a series of artful, slow-moving clips, each about five minutes long.  Among other things, they show the artist backpacking in the woods, a go-go dancer performing on a TV talent show, the artist’s grandparents walking down a shopping street in downtown Bangkok, and, movingly, the artist, disguised in pale blue bobbed wig, launching an effigy of himself into a tropical sea.
Yet, in spite of its sculptural extravagance and fragmented narratives, the installation has a deep, restful effect.  It’s entirely silent.  Also, huge denims pillows are piled right in front, for viewers to sink into as they take it in.  My friend and I stayed for almost an hour, through an entire cycle of the videos, our bodies and minds at ease.  My friend commented that the sensibility of the installation —  the wild mix of plastic flowers and bright lights — was “very Bangkok,” and reminded her of the Buddhist shrines she saw there on the streets, piled thick with fruit, plants, candles, and other offerings.  It’s an aesthetic of excess that, here, somehow, leads to peace.
Korakrit Arunanondchai. 2012-2555. 2012. Performance, two-channel video loop, flat screens, metal, wood, plastic, digital print on canvas, digital print on vinyl, fluorescent lights, plastic flowers. Courtesy the artist and CLEARING, New York.

WHAT PEACE THERE MAY BE IN SILENCE

The heart of a small solo show by Korakrit Arunanondchai at PS1 is an installation called 2012–2555.  It consists of a theatrical trompe-l’eoil architectural backdrop, colored fluorescent lights, an effigy of the young artist, piles and piles of plastic flowers, and — presiding over it all — two flat-screen video monitors set on easels.  The artwork is right on trend, a willfully eclectic assemblage that deflates distinctions between sculpture, video, and performance, and conventional notions of composition and aesthetics.  It’s just way too much: too much light, too much color, and too much stuff, all shot through with too many ideas.

The video content is similarly eccentric.  The monitors are programmed with a series of artful, slow-moving clips, each about five minutes long.  Among other things, they show the artist backpacking in the woods, a go-go dancer performing on a TV talent show, the artist’s grandparents walking down a shopping street in downtown Bangkok, and, movingly, the artist, disguised in pale blue bobbed wig, launching an effigy of himself into a tropical sea.

Yet, in spite of its sculptural extravagance and fragmented narratives, the installation has a deep, restful effect.  It’s entirely silent.  Also, huge denims pillows are piled right in front, for viewers to sink into as they take it in.  My friend and I stayed for almost an hour, through an entire cycle of the videos, our bodies and minds at ease.  My friend commented that the sensibility of the installation — the wild mix of plastic flowers and bright lights — was “very Bangkok,” and reminded her of the Buddhist shrines she saw there on the streets, piled thick with fruit, plants, candles, and other offerings.  It’s an aesthetic of excess that, here, somehow, leads to peace.

Korakrit Arunanondchai. 2012-2555. 2012. Performance, two-channel video loop, flat screens, metal, wood, plastic, digital print on canvas, digital print on vinyl, fluorescent lights, plastic flowers. Courtesy the artist and CLEARING, New York.


Sep 15
BARELY THERE
After writing earlier this summer about how difficult it is to work successfully at the junction of art and architecture, I came across an installation that does just that: Karolina Kawiaka's Fractured Reflections, currently on display outdoors at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont.  Kawiaka, who was trained as both an artist and architect, created the piece “deliberately as a folly.”  But it engages, deeply, concerns of art, architecture, landscape and theater.
The structure cuts an elegant, barely-there, figure in the landscape.   It’s a pavilion five feet wide, eight feet long and eight feet tall, constructed from narrow galvanized steel angles set in a Mondriaan-like grid.  It can be entered through high slots on each of its four sides, and its inside remains open to the sky above and the ground below.  Selected openings in the frame are filled with mirror panels, that capture partial reflections of the lawn, shrubs and trees all around, and of visitors themselves as they move through.  The structure complicates the landscape, weaving fleeting micro-views into a lush, cinematic spectacle.
What’s most remarkable about the piece is how quiet its forms are.  With its platonic, cube-like proportions and skeletal skin, it looks like the diagram of a structure more than a structure itself.  Its materials, which can be found at a lumber yard, give it the feeling of an apparatus rather than an artwork.  And it doesn’t interfere with the ground, touching it only along the bottom edges.  As both an artist and an architect, Kawiaka has an admirably light touch.  Without minimal means, she has fashioned a structure with an fine, complex presence.
“Fractured Reflections” by Karolina Kawiaka. 2014.  Galvanized steel and scrap mirror.  Photograph courtesy of Karolina Kawiaka and the Helen Day Art Center.

BARELY THERE

After writing earlier this summer about how difficult it is to work successfully at the junction of art and architecture, I came across an installation that does just that: Karolina Kawiaka's Fractured Reflections, currently on display outdoors at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont.  Kawiaka, who was trained as both an artist and architect, created the piece “deliberately as a folly.”  But it engages, deeply, concerns of art, architecture, landscape and theater.

The structure cuts an elegant, barely-there, figure in the landscape.   It’s a pavilion five feet wide, eight feet long and eight feet tall, constructed from narrow galvanized steel angles set in a Mondriaan-like grid.  It can be entered through high slots on each of its four sides, and its inside remains open to the sky above and the ground below.  Selected openings in the frame are filled with mirror panels, that capture partial reflections of the lawn, shrubs and trees all around, and of visitors themselves as they move through.  The structure complicates the landscape, weaving fleeting micro-views into a lush, cinematic spectacle.

What’s most remarkable about the piece is how quiet its forms are.  With its platonic, cube-like proportions and skeletal skin, it looks like the diagram of a structure more than a structure itself.  Its materials, which can be found at a lumber yard, give it the feeling of an apparatus rather than an artwork.  And it doesn’t interfere with the ground, touching it only along the bottom edges.  As both an artist and an architect, Kawiaka has an admirably light touch.  Without minimal means, she has fashioned a structure with an fine, complex presence.

“Fractured Reflections” by Karolina Kawiaka. 2014.  Galvanized steel and scrap mirror.  Photograph courtesy of Karolina Kawiaka and the Helen Day Art Center.


Sep 14
FALLING MEN
An opinion piece in today’s (September 14, 2014) Times, which describes (and endorses) the way one can fall in love with a work of art, is illustrated with this Garry Winogrand photograph of a man falling off a building.  I was stunned by its uncanny resemblance to The Falling Man, the famous AP photograph of a man falling from the top of the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Both images show the men in virtually the same position: upside down, facing the building, with arms flailing and legs bent.
Of course the context is dramatically different.  Winogrand’s man is a performer, falling off of a low ledge, with three other men dressed as bellhops watching admiringly, and a bin of crushed paper to cushion his landing.  The 9/11 falling man hovers high above the ground, but the striped skin of the Twin Towers behind him is instantly recognizable, and his fate is clear.  Just days after marking another anniversary of the event, seeing Winogrand’s falling man, and reading the lighthearted piece accompanying it, which makes no reference to the other photograph, is chilling.  Each time I look at Winogrand’s falling man I can only see the 9/11 falling man, who conjures violence and sadness.
“New York, 1950s,” by Garry Winogrand.  Credit The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

FALLING MEN

An opinion piece in today’s (September 14, 2014) Times, which describes (and endorses) the way one can fall in love with a work of art, is illustrated with this Garry Winogrand photograph of a man falling off a building.  I was stunned by its uncanny resemblance to The Falling Man, the famous AP photograph of a man falling from the top of the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Both images show the men in virtually the same position: upside down, facing the building, with arms flailing and legs bent.

Of course the context is dramatically different.  Winogrand’s man is a performer, falling off of a low ledge, with three other men dressed as bellhops watching admiringly, and a bin of crushed paper to cushion his landing.  The 9/11 falling man hovers high above the ground, but the striped skin of the Twin Towers behind him is instantly recognizable, and his fate is clear.  Just days after marking another anniversary of the event, seeing Winogrand’s falling man, and reading the lighthearted piece accompanying it, which makes no reference to the other photograph, is chilling.  Each time I look at Winogrand’s falling man I can only see the 9/11 falling man, who conjures violence and sadness.

“New York, 1950s,” by Garry Winogrand. Credit The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.


Sep 5
MODERN RELICSWhile its purpose is to track the original furniture from Le Corbusier’s government buildings in Chandigarh, India, Amie Siegel’s film Provenance might be more stirring as a portrait of the buildings themselves, nearly sixty years after they were built.  To set the scene, passages show exteriors and interiors of the Secretariat, Assembly and High Court buildings, which were designed, in the 1950’s, as the heart of the new state capitol.
After decades of heat and rain, and no particular concern for scrubbing them clean, the buildings’ facades are mottled with grit and mold.  Feral monkeys crawl up and down them.  Special piers and partitions that were painted in glossy primary colors, intended as architectural grace notes, are dull.  These ultra-modern buildings have given themselves over to time and to the elements; they have a weathered, ancient cast.
Out of necessity, most of the interior spaces seem to have been overcrowded or repurposed to meet current needs.  Cars are parked in shaded ground floor walkways.  Small offices have been crammed with grey cubicles and padded rolling chairs, and hallways with metal filing cabinets.  The most outstanding feature of the buildings, their brise soleil, the immense concrete screens that block sunlight and break their monstrous, blocks-long facades into deep, dynamic micro-rhythms, have been clotted with window fans, air conditioning units, wire mesh and curtains fashioned from old saris. 
None of this dims the sculptural excitement of the architecture.  One moves inside, through the grilles, into cavernous, multi-story atriums animated with dappled light.  Ramps and stairs carry shuffling government servants through forests of slender columns and beams.  The pan shots Siegel uses throughout the film (hypnotically slow, sliding consistently from left to right) capture the composition of the spaces clearly and also erotically, instilling desire.  These are buildings of considerable beauty.  They’ve lost their luster, and most of their furnishings, but their grandeur remains intact.
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec..,

MODERN RELICS

While its purpose is to track the original furniture from Le Corbusier’s government buildings in Chandigarh, India, Amie Siegel’s film Provenance might be more stirring as a portrait of the buildings themselves, nearly sixty years after they were built.  To set the scene, passages show exteriors and interiors of the Secretariat, Assembly and High Court buildings, which were designed, in the 1950’s, as the heart of the new state capitol.

After decades of heat and rain, and no particular concern for scrubbing them clean, the buildings’ facades are mottled with grit and mold.  Feral monkeys crawl up and down them.  Special piers and partitions that were painted in glossy primary colors, intended as architectural grace notes, are dull.  These ultra-modern buildings have given themselves over to time and to the elements; they have a weathered, ancient cast.

Out of necessity, most of the interior spaces seem to have been overcrowded or repurposed to meet current needs.  Cars are parked in shaded ground floor walkways.  Small offices have been crammed with grey cubicles and padded rolling chairs, and hallways with metal filing cabinets.  The most outstanding feature of the buildings, their brise soleil, the immense concrete screens that block sunlight and break their monstrous, blocks-long facades into deep, dynamic micro-rhythms, have been clotted with window fans, air conditioning units, wire mesh and curtains fashioned from old saris. 

None of this dims the sculptural excitement of the architecture.  One moves inside, through the grilles, into cavernous, multi-story atriums animated with dappled light.  Ramps and stairs carry shuffling government servants through forests of slender columns and beams.  The pan shots Siegel uses throughout the film (hypnotically slow, sliding consistently from left to right) capture the composition of the spaces clearly and also erotically, instilling desire.  These are buildings of considerable beauty.  They’ve lost their luster, and most of their furnishings, but their grandeur remains intact.

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec..,


Sep 3
SEATING ARRANGEMENTS
Amie Siegel’s 40-minute art film Provenance traces the history of the simple, wood-framed, leather-cushioned chairs, tables and stools that furnished the capitol buildings of Chandigarh, India in the 1950’s.  They were designed by the buildings’ architects, Le Corbusier and Charles Jeanneret, with mid-century modern stylings that are, today, incredibly fashionable.  The film shows us these pieces (battered, broken, scratched) in place in the government buildings, in the French workshops where they are taken (not without protest) to be restored, and, finally, in the lofts, townhouses and yachts where they land after they are sold through international auction houses, for tens of thousands of dollars each.
As the film’s title implies, the pieces carry considerable aura.  Each one was cataloged in Chandigarh with a unique number that’s hand-painted in a florid script, in white paint, on its side.  During the refinishing process these numbers are preserved to attest to their authenticity.  But after their frames are stripped and stained and their upholstery remade, how “authentic” are they?  Slipper chairs originally covered in orange and blue leather are remade in crushed white linen for a loft in Antwerp and pony-printed cow hide for a house in the Hamptons.  Wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper (and more ethical, too) to simply reproduce the pieces?
In the movie we see unused chairs and tables in Chandigarh piled, uncovered, in storage spaces and on the roofs of the buildings.  There are couches whose upholstery has been patched with duct tape, chairs whose legs have split and been nailed hastily back together, and tables whose tops are burned from coffee cups.  It’s sad that they’re being spirited away for western collectors. And sadder still that they weren’t treasured by their original owners.
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec.

SEATING ARRANGEMENTS

Amie Siegel’s 40-minute art film Provenance traces the history of the simple, wood-framed, leather-cushioned chairs, tables and stools that furnished the capitol buildings of Chandigarh, India in the 1950’s.  They were designed by the buildings’ architects, Le Corbusier and Charles Jeanneret, with mid-century modern stylings that are, today, incredibly fashionable.  The film shows us these pieces (battered, broken, scratched) in place in the government buildings, in the French workshops where they are taken (not without protest) to be restored, and, finally, in the lofts, townhouses and yachts where they land after they are sold through international auction houses, for tens of thousands of dollars each.

As the film’s title implies, the pieces carry considerable aura.  Each one was cataloged in Chandigarh with a unique number that’s hand-painted in a florid script, in white paint, on its side.  During the refinishing process these numbers are preserved to attest to their authenticity.  But after their frames are stripped and stained and their upholstery remade, how “authentic” are they?  Slipper chairs originally covered in orange and blue leather are remade in crushed white linen for a loft in Antwerp and pony-printed cow hide for a house in the Hamptons.  Wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper (and more ethical, too) to simply reproduce the pieces?

In the movie we see unused chairs and tables in Chandigarh piled, uncovered, in storage spaces and on the roofs of the buildings.  There are couches whose upholstery has been patched with duct tape, chairs whose legs have split and been nailed hastily back together, and tables whose tops are burned from coffee cups.  It’s sad that they’re being spirited away for western collectors. And sadder still that they weren’t treasured by their original owners.

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec.


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