Archive for September, 2008

In L.A. County, a Mayne goes up, a Gehry comes down


Thom Mayne and Morphosis’ new $50 million home for astronomers, the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech in Pasadena. Though not yet open, the building already appeals to me more than does much of the work of Morphosis. Mayne seems to be softening, here and at his La Phare tower in Paris. This work is less aggressive, more contextual, even beautiful the way the sun hits the ochre, Italian-ish panels. I like how he brings natural light in to the lower level. The interior will have stairwells and other areas designed to cause random interaction between the scientists working there.

This all gives me hope for Morphosis’ new academic building at Cooper Union in NYC which we know will be interesting on the interior. But that one has the mesh metal facade that Mayne / Morphosis seem to favor. They’ve softened it up, compared to their earlier work but it still risks being too hard and sharp for an urban environment.

In Pasadena, much of the budget went to provide special conditions for the laboratories, and of course to safeguard it all in the event of an earthquake. Why do so many L.A. buildings look as if the quake already hit? I guess I answered my own question.

While the Mayne goes up…. remember

Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica Place mall from 1980, renovated in 1991 and again in 1996?

Kiss it good-bye.

To be replaced by next year with a new mall designed by the Jon Jerde partnership.

Gehry’s adjacent gridded parking lot remains

at least for now. That’s the one with – on the other side – “Santa Monica Place” writ large in the chain link.

(Blocked by trees. Ah, what architects suffer!) Santa Monica Place was not Gehry’s greatest work but I’d have liked to have seen him design the new mall on this site.

Well, as they’d say in L.A., the glory of Santa Monica Place will live on forever in film and TV such as Pretty in Pink, Terminator 2 and Beverly Hills 90210.

Viva! Studs Terkel


Friends in Chicago tell me that Studs is soon to pass. Sing a spiritual. He would.

Studs is now 96. As a Chicagoan I grew up with Studs Terkel on the radio. He taught me about the voices of the world, and to listen to everybody, because everybody’s got a story, and everybody here is a part of this American experiment, and those elsewhere have much to teach us. He showed me that war is crazy and music is life and voices are musical and when music and voices are paired, it’s magic. His daily one hour interview show introduced me to Mahalia Jackson and Maria Callas, Big Bill Broonzy and Bob Dylan, Bertrand Russell and Nelson Algren; plus countless actors and authors and civil rights leaders and those were the times. Most importantly he taught me to care, with all my being, and to show it.

I never saw Studs without a book, almost always several. He lambastes the cultural amnesia in America. He can remember conversations he’s had decades earlier, or plays he’s seen, or concerts he’s heard. And his stories of them bring the long gone performance back to life as Studs infuses it again with his energy.

Author of Hard Times and Division Street: America; Talking to Myself and in 2001 – Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith and many other books, he loves to tell the story of the librarian who wanted to ban his book Working, because she read the spine wrong and saw Working Studs! He would cackle, certain that small-mindedness is wrong and certain that once again he was right. He holds his convictions firmly. I always heard he’d been blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Loving politics and justice and art and human foibles, Studs lived more than most and he remembered what he’d seen and he loved to talk about it. He was known as a great listener but I’ve always thought he was a better talker. He appreciated the past, lived in the present, and looked forward. Seeing Studs in his apartment on the north side of Chicago – where he lived with his wife Ida, (who passed away in 1999,) was odd when he was older because he had more youth and exuberance than most young people, he loved to talk about the future, and there you were in a lovely apartment that looked like a 1960’s place – with the Scandinavian furniture and shelves full of vinyl records and Marimekko type design. Of course it was filled with loads of new books. I hope his home will be documented, it will tell future generations much about the love of books and the life of a twentieth century lefty intellectual.

His is a life well-lived. I remember seeing Studs at the theater, in bars watching baseball games and rooting enthusiastically, almost exactly three years ago I watched him and Garrison Keillor recite some of their favorite poems to each other, in a radio studio. Their mutual respect was clear. They played off of each other and yet, each a ham, each wanted to outdo the other. Two grown men, dueling, and at the same time expressing affection, with poems. In 1999 I saw Studs at a poetry reading, I wished him well and he fiercely proclaimed that he wanted to make it to see the 21st century. He said it the way Muhammed Ali used to say he wanted to win a fight.

Studs did enter the new millennium, but by 2005 his ticker was giving out. So, at age 93, he went for open-heart surgery. He pulled through very well and amazed his friends and doctors. Now, I know he wants to see Barack Obama become President. And maybe he will.

Studs closed his radio show, and signed books with “Take it easy, but take it.” It’s a quote from another of his political and artisitic heroes- Woody Guthrie. Take it easy Studs. You took it.

Beloved Mahalia Jackson sings in “Move on Up a Little Higher,”

It will be always howdy howdy
It will be always howdy howdy
It will be always howdy howdy
and never goodbye

We gonna live on forever
We gonna live on, up in Glory afterwhile
Move On Up A Little Higher!

Send Studs Terkel your best wishes. I’m sure that even though in recent years he is as he says, “deaf as a post” – Studs still hears humanity.

The website for Studs Terkel.
A video of a conversation between Studs and Andrew Patner.
Roger Ebert on How Studs helps me lead my life.
Saint Studs by David Murray

And here’s Mahalia for you Studs


Fabulous. Frank Lloyd Wright on "What’s My Line?"


Wright, almost 89 years old on June 3, 1956 looks a little bored, although he does “twinkle” at the applause, when they introduce him as

I love it when one of the panelists asks if their mystery guest (FLW) works for a profit-making organization! I wish Wright had had the chance to answer.

And the question about whether his work involves the law is very funny.

Once he’s named, and asked what he’s worked on recently, Wright responds,

“…just built a tower on the Western prairies, the Price Tower. I wish you could see it. I’m quite pleased with it. I wish we had a photograph of it here, I’d like the panel to see it. Make sure they haven’t wasted their ‘guest time.'”

Ah yes, the modesty of the “World Famous Architect,”

Frank Gehry and "Ungapatchket"


I’ve seen a little written about

Frank Gehry’s installation at the current Venice Biennale.

But nothing about its wonderful name. He calls it Ungapatchket.

Man, I should be a millionaire by now. Everything I created as a child I was told was
Ungapatchket. Well actually, Ongepotchket.

It’s Yiddish for “messed up. Thrown together. Not carefully assembled. Or, excessively decorated.”

I know Frank Gehry, aka Ephraim Goldberg harzs Yiddish. When I interviewed him about

the open trellis he designed to go in front of his bandshell in Millennium Park in Chicago, and I asked him what Chicagoans will do when it rains, because unlike in L.A. it rains often and a lot in Chicago, Gehry told me, “They didn’t want to spend the money for a retractable cover, so, you’ll throw a schmata over it!” Yiddish for rag.

And on that same trip he told the New York Times,

Over an egg-white omelet at the Ritz cafe (whose ornate decor he dismissed as ”ongepotchket,” or excessively embellished), Mr. Gehry said he was tantalized by the chance to work in Chicago, ”the architecture city of America.”

For the record: Ongepotchket

An adjective based on a past participle, of the verb ‘onpatshken’, to sully. The stem of the verb is Slavic, and the prefix is Germanic, cognate with German an-. The differences in spelling reflect both the various ways of spelling Yiddish words with Roman letters, as well as differences in dialect — ‘un’ is southern, and ‘on’ is northern. According to the YIVO system used by scholars to write Yiddish words with Roman letters, the word is spelled ‘ongepatshket.’ but other spellings can be fine.

As a side note, the same Slavic root gives rise to another less common Yinglish word, ‘potchkey,’ meaning to fiddle around.

Maybe that’ll be the next piece by Gehry. Potchkey.

Photo: Frank Gehry Ungapatchket
2008, Photo Giorgio Zucchiatti, © Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia

Dancing on Gehry


Click on one of the photos.

From the New York Times listing: NOÉMIE LAFRANCE The site-specific choreographer Noémie Lafrance might just have found her holy grail in the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. Her “Rapture” will not take place in it, but on it, with dancers traveling across the voluptuous surface using a sophisticated rigging system. (Through Oct. 5.) At 7 p.m., Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.; (845) 758-7900,; $25.

How will she follow this up? By tackling Gehry buildings around the world, of course.


Will we lose another Frank Lloyd Wright house?


When I was a kid, following the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and John Kennedy, and in the tumult that followed, I felt unsettled.

I used to walk up to the Ravine Bluffs development designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, to see the houses there. They seemed so comfortable where they stood. They seemed a part of the land, a natural outcropping of the place.

I used to just stand there and look at them and find peace.

Now, one of Wright’s Ravine Bluffs houses is in danger.

Current Condition and/or Status: The house has been vacant for two years and has fallen into disrepair. Last winter, the heating pipes burst which has caused further damage.

Potential Threat: The property is for sale and is being marketed for the house “as is” or the land, which is less than a quarter-acre site. If torn down, it would be the first intact Wright house to be demolished in the United States in over 30 years.

What You Can Do: Click here.

Someone would tear this beauty down?

We’ve got to find a way to save it.

Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps the greatest artist America has ever produced, in any medium. Up there with Louis Armstrong and Walt Whitman and Martha Graham.

A creator of beautiful worlds.

Find a way to save it. Well-being depends on it.

Build me an art crusher


A modest proposal. Since these

glossy, junky works by Jeff Koons will soon fill
Mies van der Rohe’s distinguished New National Gallery in Berlin

Can we ratchet down the roof on them?

A good use for an art museum. To crush bad art put inside of it.

I recently wasted an hour at the Jeff Koons exhibition in Chicago (closing September 21). It was far too much time to spend there. You can learn more about life today – and have a better time – by simply walking through the aisles of your local supermarket. Then I saw the same damn works by Jeff Koons again at BCAM in Los Angeles. Yes, they’re commodities.

Large, colorful and shiny, Koons’ stuff looks like it might have something to say, but after even a moment, boredom sets in and you’re ready to move on to the next piece of glitz in his charm bracelet of an oeuvre. Walking through a Koons exhibition is like clicking the remote on daytime TV cartoons and soap operas.

A Koons piece might be cute, but not clever. Funny, but not witty. It might be about sex, but not sexy. He offers a shallow youth-obsessed culture and status symbols to play with. Spending time with his baubles makes me feel like a sucker.

I agree with Tom Freudenheim’s estimation of Jeff Koons in the Wall Street Journal.
Tom and I spoke of Koons while walking to the Bernini show now at the Getty Center in Los Angeles (Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture – through October 26.) Once there, it was tragic to think of Jeff Koons, so we didn’t, and life improved.

The Bernini exhibition is a miracle. Drawings and bronzes and marbles (hand-made! Artists actually used to do that!) You meet the characters in Bernini’s 17th century neighborhood – the Vatican. You get to know them, their worries and their joys. Some of the heads seem to want to lean over and whisper an old joke in your ear. The sculptor showed off, in the best of all ways. With a prodigious talent and a profound curiosity about the human condition and the human drama and where our deepest emotions lead us

(That vein in the marble is more beautiful than anything in Jeff Koon’s polished plastic surgery world.)

Bernini shows how emotions and soul are displayed on our faces, our hands, the clothes we wear, in our medals and postures, in the breath in our chests that comes out through the mouths he sculpts whose lips are always in stopped motion and whose eyes tend to yearn.

In Bernini’s portraits of Popes and Cardinals and Kings wealthy businessmen and his mistress, you are pushed back as a viewer by their ambitions, seen in the ways they hold power in their bodies.

You can tell after while which of the leaders is a fraud. Which stand for good and which don’t. One or two of the powerful men in marble simply would not look at me, no matter where I stood.

These works are displayed without protective glass, in a gorgeous installation that evokes Bernini’s era and milieu. It is a true wonder to see up close, enough Berninis to follow his development, and not so many that you’re overloaded, as happens in Italy. The number of sculptures allows us to see the range of human emotions. Bernini, despite the hypocrisy of his age, retained faith in humanity.

In this day when elitism is condemned, it’s good to remember what good it can bring us. Koons and Bernini both needed patrons. That hasn’t changed. The quality of the thought and the art has. Bernini’s complexity raises questions and takes positions. You know that the thinks that Thomas Baker, the English businessman who could pay more than a king for a portrait by Bernini, is simply a buffoon. You see this in the way Bernini lays his mop of a coif’ on top of his blank eyes.

There’s not much inside. It’s all for show. Self-love is empty. Would that Jeff Koons would take such a stand!

If you’re in L.A. see Bernini. If you’re in Berlin, huff and puff and hope the roof falls.

Top two Bernini photographs courtesy of the Getty
Third and fourth Bernini photographs: Monica Almeida/The New York Times, which has a wonderful slideshow and review by Holland Cotter.

Bottom Bernini photo of Thomas Baker: Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England


And that’s when it’s dry


“I cannot help but note that to enter Mies’ house, you must lift yourself lightly, without stepping on the floor, like the Tibetan Lamas when they levitate.”

Josep Llinas

See the ongoing preservation efforts here.

"Just when you thought it was safe to be a Modern Architect…"


Today in Arts News

Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House is still flooded

and they’re desperately seeking funds to restore and reopen this masterpiece. The house is said to smell like dead fish. The National Trust and Landmarks Illinois would love it if you could please send even $25.

In other Arts News today, a version of a Damien Hirst shark

sold for $17 million dollars.

What’s wrong with this picture? Which one do you think is worth more?

This will break your heart


Click on it to see it even bigger. To see how wet it is inside. I believe this photo was taken on Monday.

The scene is so wicked it reminds me that the Nazis – who didn’t like Mies’ modern architecture of steel and glass – used the word “aquarium” against him.

Help restore the Farnsworth House, here.

Here‘s a blog about the restoration efforts.