examples of Taliesin Square Papers from the Frank Lloyd Wright Library at Steinerag
Welcome to Better Read, an intermittent experiment at greg.org to transform art-related texts into handy, entertaining, and informative audio. This text is excerpts from a pamphlet essay by Frank Lloyd Wright, “In the Cause of Architecture: The “International Style” (Soft Cover), published by Taliesin Fellowship in February 1953. It would be the last of what were called the Taliesen Square Paper Series. The editorial was republished in the July 1953 issue of House Beautiful magazine with the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up.” Wright was 85 years old at the time, and he hated hated the International Style.
I could not find print copies of either of these publications available anywhere. Library holdings of House Beautiful are spotty and incomplete. When I tried the authoritative-seeming, five-volume Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, I also came up short. There are only five copies of Vol. 5 (1949-1959) listed in libraries in the US. How could this be? I ended up buying a used copy for a couple of bucks from Goodwill in Michigan, which turned out to have been deaccessioned by the library in a federal prison. Anyway, the text comes from there [pp. 66-69].
I wanted to find this text because it is the source of two popular zingers from Wright: the great opening line, “The ‘International Style’ is neither international, nor a style,” and saying supporters of modern architecture are not only totalitarians, fascists, or communists, they “are not wholesome people.” This line came up, for example, in a recent Atlas Obscura article about Hollin Hills, a nice but innocuous mid-century modernist subdivision near Washington DC.
I wanted to see the fuller context of Wright’s criticisms, partly because one of the objects of his scorn, the MoMA-affiliated architect Philip Johnson, was actually a Nazi and an aspiring leader of US fascism at one point. [I’ve come to think Johnson recognized the disadvantages of political affiliation for his real interest: himself and his career, and that his devotion for the rest of his life to establishment power was quite sincere, but that’s not the point right now.]
The main reason is because Wright’s communist and anti-modernist bogeymen sounded familiar, like they might resonate with the conservative or rightist campaigns against everything modern, from abstraction to Brutalism to Post-Modernism, to Tilted Arc to the Culture Wars, Wojnarowicz, you name it. Wright’s architecture has been generally assimilated into our historical narrative, but, I thought, it’s come at the cost of our understanding of the political context in which he created it, and from which he attacked those who didn’t ascribe to his own views, or pursue his particular agenda.
Anyway, Wright’s text is after the jump, or you can listen to the text read by a robot.
better_read_frank_lloyd_wright_intl_style_20160505.mp3 [dropbox greg.org, 18mb mp3, 13min or so]
A couple of weeks ago, David Dunlap looked back at the bad old days of Penn Station before the wrecking ball made it even worse.
And I found myself thinking the same thing as Michael Bierut, that Lewis Mumford’s “crowning horror,” a modernist, curved steel and glass ticket counter installed in 1956, was actually pretty sweet.
A quick search revealed the “clamshell,” as it was known, was designed by Lester Tischy, who had worked under Raymond Loewy.
In addition to designing the Coke bottle, Loewy was a consultant to the Pennsylvania Railroad. And as this 2011 Transit Museum exhibition of the history of Penn Station showed, Loewy filled the station’s main hall with photo murals to honor the 25,000+ railroad workers serving in the US armed forces during WWII.
The Times reported that the 40×25-ft headshots went up in February 1943. The photo above shows five, an engineer, a conductor, a soldier, sailor, and a marine. The paper said there were six, including a Red Cap porter. Also that models were used for all but the marine; so it would be interesting to know if the model for the Red Cap was black. Because that would be quite a monumental public depiction of an African American for 1943.
Penn Station’s History Lesson [archpaper]
The Renwick Gallery’s neon sign is utter garbage, and they’re defending it like it’s made of gold. It’s a ridiculous institutional embarrassment.
The Washington Post reports that the Smithsonian is concocting its own legal theories for stiffarming DC’s official preservationist fussbudgets, who are demanding the unapproved [and banal and tacky as hell] sign be removed immediately.
This groundless tantrum can only end badly. And for what? For WHAT? Some dumb slogan cooked up around some marketing department conference room, and then gee whizzed into existence at some misguided museum executive’s whim? This is the fight you’re going to pick, Smithsonian and Renwick?
Because it seems pretty clear where the Renwick got the idea for slapping a garish sign on a building: from Ugo Rondinone at the New Museum [lmao, Fred Bernstein sure hated the hell out of that sign, but wins for calling it “Hello, Kitschy.”]
Or from Martin Creed at Tate Britain.
Work No. 232, the whole world + the work = the whole world, 2000, installed on Tate Britain, image: kunstkritikk.no
Or from Martin Creed at the National Gallery of Scotland.
Ibid., image: contentcatnip
Or from Martin Creed at the Christchurch Art Gallery (NZ).
Work No. 2314, 2015, image: radionz.co.nz
The difference between these signs and the Renwick’s is everything. Can they not see that? Is that what craft is now: arty minus artists? This will not end well, but it should end soon.
Signs of rebellion? Renwick Gallery is flouting signage rules, groups contend [washingtonpost]
I was going to post an actual review of Kenneth Goldsmith’s new book, Capital, then the attacks in Paris happened. And then I thought I would write about Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, which served as inspiration for Goldsmith’s compendium. But I found the texts about Paris that fascinated Benjamin to be completely unhelpful for the situation I was in. I lived and worked between New York and Paris for several years until 2000. I embraced the 1999 edition of The Arcades Project as a map into my adopted city. And now that map felt out of date.
This is all too much information, though, for what I have decided to do, since no one really needs my warm take on a book that is, by design, nearly unreviewable, about a city, New York, that is equally impervious to encapsulation.
So here is a mashup of Capital and The Arcades Project, excerpting texts from whatever page I turn to, in turn. Benjamin first, p. 306:
Baudelaire’s fatalism: “At the time of the coup d’état in December, he felt a sense of outrage. ‘What a disgrace!’ he cried at first; then he came to see things ‘from a providential perspective’ and resigned himself like a monk.” Desjardins, “Charles Baudelaire,” Revue bleue (1887), p. 19.
Baudelaire-according to Desjardins-unites the sensibility of the Marquis de Sade with the doctrines of Jansenius.
Americans looked on with wonder and asked him what the name of the food was that his chef was preparing. His answer was “Chop Suey” which meant that it was a combination of mixed foods. He explained that it was a meal consisting of bean sprouts, celery and Chinese greens, plus amy more vegetables, with a touch of meat, usually pork. The guests begged him to let them taste it. They did. Immediately they clamored for more. Overnight, Chop Suey won widespread popularity.
Chinese residents in New York soon found a new field of endeavor open to them. They opened restaurants and called them “Chop Suey Houses.” Many of these original Chop Suey Houses still exist.
Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach are decluttering and downsizing, from Monaco/Surrey/Snowmass/Beverly Hills to LA and a London apartment. Nearly 1400 lots of furniture, art, clothing, memorabilia, and borderline boot sale junk will be auctioned this week in LA. Here are some of the things:
First up, Lot 79, Originally John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Refectory Table [est. $5-7,000, sold for $19,200]
“‘This refectory table was left at Tittenhurst by John and Yoko when I took over the house. Enjoy!’ – Ringo.” That would be in 1971. Tittenhurst Park was outside London. Starr sold it to the Emir of Abu Dhabi in 1988, but took the table with him. Hey, here it is in the living room of Rydinghurst, Starr & Bach’s Jacobean estate in Surrey, which they put up for sale last year. Look at how they lay down a Google-like blur on the artwork in estate agent photos.
And speaking of tables, what is up with that coffee table? It’s big and moon-shaped and filled with gazing balls. Or giant Christmas ornaments? I cannot tell, and the designer Ringo Starr doesn’t weigh in this time.
Lot 351, Moon Coffee Table Designed by Ringo Starr [est. $1,000-2,000 sold for just $1,920]
And speaking of gazing balls, holy smokes. Lot 608, Two Monumental Gazing Spheres [est. $3,000-5,000] They’re from Rydinghurst, and each one is 36 inches across. Let’s see Jeff Koons try to handle those. [WHAT, sold for just $1,920? Why didn’t you ever get back to me with the condition report??]
And finally, speaking of satelloon-looking things, Lot 411, Galaxy Theme Platform Bed [est. $800-1,200] “‘When we bought the house in 1992 in LA, we had this bed made so we could sleep under the stars and moons, and surrounded by the stars and moons.’ – Ringo.” Will the presumably LA-based Master Of The Ringo Starr’s Bed Starscape with the initials SWG please come forward and take a bow? [Yes, well, sleeping in Ringo and Barbara’s bed? Priceless, but apparently they’ll take $875.]
Lot 1005, **RINGO STARR’S UK 1st MONO PRESSING WHITE ALBUM NO.0000001 [est. $40-60,000]
Oh wait, no, one more: It turns out Ringo got the first numbered copy of the White Album, and he put it in a vault. Now it is selling for at least $55,000. What a world. #monochrome [WHAT A WORLD INDEED: $790,000.]
Property from the Collection of Ringo Starr & Barbara Bach, 12/03/2015 [julienslive via jjdaddy-o]
Aue Pavilions in Karlsaue, 1992, Robbrecht & Daem, image: documenta.de
While poking around documenta 9 (1992), the year Cady Noland and Bob Nickas did their amazing thing in the new parking garage, I found these nice pavilions in the Karlsaue. Documenta director Jan Hoet commissioned five temporary exhibition pavilions from Ghent-based architects Paul Robbrecht and Kristien Daem.
Aue Pavilions interior, 1992 Kassel, image: Kristien Daem
The corrugated steel shells read a bit like train cars, but with an entire wall of glass, which made them perfect, someone figured, for showing painting. Which, Isa Genzken actually showed a resin sculpture. Gerhard Richter enclosed his gallery in walnut paneling. Adapted from simple, prefab industrial structures and raised on wooden pylons, were built to last the summer. They’re still with us.
images: google streetview from 2009
After documenta wrapped, the pavilions found their way to Almere, a planned Dutch city east of Amsterdam built on reclaimed land.
For nearly twenty years, they housed an arts center, and eventually a municipal museum called–De Paviljoens.
The architects compared it favorably to a caravan (trailer) park. It was the kind of place where kids could hang out underneath, no problem. It even looks to have inspired the modular manufactured insta-architecture of the school across the street. [Speaking of streets, I thought the museum being located on the corner of Odeonstraat and Slapstickpad was a fluke, but surfing around Google, Almere has the greatest street names in the world. The next neighborhood over is Comedy Caperstraat, which intersects streets named for Abbott, Costello, Laurel, Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. There’s even a David Nivenweg. Another neighborhood’s named after directors, including Fassbinder, Tati, and Pasolini.]
Not sure what happened here, though. Looks pretty edgy!
The artist-themed neighborhoods include a Marcel Duchampstraat, but now the city has no museum. Dutch culture budget cuts hit The Pavilions hard, and though its website lives on, the museum closed for good in 2010. Developers [bought? got?] them, and In 2012, plans were announced to move the pavilions to the center of Nieuwe Stad (New City), an adapted reuse development of a former industrial site in Amersfoort, a city between Almere and Utrecht.
That finally happened, and just this summer, the pavilions hosted some big festival. Nieuwe Stad’s slogan, DOE MEE IN DE PAVILJOENS! sounds hilariously worse in English.
Aue Pavilions, Kassel, Almere, Amersfoort, 1992- [robbrechtendaem]
documenta 9 archive [documenta.de]
De Paviljoens [depaviljoens.nl]
Doe Mee In De Paviljoens! [denieuwestad.nl]
Photomurals in the 1900-1918 section of Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968, Metropolitan Museum, 1969, image: The Met
It’s been a while since I’ve written about them, but photomurals still have a wide, quasi-artistic place in my heart. And so it’s great to run into them in the most unexpected places.
Like in Holland Cotter’s story of seeing the Met’s botched attempt at racial appeasement, the 1969 exhibition, Harlem On My Mind.
I knew the show was controversial, and that black artists had rallied against it and similar flawed, tokenist shows in the works at the Whitney. But I never knew what the Met actually showed: basically, no art, just 2,000 photographs. Which, to the Met, in 1969, were emphatically not Art.
Which is not entirely fair. The show was conceived by the Met’s hot new director Thomas Hoving, a former NYC Parks Commissioner who had been known, as Life magazine put it, as a proponent of “be-ins, love-ins, traffic-free bike rides, Puerto Rican folk festivals, and happenings.” Harlem on My Mind was seen as a way to make the museum relevant to African American audiences, but also to bring the stodgy institution into the contemporary cultural discourse.
The show was curated by Allon Schoener, and designed by Harris Lewine and Herb Lubalin, who basically tried to remake their popular 1967 Jewish Museum show, Portal to America: The Lower East Side, 1870-1925, but for Harlem, circa 1900-1968. The show was explicitly didactic, a one-hour experience immersed in what Bridget R. Cooks, in her 2007 study of the exhibition, “a multi-media extravaganza.”
In this sense, it hearkens back to World’s Fair pavilion modes, or the immersive photo exhibitions of Edward Steichen-era MoMA, including the WWII shows and, obviously, Family of Man. Never mind that Roy deCarava and Gordon Parks, who’d actually been included in Family of Man, boycotted Harlem on My Mind, and then mobilized against it.
Anyway, the point is, there was a context for this show, several contexts, in fact, including for how the exhibition was designed, and what the experience of it was intended to be. And those contexts, especially the activism and protest the show engendered, have displaced the content and form of the show itself. The content was a paternalistic, problematic mess, in so many ways a failure, but the form was apparently successful–and is now lost and mostly forgotten.
phenomenal photocube totem columns in Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968, Metropolitan Museum, 1969, img: The Met
Here are some of Cooks’ descriptions:
Various wall layout designs were used throughout the galleries to display more than 2,000 photographs. Some walls held large-scale black and white photomurals eighteen feet in height and of varying widths.
Some walls were used dramatically as dark screens for projected images of Harlemites and street scenes from slide projectors suspended from ceiling tracks. Four-sided columns displayed photographs of Harlem buildings, streets, and residents in both formal portraits and informal community scenes. Some columns, topped with large photo-text cubes, stood over ten feet high in selected galleries as if they were free standing sculpture. Several of these towers highlighted notable Harlem figures such as elder resident Alice Payton “Mother” Brown and Billie Holiday in their respective decade galleries.
Speakers camouflaged in large cylinders, hung throughout the galleries, delivered Harlem street sounds and music to visitors. Films and videos were interspersed through the galleries to provide further information, and a closed-circuit television showed the real-time activity at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem. Photographs punctuated with text were suspended from the ceiling to create billboard-like visual timelines that marked important national events, such as the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954. The exhibition was designed to provide a one-hour experience for each visitor. [emphasis added for awesomeness, awesomeness, and lol srsly?, respectively.]
Though some art critics bailed, calling the show sociology, not art, Grace Glueck weighed in:
To this viewer, there is something terribly American about “Harlem.” It panders to our penchant for instant history, pack- aged culture, the kind of photojournalistic “experience” that puts us at a distance from the experience itself. Instead of the full, rich, Harlem brew, it presents a freeze-dried Harlem that does not even hint at flavor.
Harsh, but admit it, the Harlem-cam had it coming.
Anyway, I want to make these photototems now, or rather, see them exist again. I’d hope not, but I think they’d be all kinds of problematic all over again if I made them. I just hope they could exist again, as the alluring, outraging failures they were. Because they do feel terribly American to me, too, and terribly New York. I think a trip to the Met’s archives is in order.
What I Learned From a Disgraced Art Show on Harlem [nyt via @JenGraves]
Bridget R. Cooks, “Black Artists and Activism: Harlem on My Mind (1969)”,
Amer. Studies, Spr. 2007 [pdf floatin’ around on project muse, go get it! oh wait, blackcontemporaryart has a clean link and the abstract all ready]
Realtors and developers pay several thousand dollars/month to stage properties for sale. Staging companies move out the seller’s accumulated lifetime of crap and move in a whole array of tastefully bland furniture and accessories to make the place look or feel bigger or nicer. Remember that aristo hobo couple in Charleston in the Times a few years ago who basically live for free by moving themselves and their heirlooms into the plantations and spec homes they stage?
Wow, that was 2011, too. Which turns out to have been peak staging? Because I just found this bonkers story from Curbed in 2011 about InFormed Space, a staging startup that provides gatorboard ghosts of high end furniture, starting with a $14 million townhouse gutjob in Chelsea. From a NYDN story:
it’s easy to move the ultra-lightweight prop furniture in and out of spaces and it minimizes the pitfall of turning off potential buyers because of questionable décor choices.
“This helps you understand the space without confounding you with design,” [InFormed Space founder Douglas] Pinter said. “This shows you scale and volume in a way that doesn’t get in the way of your thinking.”
The “cool and minimalist” design of Pinter’s creations – many which are modeled after real pieces but aren’t legally copyright infringements because they are faux – may turn off diehard fans of, say, Queen Anne furniture. [emphasis added for awesomeness]
But wait, there’s more. There is art. Or as InFormed Space’s website [tagline: “A Stylish Quickie®”] calls them, “art panels.”
After Ad Reinhardt’s last paintings, after the monochrome, after the final declaration of the death of painting–for good this time, really, stake in the heart–the ghosts of paintings remain to haunt the walls of the living, until they are released by the exorcism known as the closing.
$14 million Chelsea townhouse gets decked out with fake furniture [nydn via curbed]
Skyway in situ, before the U of MN bought it for $1, and City Desk Studio bought it for $5,000
City Desk Studio is still selling the epic skyway they rescued in 2006. They originally planned to adapt it into a timeshared Skyway Retreat lakefront cabin for $1.2 million. Then when the economy imploded they offered it for sale for just $79,500. A year later they dropped the price to $49,500.
And now they’re willing to pay $5,000 to whoever removes it from the vacant lot near the UofM where it’s been parked for nearly a decade. There’s an RFP, and if no qualified bidder steps forward by the end of the month, the skyway is slated to be demolished.
bird’s eye view via bing
The skyway, designed by Ed Banks, the “father of the skyways,” is W20 x L83 x H14 ft and made of steel, glass and concrete. It weighs 280,000 pounds, roughly half of which had been attributed to the 12-inch concrete floor. But using the standard for reinforced concrete of 150 lb/cu ft, I get a weight for an 18×80 ft floor of 218,000, more than 75%. Maybe the floor’s not an actual foot thick. Or maybe it’s smaller than I’ve estimated. Either way, a significant weight reduction can be achieved by removing the concrete floor before transport.
Which is significant. Because City Desk Studio says it cost them more than their $5,000 purchase price to move the skyway two blocks from UMN to the vacant lot near the railyard where it still sits. But that means it had moved nearly four miles, and across the river, from Nicollet Mall & S 5th St to somewhere near the university stadium site. So put it on a barge and float it down the Mississippi.
load_skyway_onto_barge_here.jpg based on google maps’ hunchback brother google earth
The train right of way goes west and gets very close to the river near a commercial/industrial waterfront site under the 10th Ave Bridge. That’s where you bring your barge and load it on. BAM. Your skyway is now connected to the entire world. You have two weeks to work out the details for removing it, and plenty of time after that to figure out where to take it.
I say you because I have been forbidden from pursuing this perfect plan. But it must happen, and soon. If you use my detailed schematic in your successful rfp, I expect an invitation to your skywaywarming.
Salvaged Minneapolis skyway could be your next home [startribune]
2009: Minnesota NICE: Skyway For Sale On Craigslist
2010: That Minnesota Skyway For Sale Again/Still
Wow, I’m sure they’ll grow in–what’s the date on this Google Maps image? Maybe they already have–but the trees at Katzenberg’s place have an incredible, all-over, Ben-Day dots feel, like they were laid out by Sigmar Polke. Hope that’s what they were going for.
Bonus points for those courtyards, though; that’s a landscape photo for our times.
Amazing, how did I never know this? Gio Ponti designed a business pavilion and auditorium for Time-Life in 1958, and it’s still there, perched mostly out of view on the north side of the 8th floor setback of 1271 6th Avenue. It’s covered with crystalline facets and triangles on the roof and terrace [though the photo above also seems to include some overpainted elements. Also it was flipped, so I fixed it.]
Dubbed “the most versatile and complete business-meeting facility in Manhattan,” the pavilion was commissioned by Henry Luce at the instigation of his wife Clare Boothe Luce, who wanted to make Ponti a thing. Writing about a 2010 show of Ponti in New York curated by Germano Celant, Suzanne LaBarre described the pavilion as “the closest thing to a playground a stark, midcentury office building had seen: green-and-blue marbleized floors; saucers and brass strapwork in the ceiling; obelisk sconces; and a smattering of irregular nooks, foyers, and bars.” Green & blue marbleized floors? Yow. Sounds like proto-Memphis to me, and makes me curse black and white photography.
Gio Ponti Time-Life Pavilion/Auditorium, on the north side of 1271 6th Ave, looking S/SE on bing
Unfortunately, LaBarre reports that Ponti’s interior has been destroyed and remodeled two times over. [The top two images come from Esoteric Survey’s extraordinary survey of the 1958 Time-Life Building’s interiors, from the likes of, basically, everybody.] Time is out of or leaving the building this year, so who gets the Ponti?
What is most surprising to me, though, is the similarity of Ponti’s design to the Unfinished Business Pavilion, created in for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. In an attempt to head off Soviet criticism of the US’s discrimination against African Americans and the civil rights protests it spawned, the State Dept. and USAID asked Luce’s Fortune Magazine to create a pavilion addressing ‘the Negro Problem.’ Fortune creative director Leo Lionni’s three-part design moves from the “chaotic crystal” of the past to the bright happy square future where children of all races play together in harmony. Which was considered such an insult to the segregationist Dixiecrats in Congress, they demanded Fortune close the pavilion as soon as they got wind of it.
Which is interesting that in color and form, Ponti’s pavilion most closely resembles the chaotic crystal section, or vice versa. Maybe Ponti’s came first, and Leonni used it as a stand-in for the shameful past we were all trying to overcome. Anyway, this warrants further investigation.
Time-Life [esoteric survey]
Gio Ponti’s New York [metropolis]
Previously, related, and devastatingly, depressingly timely: The Unfinished Business Pavilion, by Leo Leonni
None of Your ‘Unfinished Business’
Police in Hong Kong have deployed a new mobile pepper spray platform against protestors near Mong Kok.
I start with this image via @krislc, Kris Cheng, because it gives nice context, also the guy is watermarking it with his face? I’m filing that trick away for future use.
At first it looked like it’s made out of PVC pipe, but it’s surely painted steel. Actually, it looks like a smaller variation of the stairs in Home Depot.
Most of the info comes from @galileo44, Galileo Cheng. Like this picture of the police conferring on Portland St. With their pepper spray cannons on their backs. Unless those are #umbrellas.
Here is krislcc’s Vine of the new platforms in use on her. Galileo calls them castles. They’re hand pumped. Like Super Soakers or something. Incredible.
Here’s another. What is most striking to me about this one is how the two police officers move together: one with the pepper spray, the other with a video camera. Kris Cheng says the the pepper spray isn’t that strong; the effects didn’t last more than 45 minutes. But the police will play a long game with those images.
Speaking of long game, holy smokes. I thought I’d scout out the Mong Kok streetscape on Google Maps, and this is what came up:
It was startling to be met by an unblurred face. And the vantage point was so high. But turn around. This is a pano. Or a “Photo Sphere.” From September, of the intersection blocked by a sit-in. It’s credited to nJohn.
There are more recent Photo Spheres, too. Including November, by Kau Lam. The protestor-decorated police barricades are stitched together pano-style. Google Maps as a reporting platform. When will it go live? Will Google get castles of its own, or will cameras on long sticks suffice?
From the moment it launched, I’ve been trying to figure out what the Google Art Project would look like in real life, what the relationship is between the physical world we inhabit and the spaces and objects we encounter and the digitized pano simulacrum of Google Street View.
What would these blurred Picassos at MoMA look like IRL? Or these pano-distorted Kellys, or this blur-encased Noguchi table in Chicago? Or this clock, or table, or borrowed bust at the Getty?
Though a few slipped in at the beginning, even a year ago Google seemed conscientious about avoiding or removing images of its Street View crews at work. In the Spring, the Google camera cart and its operator were still being blurred out of panos at the Getty.
Well, now I wonder if Google’s wondering about itself. This morning Google Art Project tweeted these panos from the Votive Hall of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, and I swear, I’ve never seen a more Google Mapsian space in my life.
The lighting, the reflectivity, perspectival polygons in the air, the glass vitrines with text stenciled on them, little placards floating on wiry stands, the crispy way these matte-finish urns get backlit by the vitrines and end up looking like digital renders of themselves. And then holy crap, what is this thing in the doorway? Now it’s like they’re just trolling us. Us and Dan Graham.
Google Maps is not hiding anymore; it’s taking selfies. And it’s remaking the world in its own image. Googleforming.
Click the arrow, come on in.
Turn around, look back, see where we were. Where you were. Where we were.
Getty Museum View, or Seeing Google Seeing
Man With A Pano Camera
Marseille fixed its Vieux Port for their stint as European Capital of Culture last year, and it turned out pretty great. The biggest win was to pedestrianize it. It’s now wide open and full of people.
The flashiest change is the addition of a kind of ridiculous mirror-finish awning on the east end. I guess if you’re going to stick a giant awning/pavilion structure on your vast, bare waterfront, you should make it pop, and it does. It actually steals all the attention from what was my favorite element of the port’s makeover: these awesome little timber clubhouses that line the north side, along the Quai du Port.
I was ready to move into one on the spot, even before I realized they were designed by Foster + Partners.
Now that I’ve read up on it, and on the philosopher’s harrowing last days, I think I experienced the Walter Benjamin Memorial in Portbou, Spain the only way it really should be experienced: by total accident. Which is almost impossible.
We’d been visiting family in Provence, and one of the kids, the one who has been taking Spanish, not French, was wanting to go somewhere they spoke her language for a change. Plus, they wanted to go to the beach. Relenting, I pulled up the last town I knew in France, Banyuls, and looked to see what, if anything, was across the border.
The answer was Portbou. Google Maps said it was 3.5 hours away; we figured we’d drive to Spain for lunch and a couple of hours on the beach, send a postcard, and head home for dinner. Extraordinary traffic which had the autoroute backed up for several kilometers before the border, and the caravan of caravans winding along the 1.5 lane coastal mountain road, easily doubled our drivetime, and we arrived in Portbou starving and almost late for lunch.
We quickly parked in a massive tunnel-turned-one-way parking lot, and wandered back through town to find any open cafe. And that’s when I spotted the Walter Benjamin information panel. It turned out to be No. 2 on the town’s four-stop Ruta Walter Benjamin, the Hotel de Francia, where Benjamin and his fellow refugees stayed after sneaking across the Spanish border in September 1940. And where he, where, well, as the panel puts it, “What happened over the next few hours is a striking illustration of all of the tragedy of barbarism.”
This town has erected a plaque in front of the hotel where Benjamin killed himself.