28 December 2009

An exchange on maps and Matta-Clark (made public)

Following is a brief exchange of comments between Andrew Raimist (author) and Steve Patterson (Urban Review STL blogger) regarding the beauty and efficacy of Sanborn maps.

Andrew Raimist
I love these old Sanborn maps.

I have to watch myself when I go into the site with the maps because it may turn into a 3-4 hour trip.

yes, i know exactly what you mean.

have you seen the Fake Estatescreated by Gordon Matta-Clark he researched such boundary maps to find left-over slivers of unclaimed property and purchased and documented them.

Is that part of the current exhibit [at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts]?

yes, absolutely. he bought spaces that are 8" x 100' and photographed them, as well as inaccessible spaces trapped between lots.

I've thought about doing that before. I was thinking more the rant against our city govt than an artistic statement.

in my opinion, his work was grounded in social and political criticism presented in the context of art. not so much as objects of aesthetic appreciation as critical tools for unveiling the stupidity and blindness of our institutions.

21 December 2009

Mid-Century Modern Design . . . for Kids !

Kid Made Modern  
By Todd Oldham
Published by Ammo.
Length: 192 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-934429-36-5.
Intended audience: Age 8 & up (& up!).

This activity / craft / art book is inspired by the great Mid-Century modern designers — including Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Girard, and Charles & Ray Eames — as the basis for dozens of creative activity.  Tutorials introduce particular techniques including full-color photos of kids engaged in these creative activities.

Designer Todd Oldham shares his love of mid-century design ideas and transforms them into creative, colorful, and thought-provoking projects for kids.  Oldham was originally a couture fashion designer with boutiques in New York and a commentator on MTV's House of Style.  Oldham has designed dorm room furnishings for Target.  He's presently developing a television program based on his earlier book Handmade Modern.

This book features the use of inexpensive, recycled, and easily accessible materials for the projects.  Easy step-by-step instructions illustrated with photographs makes this a great source for creative inspiration during the cold, blustery days of winter.  The book is ostensibly a craft project book encouraging children to produce their own handmade art, it simultaneously introduces them to the greats of modern American design of the last century.

If you click on this sentence, you can download the pattern pages for creating a Noguchi-esque paper cut-out sculpture.

Kid Made Modern includes projects inspired by Alexander Calder, Jack Lenor Larsen, George Nelson, Paul Rand, and Mary & Russel Wright (in addition to the iconic designers noted above).

This inspirational do-it-yourself book could be a great gift for aspiring young artists.

re: Arch Grounds Design Competition

Following is a letter to the editor published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from architect Laurent Jean Torno, Jr. of Laurent Jean Torno, Jr. & Associates.
Open vigorous — not limited — competition for Arch grounds
That St. Louis and the National Park Service would contemplate a semi-closed competition based on a review of resumes and brain-picking is astonishing in its timidity and lack of confidence. This is an opportunity to unleash a vigorous and intense competition of ideas, open to all comers.

Eero Saarinen probably could not have submitted a compelling resume at the onset of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition, though his father, Ellel, might have. And Eliel Saarinen almost certainly would not have made a preselected list of finalists based on his resume for the Chicago Tribune Tower competition. His extraordinary second-place finish launched his very distinguished career in America.

Harris Armstrong was a fine St. Louis architect, but his resume would not have earned him a chance at the Jefferson Memorial competition. He was one of five prize winners, none renowned firms or individuals. Many major firms failed with their attempts.

Maya Lin won the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition as an architectural student. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Arch are two of the most elegant and profound monuments of the 20th century. Both resulted from competitions open to all, as was the Tribune Tower competition. The Flight 93 National Memorial and the Oklahoma City National Memorial pale in comparison.

No individual or elite group can divine which individual or firm embodies the most imaginative and creative talent.

Walter Metcalfe Jr., former Sen. John Danforth and other leaders of the effort to make the Gateway Arch grounds more exciting and accessible deserve our thanks for that vision and very considerable effort. It is time to raise that vision to another level: Prepare a succinct competition program, appoint a distinguished jury, sweep away the middle-men and unleash an intense and open competition of ideas. St. Louis and the National Park Service deserve nothing less.
Laurent Jean Torno Jr., University City
Laurent Jean Torno Jr. & Associates

I concur with many of Mr. Torno's comments.  A two stage competition with open submissions from a relatively widely defined group would be a much more inclusive an desirable beginning point.  For example, the pool of qualified applicants could include all registered architects, landscape architects and urban design professionals.  Submissions could be limited to designers in the United States or could be extended internationally.  Prizes could be offered for the best designs with the guarantee only that they be included in the final round of submissions along with other preselected candidates.

View from the Arch

An exhibition, conference and publication of the results of such a competition could have many benefits to the design community in general, Saint Louis in particular, and the Arch Grounds most importantly!

17 December 2009

Matta-Clark's Bingo :: gallery talk

Gordon Matta-Clark is one of my heroes.  He had the balls, brains and brawn to physically attack buildings and to forever alter our perception of building demolition, its inherently stimulating, fascinating nature, as well as the social, political and economic implications of the progressive aspects of modernist urban planning (aka, urban renewal).

When I heard this exhibition was coming to the Pulitzer Foundation I was truly excited.  I'd read about his project Splitting from the early 1970s many years ago while an architecture student at Washington University in Saint Louis.  His simple act of slicing a house in half was alternately confounding and exciting.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect at the opening, but was thoroughly impressed and energized by the work on display.  It was a great event where I met several friends and made some new ones.  The Pulitzer's web communications specialist Amy Broadway had a small Flip mino on a tripod that she used to record visitor's thoughts and reactions to the show.  She noticed me chattering away up on the balcony overlooking the main gallery and stopped by to capture my architecture-related ramblings.

In the past, I've avoided being "on camera", preferring to be the one looking through the lens capturing images.  This brief encounter with speaking into a surprisingly diminutive black plastic device offered me a much more positive, exhilarating experience especially when compared to the massive black and white television studio cameras I'd used way back in high school when exploring my AV interests.

When the Pulitzer asked if I'd be interested to speak about one of the pieces on display as part of their "Frame of Reference" series I was simultaneously flattered and excited.  I immediately knew the piece I was most fascinated by was Bingo represented by three wall sections in the main gallery along with a series of photographs documenting the sequence of Matta-Clark's deliberate carving into the side wall of that red sided house.  His decision to leave the central square remaining, hanging in space, after having removed the eight other wall sections surrounding was wonderfully playful and insightfully critical.

I interpreted the nine-square grid Matta-Clark superimposed on the house in light of the architectural theory/propaganda he learned while a student at Cornell University's School of Architecture during the 1960s.  One of the chief theorists at the school was Colin Rowe, a writer and critic famous for his essay "The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa" (1947) which related the abstract grids behind Palladio's Classical villas from the time of the Renaissance and Le Corbusier's 20th century modernist villas.

16 December 2009

SLAM expansion is back on !

The David Chipperfield designed addition to the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park is now back on track.  The 200,000 sf black modernist addition will have its ground-breaking ceremony on Tuesday 19 January 2010.  John D. Weil, president of the Museum's Board of Commissioners commented via press release, "This expansion is our generation's contribution to the future of this great St. Louis institution."

This expansion will increase the museum's gallery and public spaces by 30% and more than double the parking available.  A below ground 300 car parking garage will be located below the addition which will be situated on a landscaped plinth.  The building will feature a fully accessible entrance on its north facade overlooking Fine Arts Drive.

The building cost has been established at $130.5 million.  In addition, a $30.5 million endowment will be provided resulting in a total cost of $161 million dollars.  The museum already has $145 million commitments and will raise the addition funds necessary for the expansion through private philanthropy, foundation support and proceeds from the sale of tax exempt bonds.  While funding from taxes are critical to the museum's operation, no tax monies will be used for the museum expansion.

The building's design follows an open plan, with natural daylighting throughout.  Wings extend out in all directions while the connection points to the existing Cass Gilbert designed structure have been sensitively and deliberately designed to minimize the potential for incompatible, inappropriate disjunctions.  This course is wise, honest and direct.  The earlier addition to the museum designed by Venturi Rauch Scott Brown seemed to have been thoughtfully and deliberately respectful to the original Beaux-Arts structure, however, the lack of a direct visual link above ground created some awkward spatial conditions where the circulation intersects adjacent to the Museum Shop and Cafe.  In addition, their decision to remain detached visually and physically from the original building resulted in a truly ungainly, dysfunctional sculpture court surrounding an array of acrylic skylights.

The new Chipperfield design rightly contrasts sharply with the existing limestone and brick exterior of the original 1904 museum.  It features full height black polished concrete panels that include Missouri stone aggregate as well as full height glazing.  The honesty and directness of approach bodes well for the addition in contrast to the superficially decorated, modulated brick modernist office block the earlier addition ultimately became.

Watching the construction of this new museum addition will be a special opportunity for architecture, construction and art enthusiasts.  The project promises to be a jewel in Forest Park's landscape with its modest scale visually and its injection of new vitality to the areas south and east of Gilbert's historic structure.

13 December 2009

Leonie, the film

A forthcoming film of great interest to modern design enthusiasts this season is Leonie.  A portrait of Léonie Gilmour (played by Emily Mortimer) and her life in Japan raising her children Isamu and Ailes during the early decades of the century.  The film, presently in post-production, is directed and produced Matsui Hisako (松井久子).

Filming took place from April through mid July, 2009.  Shooting locations include in Kagawa, Japan, Santa Ynez, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana.  It is expected to be released in 2010.

Isamu's father Yonejiro Noguchi (野口米次郎 Noguchi Yonejirō) was a distant, detached figure during this period of their lives in Japan despite Leonie's critical support of his published writing when he was struggling to make a name for himself in the United States.  At that time, around the turn of the century, she was his editor, translator, lover and confidant.  Her support was essential in his efforts to present his writing to an English speaking audience.

One of Yone Noguchi's early successes was The American Diary of a Japanese Girl published in 1902 after being serialized in monthly installments during 1901.  It was purportedly the diary of a "Miss Morning Glory", but presented an outspoken, strong 18-year old woman visiting the US for the first time.  The book presented her as the antithesis of the image presented of Japanese woman popularized in stories such as Madame Butterfly.

Yone indicated his intention to marry Leonie before the end of 1903 on a plain sheet of paper, writing, "I declare that Leonie Gilmour is my lawful wife. (signed) Yone Noguchi."  Many years later wrote of his desire for a "young American Woman" in a poem:
With a young American woman,
I took a walk in New York's Central Park.
(It's now some twenty long years ago.)
"Let's walk in the dark, dark place, " I told her,
And we stepped in the shadow of the trees where no one passed by.
The chill of the winter night pierced by body,
I could not even hear the sound of the wind.
(Oh, how ashamed I am of my irresponsible curiosity.)
I told her of my love for her,
And I even promised her many things.
I squeezed her hand,
And touched it to my mouth.

Yone subsequently proposed to (and was rejected by) another American woman writer before leaving the US for Japan in 1904 when war erupted between Russia and Japan despite Leonie's recent pregnancy.  He left the US in August 1904.  Their son Isamu was born on 17 November 1904.

Leonie and Isamu moved to Japan in March 1907 following letters from Yone to Leonie requesting that they join him in Japan.  Unknown to Leonie, Yone had already married a Japanese woman with whom he had set up a household.  Thus begins the strange, conflicted story of Isamu Noguchi's life.

09 December 2009

Hang with Robert Irwin tonight !

Tonight White Flag Projects is hosting artist Robert Irwin with complimentary beer, wine and cocktails from 5 to 7pm! They are located at 7568 Manchester in Saint Louis, MO 63110.

If you're not familiar with Robert Irwin's work, consider . . .
• he began as a member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism

• worked with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham at Black Mountain College

• initiated key concepts of installation and site-specific environmental works

• was subject of cult classic Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

• designed Getty Center's Central Garden in stark contrast to Richard Meier's neo-modernist museum

02 December 2009

Matta-Clark talks | Sat 5 Dec

On the first Saturday of each month, the Pulitzer Foundation hosts four Frame-of-Reference in-gallery discussions. The current exhibition, Urban Alchemy / Gordon Matta-Clark, is the subject of the upcoming discussions this Saturday.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Pier In/Out.

This Saturday 5 December 2009 will feature four short discussions of Matta-Clark's work on display each beginning on the hour. This week's speakers include:
Francesca Herndon-Consagra, [12pm] Senior Editor, The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts will discuss Splitting: Four Corners.

Tom Tobias, [1pm] Art Teacher, Metro High School will discuss Garbage Wall.

Andrew Raimist, AIA, [2pm] Architect will discuss Bingo.

Joanne Kluba, [3pm] Pulitzer docent and book artist, will discuss Pier In/Out.

Chris Krehmeyer, [4pm] President/CEO of Beyond Housing will also speak.

The first installment of these talks (on Sat 7 Nov) included:
Emily Augsburger, Practicum Student for the partnership between the Pulitzer and George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, discussed Bingo.

B.J. Vogt, Artist/Adjunct Lecturer: Core Program, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art, Washington University in St. Louis discussed two sets of Matta-Clark works: Bronx Floors and Pier In/Out.

Serra Bording-Jones, Docent, The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, discussed Conical Intersect which is represented in the exhibition with a film documenting the project by Matta-Clark.

Peter MacKeith, Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Architecture, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts,Washington University in St. Louis, discussed Splitting: Four Corners. The Pulitzer's installation of this work is among the most powerful spatially, conceptually and experientially.

22 November 2009

Frederick Keisler Lamps

As part of the interior furnishings for Harris Armstrong's Shanley Building, Armstrong custom designed a chair of wood with woven straps reminiscent of Shaker furniture. As part of the carefully and deliberately staged photographs for publication, Armstrong contrasted the warmth of his chair with the sleek, cool chrome of Frederick Keisler floor lamps.

Two of the original Keisler lamps from the Shanley Building's waiting room are now being auctioned by Wright. The auction will begin at 10am PT on 8 December 2009.

Following are details from the item's listing:
designer: Frederick Kiesler floor lamp (Lot 219)

manufacturer: Rembrandt Lighting Company, USA, 1930/1935

materials: chrome-plated and enameled brass, chrome-plated steel

dimensions: 12 w x 35.5 d x 49 h inches

description: This lamp was part of the original furnishings of the 1935 Shanley Building in St. Louis, an International Style building awarded a silver medal at the 1937 Paris Exposition of Art and Technology and listed on the National Historic Register.

literature: Architectural Review, Vol. LXXXI, No. 484, March 1937, ppg. 137, 141 illustrate this lamp in situ Frederick Kiesler, Phillips, pg. 23 illustrates related form

provenance: Shanley Building, St. Louis | Dr. Leo M. Shanley, St. Louis | Thence by descent | Acquired from the Estate of Dr. Leo M. Shanley by the present owner
This auction addresses "Important Design". It is being handled by:
1440 West Hubbard Street
Chicago, Illinois 60642
This auction features many truly wonderful examples of design. Check it out !

14 November 2009

Matta de Matta

Following his graduation from Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, Gordon Matta-Clark began to tentatively explore human interaction with space and structure. His work in this period seems to derive from a desire to comment upon architecture, the human environment and its material basis. Some comments from his unprinted manifesto for an exhibition catalog of his largely performance-based works at Vassar College in upstate New York (such as Tree Dance, 1971) outline his initial motivating thoughts and ideas.

The first full paragraph of this statement of purpose deriving from his performance based works of the period between his graduation from Cornell University's College of Art and Architecture and his return to New York City in the early 70s reads:
Completion through removal. Abstraction of surfaces. Not-building, not-to-rebuild, not-built space. Creating spatial complexity, reading new openings against old surfaces. Light admitted into space or beyond beyond surfaces that are cut. Breaking and entering. Approaching structural collapse, separating the parts at the point of collapse. [emphasis added]
Matta-Clark's architectural sensibility is also evident in the visual language contained in the schematic diagrams directing the elements, actors, forms and movement for his presentation of Tree Dance. Portions of the diagram appear to use section and elevation details depicted in series, indicating change over time.

The sense of gravity and danger is a key aspect of such a performance. Extrapolating that sense of tension and anxiety to an architectural situation is in part how Matta-Clark was able to bridge from his origins relating to Land Art (via Smithson, Oppenheim, etc.) by initially instigating performance and action in the context of a natural structure, in this case a mature deciduous tree.
Although there may not be a direct causal relation between Matta-Clark's production with that of his father, Surrealist painter Roberto Matta, it can be instructive to view their art in relation to each other. For example Invasion of the Night (1941) embodies certain forms and associations with the natural landscape, floating bodies, and organically suggestive abstract objects.

These descriptive aspects of Matta's painting could also be attributed to this early work of his son Gordon Matta-Clark where he hangs suspended in space, wrapped in netting like a cocoon. The attribution of human qualities to this amorphous form contains the same sense of hesitancy and anxiety involved in interpreting many of Matta's forms in relation to the human figure.

Unfortunately, the father Matta did not see the value of his son's artist production, once taking an occasion to spit upon one in public.

30 October 2009

Surrealistic Home

Matta-Clark's origins in the practice of Surrealism are extensive and expansive. His father, Roberto Matta, was one of the foremost 20th Century practitioners of this mode of expression. His godfather was Marcel Duchamp with whom the family maintained close relations. His introduction to the artistic avant-garde began from his birth. In this portrait of Gordon as a baby, he's held up beside Alberto Giacometti's Hands Holding the Void (1935) as if his life would be inspired by the spirit of that same void.

Bingo involved the removal of sections of the side of a suburban home based upon a nine-square grid. Matta-Clark's hands drawing and sectioning the design over a photograph of the house is featured in his film entitled Bingo X Ninths (9:40 minute, Super-8, color, silent, 1974). This approach to applying geometry to architecture functions on multiple levels. Architects would certainly recognize the use of a nine square grid as a standard organizational device. His modernist influenced architectural training at Cornell University would have certainly touched upon this mode of geometrical subdivision and could be considered a tool of the elitist architect.

While Matta-Clark was likely highly conscious of this association to the traditional practice of architecture, but in particular its association with modernism and its application of abstract grids over the urban fabric. In a way, Bingo references this practice by demonstrating physically and metaphorically how the existing fabric of a community can be directly removed and erased. By using structures slated for demolition, he's effectively commenting on the tabula rasa approach employed in so many urban renewal projects.

Simultaneously, Matta-Clark is referencing the gridded form of a bingo card, a common form in the life of American suburban culture. In slicing the wall of this home in rectangular sections he reveals the inner life of the home, exposing it to the voyeuristic eye implemented of the camera (still and moving).

His sectioning of the facade drawn on a photograph is transferred to the building site itself and he removes one section after another, leaving the center in place. The apparently floating, unsupported slab of the wall is further detached from the house when a section of the staircase itself is removed.

The cantilevered portion of the central remaining portion of the facade suggests several interpretations. First, it brings to mind the modernist trope of suspending architectural elements in the air that appear to float in space. The manner in which half of the wood staircase was removed further isolates this element. Matta-Clark was conscious of the structural conditions and incorporated them into his "virtual board game." The potentially dangerous game he plays with seeing how far he can go removing elements of the structure without incurring a collapse is a significant factor in appreciating the layout, planning and execution of the incisions.

Where a board game is played on the flat horizontal surface, Matta-Clark creates a sort of billboard-like architectural analogue to game playing. A further connection with play is the tradition in the game of Bingo of providing a central red square as a free space.

A text panel in the film documenting the project explains that the removal of panels was accomplished one hour prior to the house's demolition. The end of the film features a bulldozer destroying the house in its entirety leaving the site a void.

Following is a video presenting the installation of a section of Bingo being installed at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in October 2009.