D R O W N   M E   I N   B E A U T Y
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
Posts tagged Edward Durell Stone
My first toehold in New York City was a summer internship during college at the public art gallery operated by the Department of Cultural Affairs. Both the Department and the gallery were housed at 2 Columbus Circle, the famous Edward Durell Stone building at the southwest corner of Central Park. It was built as a private museum in 1965, acquired by the city 1980, and then, with some controversy, sold in 2005 and renovated to house the Museum of Art and Design. For three months I sat at a desk on a narrow, cluttered balcony on the eighth floor, whose only ventilation and natural light was admitted through plate-sized portholes at the corners. I inspected sheets of slides submitted by artists and wrote rejection letters explaining that while their work was very, very good, we just wouldn’t be able to show it at the gallery. It was a job I was good at. And the great, ostentatious interior gave my endeavors a whiff of artistic authenticity. I wasn’t sure if the building was good, but I knew that it was architecture.
Last month I heard Hicks Stone, Edward Durell Stone’s son, speak about his father, who’s work he’s just commemorated in a monograph. Hicks is an architect too, and took great pains to compare his father’s work, building by building, to the work of more celebrated contemporaries like Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. Hicks was trying to legitimize his father’s work, which was considered too ornamental, too excessive, and just too bizarre to be part of the modern canon. While Hick’s efforts are poignant they’re disappointing, because he’s not looking entirely clearly at his father’s work. Right now, when we’re all mindlessly nostalgic about mid-century modernism, might be the perfect moment to look back at Stone’s work, which challenges the proprieties of High Modernism. Herbert Muschamp (who has unpacked the history of the building brilliantly) relates 2 Columbus Circle to the Venetian Gothic and to Ruskin. Whatever it’s fundamental failings (like lack of light and air), the structure has got drama and glamor in spades. It’s ultra-modern and also highly artistic. Thirty years ago Tom Wolfe, in From Bauhaus to Our House, upheld Stone as a great modern American architect who didn’t get his due. That’s still true.