This week is brought to you by this postcard I received of a giant cat in Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes. Thank you, Logan and JD!
Nate Boyce has two of his wonderfully strange constructions that combine video and sculpted metal installed on the third floor of Japantown's New People building. See them before the show closes tomorrow.
Anne McGuire was predictably amazing at SFMOMA last weekend performing alongside electronic musician Wobbly and a video doppelganger of herself. The museum's Stage Presencelive series continues to blow me away, and Cliff Hengst's performances this weekend are not to be missed either.
The Headlands talk about creating social space last weekend started late and so I was only able to stay for John Bela's and Yukiko Bowman's portions of it, but I'm sure Matilde Cassani was equally as fascinating as those first two based on what I've seen of her work. Now I'm very much looking forward to Sandra Ono's drop-in workshop on Sunday. Bioforms ahoy!
This week I finally made it to the Contemporary Jewish Museum's small-but-mighty group exhibition Do Not Destroy, worth seeing for Zadok Ben David's enchanting Blackfield installation alone. The show is themed around trees and has many other sublime moments too. It closes on September 9.
Meanwhile over in Oakland an old house at 1506 Peralta is currently filled top-to-bottom with art installations for the appropriately-named House Show. Many artists I like a whole lot are involved, including Facundo Argañaraz, Sarah Bernat, The Center For Tactical Magic, Matthew Draving, Aaron Harbour and Jackie Im, Cybele Lyle, and Zachary Royer Scholz. To say anything more would ruin some of the site-specific surprises, but do try to visit before the show closes next weekend and at night if you can.
I went to hear Vito Acconci lecture at Mills last night with one primary question in my head: How exactly did a performance artist probably best known for 1972's Seedbed, the piece in which he publicly masturbated under the floor of one of his gallery shows, decide to found a visionary architecture firm, Acconci Studio, which is still very much active today? But Acconci laid it out quite clearly over the course of his inspiring two-hour talk how he has always been interested in movement, whether the flow of words on the page in his early poetry or the motion of people in a room or building, and that it was Seedbed that even gave him his first thoughts about architecture. His performance art emphasized his interest in site-specificity and his belief that there are no universals in art, ideas that he continued to expand upon in his installations in the '70s in which he attempted to construct "people-space". So from there it was really no great cognitive leap to architecture and the formation of Acconci Studio in the late '80s. Acconci quickly ran us through the many ways the firm grapples with ideas of motion and change, from their design for a new World Trade Center pierced by holes to an enclosed street in Indianapolis that at night illuminates passers-through with their own personalized swarm of LED lights. He wryly noted that in architecture and design theories about space can be more important than actual space when many projects do not get built, but happily the Studio's realized designs include the gorgeous wave-like elevated subway station at Coney Island and also the artificial island in Graz pictured here. I was struck when Acconci pointed out that architecture is one of the only art forms that recognizes time and assumes eventual revision, that we haven't found the materials yet that won't degrade or need to be replaced, which is something I think about a lot as a preservationist who also adores bleeding-edge design. I did feel a little sad when they ripped down the old de Young, but I also get a physical thrill every time I walk into the new Herzog and de Meuron building. It just makes me happy they have room to display that massive Gerhard Richter in the atrium now.
One of the more curious occurrences in the architecture of modern cities is how everyone seems to want a ferris wheel, with giant structures currently in the works for Beijing, Berlin and of course Dubai. Stuart Jeffries talked to Jay Pender, commercial manager of World Tourist Attractions, about the appeal of the sky-high structures:
So what is the attraction? "There is something iconic about really big
wheels that gives the impression of modern go-ahead cities," says a
Visit Britain spokeswoman. "In places like York, a modern, gleaming big
wheel can complement the historic sites and architecture." "That's
true," says Pender. "We find that in places like Belfast they have
become symbols of resurgence, which is a nice thing to be associated
with. For instance, we're putting a 60m wheel up at the seafront in
Weston-super-Mare in May, which is just the thing the place needs after
the pier burned down last year. Even though they aren't designed as
permanent structures, people often want them to be permanent because
they become so fondly regarded."
Even the London Eye was supposed to be temporary, but it's still holding court there on the bank of the Thames. Though I adore a good view my fear of heights usually keeps my feet firmly planted on the ground, happy to leave other people to pay $30 to take a turn on the Eye or similar prices for other "observation wheels" around the world. However, I would someday like to ride the Volksprater Riesenrad Ferris Wheel in Vienna, the site of Orson Welles's famous speech in The
Third Man. I want to see the people scurrying around like ants from up there.
We lost way too many awesome people last week: McGoohan, Montalban, Mortimer and, architect of my dreams, Jan Kaplický. Born in Czechoslovakia, Kaplický fled the country after the Prague Spring and settled in London where he worked with Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano and Norman Foster. He founded the firm Future Systems in 1982 and then together with his partner and eventual wife Amanda Levete proceeded to design buildings and objects that are the absolute definition of futurism like the recent Selfridges building in Birmingham, the metal-clad exterior of which is pictured here. Steve Rose says the world will be a more boring place without Kaplický's singular vision in it:
Where Rogers, Foster and Piano tempered high-tech to the demands of the commercial market, Kaplický arguably remained "out there", dreaming up wonderfully fanciful projects that were closer to science fiction than dreary 1970s Britain: movable houses that perched on slender steel legs like insects, or rose out of the ground like giant sandworms, not to mention concept cars and homeware that wouldn't have looked out of place on the set of Kubrick's 2001. Where Rogers and Foster were hard-edged and pragmatic, Kaplický was fluid and organic, curvaceous and sensual. His designs might have been more wildly unfeasible than the others, but they were equally influential, and usually more interesting.
Robert Booth reveals that the stress from the still-unresolved struggle over whether Kaplický's plan for the new national library in Prague will be realized might have contributed to his death, and it certainly will be a damn shame if they don't build it now. For pictures of that design (and other amazing structures by Kaplický) please click here, and also don't miss the lovely obituary by Deyan Sudjic.
You can tell a lot about a country from its embassies, as evidenced in a new online gallery. The United States embassy in Baghdad, pictured right, has a distinctly fortress-y appearance and speaks volumes about my country's attitude under the Bush administration about our engagement there. The Danish embassy in London, by contrast, is a prime example of elegant Scandinavian design, the sleek Arne Jacobsen building maintaining its individuality while respectfully nodding to its surroundings. Unsurprisingly my hands-down favorite in this series is the Netherlands embassy in Addis Ababa, which manages a thoughtfully modern interpretation of Ethiopia's famous ancient rock churches. Dutch design: always awesome.
What was it, though, that has drawn so many to Palladio, from Italy,
Britain, the US and even, in the 21st century, China? In clinical
terms, the answer is that he offered a practical, perfectly
proportioned, unpretentious form of classical design that could be
pressed into elegant service for many different types of buildings. But
the answer chiefly lies within the experience of the buildings
themselves. Palladio transformed pure geometry into gracious, useful
buildings in carefully considered settings. Stand in a room by Palladio
- any formal room will do - and you will experience the feeling, both
calming and elevating, of being centred not just in architectural
space, but in yourself.
I have not yet had the opportunity to stand inside any of Palladio's buildings, though some day I will visit Venice (for the Biennale perhaps?) and just drink them all in. However, I observe his influence every time I visit London, as Bloomsbury is chock full of gorgeous architecture created by his followers the Palladians. You can see some examples of those buildings as well as Palladio's own work in Italy in the online gallery here.
Britain's National Trust has just a few days left to raise the remainder of the funds needed to purchase Seaton Delaval Hall, a genuine baroque masterpiece in England's Northumberland county designed in 1718 by John Vanbrugh. The house has a rich history, and the Trust is taking input from residents of the region for how they would like to see it used, though if they miss the year-end deadline and the property goes on the open market its future would be much more uncertain. I'm rooting hard for the Trust, and in the meantime taking a virtual ramble through Seaton Delaval's moody corridors thanks to the online gallery here. There are some neat videos on the National Trust site as well.
Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect with buildings in Kuwait City and Mallorca but most famous for the Sydney Opera House, died last week of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 90. The Opera House is widely recognized as a classic of modern architecture, but Utzon never actually saw the completed building after infighting and scandal led him to resign from the project and leave Australia for good in 1966. In an interview with Katherine Brisbane that first appeared in 1970 Utzon described how he came up with the breathtaking design:
"It is typical Sydney. Because the site is one you go around, and even sail around, the building needed to be a sculpture, so I spread the two theatres, instead of putting them in a box, and put sails over them to keep the feeling of being on the sea. Underneath I placed this big platform fitting beautifully on the peninsula, repeating the effect of walking on the heads of Sydney harbour. When you see a hill before you, you want to climb up it, and so I put the wide steps in front of people leading into the foyer. "If I had finished the building I would have carried through this sense of movement. It is treating space like music, almost nonexistent today in architecture."
In 1999 Utzon was commissioned to put his design principles for the Opera House on paper, the better to guide future conservation efforts and updates. So even though he's gone now there's a healthy chance tweaks to the building will eventually restore Utzon's complete original vision. See photos of Utzon and the construction of the Opera House in the gallery here.
A children's hospital in Brighton has this year beaten out buildings such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Young Vic to take Britain's Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award. The Royal Alexandra children's hospital, known to its friends as the Alex, first opened in 1881 but used the opportunity offered by a recent move to a new space to brighten its design and take advantage of increased floor area. The result is a building filled with light and air and where every room has a view of the sea and trundle beds for parents. The Guardian has some lovely pictures, and also talked to hospital executive Duncan Selbie:
"Now they have the space, facilities and equipment to provide a vast
range of clinical and therapeutic services in an environment skillfully
designed to accommodate 21st-century healthcare."
No Brighton tack here! Yeah and not bad for what some people in America would call a socialist health care system.