In the 80s Hubert de Givenchy and his partner Philippe Venet commissioned Diego Giacometti to make furniture and stuff for a house they bought in BF France, 2 hours southeast of Paris. Last year they sold a bunch of it at auction, 21 lots, including three of the bronze tables above, which have carytids sticking up from all the legs. Together the three tables sold for EUR 11 million, almost a third of the total sale, which is sort of bonkers. But that’s not important now.
[PHILIPPE] VENET: Hubert asked, “Why don’t we have some Giacometti?” We had just sold our chalet in Megève—I was a very good skier and served in a mountain patrol during my military service—so I said, “Why not?” When Christie’s auctioned our Giacomettis [in 2017], we had a ferronnier make us a copy of the octagonal table. There are many homemades at Le Jonchet: a “La Fresnaye,” a “Picasso” that Hubert drew. After selling the big Joan Miró in his atelier to the Pompidou, I told him, “We must make a Léger.” So we did a collage together.
[MOMA TRUSTEE MERCEDES] BASS: It’s very hard to tell the difference between their works and the real things, though they never copied; they made renditions. Most were wonderful collages: Hubert and Philippe would prepare the backgrounds, then cut the paper and create a collage of a painting.
I love this have your cake and eat it, too, sell your tables and paintings and make them again–and still have people describing it in these equivocating terms about copies and renditions. Givenchy studied at the Beaux Arts, and his obituary in The Guardian described his retirement from fashion with, “He had long since set up an alternative life as an ‘amateur d’art.'”
So if your question is, would you rather have a Giacometti table in your chateau, or a remoulade Giacomettian table in your chateau and EUR33 million, my question is, how close do you need to get to the table?
On a first visit to Eileen Gray’s masterpiece e-1027 since its restoration (still in progress), I was impressed by the details as much as the overall design. Gray’s house on the sea at Roquebrune Cap Martin, built in 1929 on the far side of Monaco, isn’t perfect, but it is extremely well thought through and basically marvelous.
The lights stood out. The front door, which is sort of a back door, and a patio where dinner was sometimes served.
The lower bedroom for Jean Badovici, or for guests, which had this interesting construction over where his desk would be (the desk is out to improve circulation in the tiny space, which felt small even with just the six people on our tour.). In addition to light, the fixture was positioned to mirror and double the view of the Mediterranean from the bed. This use of mirrors and reflectivity is a feature throughout the house.
like I said. This shaving mirror in the corner of Badovici’s room has a light embedded, and another mirror on an articulated, chrome-plated arm, at Badovici’s request, so he could shave the back of his head. It’s a style that’s come around again.
These fixtures are all replications; the first and third pieces were long lost, but the original overhead light was stolen, probably to order, in 2003.
You’d think that as a parent, I’d be less surprised by now at the constant discoveries of the extent of my own ignorance.
Last night, while surfing through the archive of the War Relocation Authority’s nearly 7,000 photos of WWII Japanese American internment camps for “furniture,” [right, I know.] I was confused by the number of search results that included George Nakashima and his daughter Mira.
The internment camps only imprisoned Japanese Americans on the west coast; Nakashima, modernist woodworking master, lived in New Hope, Pennsylvania, so he should’ve been totally unaffected.
And it’s only then that I looked at Nakashima’s bio, and sure enough, the architect, his wife Marion, and his newborn daughter were expelled from Seattle and detained at Minidoka, Idaho in the Spring of 1942. It was only through the protracted petitions of Antonin Raymond, an architect and former employer, that the Nakashimas were able to leave the camp for Raymond’s farm in New Hope.
The picture above, by WRA photographer Francis Stewart, shows George Nakashima at Minidoka in the Fall of 1942, “Constructing and decorating model apartment to show possibilities using scrap materials.” Which, just. Wallpaper made from bookpages and blueprints and a proto-Conoid table made from prison scraps. This room should be in the Smithsonian.
The irony, if that’s the right word, is that it was at Minidoka that Nakashima met Gentaro Hikogawa, an issei hotel manager three years older than he, who’d immigrated from Shikoku to Tacoma. Hikogawa was also a master carpenter, who taught Nakashima Japanese joinery and rural handtool techniques that formed the foundation for Nakashima’s philosophy and later innovations.
Speaking of which, here are two photos of 3-yo Mira Nakashima posing next to two beds her father made, one for her, and one for her doll, in her bedroom in New Hope.
Liz Deschenes’ current show at Miguel Abreu–both of them–is titled, Rates (Frames per Second). Deschenes’ series of photograms relate to the chronophotographic studies of motion of Étienne-Jules Marey.
The variously reflective texture of the photosensitive paper on display, coupled as the show unfolds with the widening individual panels comprising the works, affords a subtle sensation of gradual embodiment.
It’s interesting that the installation apparently culminates in the human-scale panels, because I assume you have to walk back out of the gallery, too.
In any case, they look gorgeous as usual, and the variations of widest ones even look baroque, relatively speaking, of course.
UPDATE: I have since heard that the works do not have an implied narrative. And that perhaps if there’s a sense of culmination in experiencing the show, it’s as much the 10 windows in the space, a found 10fps as any of the photogram series. This site specificity has now landed the show on my IRL list
Built in 1766, St. Paul’s Chapel is the oldest public building in New York City and has been in continuous operation for over 250 years. When its sister parish Trinity Church (built 1698) burned down in 1776, St. Paul’s Chapel served as the primary place of worship for the likes of George Washington while Trinity was rebuilt. This august, historic, sacred space contains one of the two earliest public depictions of The Great Seal of The United States, of which visitors to this site have so recently read.
And St. Paul’s Church is also the place where my critique of the impertinent treatment and presentation of The Great Seal gets laughed out of town like a mobbed up president’s stooge claiming attorney-client privilege.
Behold the wide shot of the painting of The Great Seal hanging in its original spot, over the Washington Family Pew (reconstructed to some non-original spec, apparently some time after the radiators went in), and sandwiched in between World Trade Center Relief Swag exhibitions made of PVC jungle gym and clip-on tracklights? Are these original, historic exhibition fixtures made by first responders in October 2011?
Is it still there? Because this photo was taken in 2013 by historian/blogger Michael Lynch. So maybe it’s gone? I honestly don’t know whether to scream or ask for their fabricator’s contact info, whether to help one of the richest parishes in the country Kickstart some proper vitrines or take a vow to never show work again without a PVC kiosk.
But Professor Lynch is not through. He also went to Federal Hall, the site (but not the building) of George Washington’s inauguration on April 30, 1789. I have stood on the porch of Federal Hall. I have seen a musical version of the life of JP Morgan performed on the steps of Federal Hall. I have gone to the gym many times across the street from Federal Hall, but somehow I have never been inside Federal Hall.
So I have not known about the slab of the balcony from the original Federal Hall, which is on display there. The National Park Service calls it a balcony, but looking at this engraving of Washington’s inauguration, I might call it a loggia.
Anyway, despite being the site of the 1st Congress, the formation of the United States, the adoption of the Bill of Rights, and Washington’s inauguration, Federal Hall went back to being City Hall when the capital decamped to Philadelphia in 1790. And then New York City tore that place down in 1812 when they built their new City Hall.
Fragments of the building were saved, including this piece of brownstone from the loggia, which apparently went on display at Bellevue Hospital until it was returned in 1889, for the centennial. And it was given a coat of concrete, so they could carve it. And it was put in a frame on little wheels so it could be rolled around. Oops, it broke. At least now we can see the actual stone under the concrete skin, the part where the concrete repair came off also.
Here is a concrete-coated-and-carved piece of stone which you can barely see the original of, which used to be on the building here, till we tore it down, and anyway, George Washington probably stood on this to found our country. Or near it, it’s really hard to say. But this is how we do, and it apparently always has been.
Fragments of the building were saved. In a minute I have found another: the balustrade of the balcony where Washington was inaugurated. It, too, went to Bellevue, where it was incorporated into a portico. Perhaps this stone was, too? Anyway, in 1883 the balustrade went to the New York Historical Society, where it remains. [Interesting. A 1917 catalogue of Old New York views distinguishes between the NYHS and Bellevue balustrades.] It is positively lyrical. Was it by Pierre l’Enfant, who was commissioned to renovate Federal Hall in 1788? Yes. It is dated 1788-89. Thirteen arrows. Wrought iron painted yellow-gold. The New York Historical Society was headquartered in Federal Hall in 1809 and took the city’s donation of some of the original furniture.
In 1991 the artist David Hammons was invited by Mary Jane Jacobs to create a site-specific work in Charleston, South Carolina for a new, visual arts program linked to the Spoleto Festival. Jacobs had patterned the exhibition, “Places With A Past”, after the Skulptur Projekt Münster. Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti hated the whole thing; the exhibition divided the board and got the director fired (he came back a couple of years later, after Menotti quit), but the show’s art historical reputation has only grown.
That said, Hammons’ is the only one of 61 installations left standing, thanks in large part to his early decision to collaborate with Albert Alston, a local builder, who seems to have maintained and championed the work over the ensuing 27 years.
Hammons and Alston built House Of The Future on a vacant, city-owned lot on Charleston’s segregated East Side using architectural fragments and materials from renovation and demolition projects nearby. It is a 6×20-foot teaching model of Charleston’s signature style, with labels for each component. At some point, a young, local artist used the ground floor as studio space, and Alston oversaw other public programmatic uses. On the back of the House, Hammons painted a quote from African American writer Ishmael Reed:
The Afro-American has become heir to the myths that it is better to be poor than rich, lower class than middle or upper, easy going rather than industrious, extravagant rather than thrifty, and athletic rather than academic.
[Though Reed gets–and takes–credit for the quote, it seems that it actually originates with musician/composer/sociologist Ortiz Walton. Reed quoted Walton’s critical history of cultural exploitation, Music: Black, White & Blue in a 1973 review for Black World Magazine. Reed & Walton seem to have been frequent collaborators and interlocutors, so maybe this is one more of those Hammons/Alston situations. In any case, the quote itself was criticized by some in the community, and it has disappeared and reappeared from the wall of House Of The Future with various repaintings. According to an unrelated 1995 lawsuit by a disgruntled muralist, though, it was integral to the community’s embrace of the installation that helped preserve it after the Spoleto Festival ended.]
At some point after the May 1991 opening of “Places With A Past”, Hammons’ second element was realized kitty corner from House of The Future. America Street is a small, grassy bump of a park on another vacant lot, where Hammons’ iconic African American Flag flies from atop a 40-foot pole. A black and white photo of a group of children looking up, as if at the flag, filled a sidewalk-scale billboard that had previously featured ads for liquor and Newports. From this 1996 account of the Spoleto fallout over “Places With A Past”, it sounds like the works survived some entropy, if not straightup neglect. But both the flag and the picture have been replaced over the years.
I have not visited Hammons’ piece(s), except in Google Street View. The first thing I noticed was they differed in appearance from the historical photos. I realized GSV’s own decade of historical imagery is useful here, for marking the changes this tiny house and its neighborhood have undergone.
Clicking through the changes wrought by time on a piece of Southern vernacular architecture, I immediately thought of the work of my late neighbor, the photographer William Christenberry. He would travel back to his native Alabama year after year for decades, photographing the same houses, churches, and stores, usually documenting their deterioration and subsumption by kudzu.
What I was seeing in Hammons’ and Alston’s piece was the opposite: a structure built from the castoffs of renovation and gentrification, surviving thanks to a small but persistent maintenance effort. And through it all, year in and year out, no matter the storms or racial strife that battered some other flags in South Carolina, Hammons’ star-spangled banner is still there.
In the spirit of Christenberry, I decided to make some historic GSV printsets [prints of screenshots; GSV is a screen medium] of Hammons’ and Alston’s House Of The Future and America Street. I’ve followed Christenberry’s format, but I’m skipping the traditional photographer’s approach of making editions of a bajillion in a thousand sizes. Each set of 7-9 images is printed small (8×10 in.), in an edition of 2, plus 1 AP: one for you, one for the museum, one for me. Because srsly, why overthink it? If anyone actually wants to buy them, I turn into some kind of crazed Amazon artworker pick&packing prints all day? Hard pass right now, thanks. If you don’t move in time to get it, just make your own.
I am pleased to announce that a work I thought was gone has perhaps come back on view in Washington, D.C. The title, obviously, is derived from Gerhard Richter’s 1971 work, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo (below). But its creation, including all the vagaries involved, are inspired directly by Palermo’s work and practice.
Talking about his late student in a 1984 interview with Laszlo Glozer, Joseph Beuys said:
I believe that one of the most important things for art–and he knew it too–is the behavior of people in general. The way people live, the way they live in their space. The way people live was very important for him. The way they inhabit, the way they live, what chairs they sit on, or what they have around them, what they stuff into themselves.
I’d seen the painting first (what they have around them), but it was that charcoal (the way they live) and the horizontal blue passage on the upper left that made the work come into being (the way they inhabit). But that was last year.
Well, if I could, I would say one should perceive his works like a breath. They have something of a breath about them, a breath that vanishes…One ought to see his paintings more like breath that comes and goes, it has something porous, and it can easily vanish again. It is also highly vulnerable. Vulnerable, say, like a cornflower: when you out it into light, it fades very quickly. So one has to perceive that breathlike being as an aesthetic concept and not as a solid structure…
I still don’t know whether to post these matters, or whether it differs from filing it away, or from seeing it, or thinking it. I mean, it’s posted now because the house where this was installed last year came back on the market, with the same listing photos, and I saw them again. But what changes? Is the work still there? Would it matter if it is or isn’t? Does it matter what that crappy little painting even is?
Which seems as good a time as any to mention another work from last year, which I intentionally didn’t post, to see what it was like. Does it change now? Now that situation has been moved out and gut renovated for sure? Now that I can search for it in a different dialogue box? Now that someone else can, too?
For me the value lies in the wonder, the fleeting marvel, the tiny layers of history, of how some people lived overlaid with how other people staged. So I’m good.
Installation shot: Untitled (We Privatized All Of Versailles), 2017, embroidered carpet, est. 4m x 3m, ed. 15+3 or so AP, installed at l’Orangerie, Palais de Versailles, May 2017, image: vogue.com
Yesterday was a rough day to be a human being. Turning to art as a supposed respite from the outrages and insanities of the culture swirling around us proved only somewhat effective. Not in a position to handle the news of the day, I turned to the injustices and emotions wrought by Vogue.com’s freshly published, half-baked writeup of a wedding four months past.
The couple, profligate European randoms, heirs to immense enough fortunes but seemingly bereft of wisdom or self-awareness, are made to sound like they think they invented the seven figure wedding. The illogics and contradictions of the narrative continued to bug me across the day: Kim & Kanye were not permitted to have their wedding in Versailles, and were forced to settle for a rehearsal dinner in l’Orangerie, but this former Lanvin intern is so well connected, she could pull it off? Except weddings are not permitted in public buildings in France, so they either had a stealth ceremony, in which case, are they legal? Or they got married in the mairie like everybody else, and had a little religious after-thing, followed by dinner, in one of the five event rental spaces at Versailles: l’Orangerie.
And the bride didn’t have time to get shoes made, but she had time to fill the 156-meter long gallery with a rug, custom embroidered with an Erté-inspired design from the invitation. [Except she did get shoes made. And I have been staring at this rug, and is it really embroidered or just printed?]
On the bright side, karmically speaking, May 28th was brutally hot in Paris, 32 degrees, 12 degrees above average, so all 450 guests had to schlep from the entrance of Versailles, out across the garden, down the 100 Steps, and then double back, a 20 minute trip, in eveningwear, only to reach the historic greenhouse spaces that could not be air-conditioned because of “legalities.” [The bride said the forecast had been for rain. Think about that for a second.]
History of Navigation reverse gilded glass panels from the SS Normandie, 1934, collection/image: the met
Anyway. 156m space, 450 guests, two tables, 110 meters long, 12 meter wide space, 3m wide rug, maybe 4m repeat? We may have lost a few sections when the wedding couple processed their horses down the aisle.
The happy couple gets one, of course, and the calligrapher, and the fashion show producer/wedding planner. Probably set aside one each for the parents, who, though presumably footing the bill, go entirely unmentioned. I’m going to err on the side of caution and say it’s an edition of 15, with 3 or so APs.
I’d probably have a slightly easier time getting a hold of the rug if I held off posting this, but I’m fine to let it play out.
Tony Smith, Maze, 1967/2014, steel units 7×10 feet and 7×5 feet, installed at Matthew Marks LA
When it was first shown at Finch College Gallery in 1967, Grace Glueck said Tony Smith’s The Maze“evokes the feeling of an endless forest.”
When he published it in Brian O’Doherty’s editions 5+6 of Aspen: The Magazine in a Box, Smith said it was “a labyrinth rather than a monument,” and gave anyone who wished permission “to reproduce the work in its original dimensions (in metal or wood).
I would now like to tie it all together by giving anyone who wishes permission to reproduce The Maze in its original dimensions in fake boxwood hedge walls.
Most off-the-rack fake boxwood hedge walls are eight feet tall and often include a fake planter base. Most are also 15 inches thick. A real fake boxwood hedge wall The Maze will observe Smith’s original specifications, and use fake boxwood hedge walls seven feet high and 30 inches thick. Two will be five feet long, and two will be ten. They should not have a planter base.
There are many fake boxwood hedge wall solutions providers out there, but might I suggest you consider Make Be-Leaves, who already seems 3/4 of the way there with the 7-ft walls above?
fake UV boxwood hedge plantscape…
Among their many successful installations is this fake boxwood hedge plantscape on the CPK vu terrace of a Madison Avenue real estate investment firm. And yet it manages to be only the second greatest fake thing in sight. What the actual f.
If you’re wondering who the one person was who went to the mall in Chevy Chase, to the J. Crew store Monday, it was me. And I was only picking up a catalogue order.
And marveling at the giant [signed!] Richard Serra Torqued Spirals exhibition poster from Gagosian, c. 2003, one of two constellations of highly curated posters and prints lining the staircase.
I contemplated the state of the brick&mortar retail industry, making a note to watch the liquidation auctions for a deluge of contemporary art ephemera when the reaper comes for J. Crew. And figuring if the swag doesn’t turn up, we’ll know the store designers who fantasy-shopped it all together have absconded with it in lieu of severance.
Just as I was thinking, this poster was my most unexpected Serra sighting ever, I stepped outside, and found this, in the garden of the condos across the street.
I approached to take a photo, and the carefully calculated elevations of the lawn revealed the bottom quarter of the Cor-Ten slab. If only he’d added a water feature, I bet Tilted Arc would still be standing.
After he was booted from his white-on-white-on-white loft when the Bozza Mansion was torn down, John Cage kind of drifted for a while. Apparently it was hard to find a good deal on a great space in Manhattan in 1954 [when you had no money.]
So for a while, Cage moved to The Land, one of the names for the pseudo-commune/art colony started by Paul & Vera Williams on 116 acres in Stony Point, Rockland County, NY. Paul was an architect friend of Cage’s from Black Mountain College, and he’d purchased the property after inheriting some money.
I don’t know why, but I’d always assumed Cage and the other The Land folks lived in little cottages. Not quite. It turns out Williams, a student of Breuer, created some classically modernist boxes.
The first pictures I’ve ever seen are in Brendan W. Joseph’s 2016 book, Experimentations: John Cage in Music, Art, and Architecture, which goes into some detail on the development of The Land and its surprising impact on Cage and his work.
Cage shared a building, a duplex, with the Williamses. He lived in 1 or 2 rooms on the left in the image above, separated by a stone wall he and Vera built. It looks quite nice, if simple, a bit like the Black Mountain College buildings everyone built together. Indeed, from Joseph’s account, it sounds like Williams was hoping to recapture some of that BMC mojo with his co-op experiment.
The NFL Draft is being held tonight at the top of The Rocky Steps. Which is another name for the courtyard of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Which has a giant Greek temple facade. But which apparently didn’t work for the NFL folks’ shot, so they built a replica of a piece of the museum facade into their set, in front of the museum.
I just finished reading some Sturtevant repetition and simulacrum a few minutes ago, and there’s surely plenty to say about mediated images in circulation. But I think the real takeaway here is the NFL’s Sforzian backdrop lighting game is flabby and weak. THEY BUILT A FAKE ART MUSEUM ON THE NFL DRAFT STAGE IN FRONT OF THE ACTUAL PHILLY ART MUSEUM [csnphilly, h/t @briansholis]
Untitled (Newport Center Monument) IV, 2017, 72 or 84-in. x 108 or 156 in. by 12 in., Ruddy Oak and Bright White on panels, installation image: gmaps
In 2011 The Irvine Company installed two identical monument signs in the grassy quarter-rounds on the East Coast Highway entrance of Fashion Island and Newport Center. They feature the names of three major tenants each, on both sides. Seven feet tall and 13 feet wide, they exceed the maximum dimensions (6′ x 9′) permitted under the Sign Standards of the Newport Beach Zoning Code, and required a variance. [In person the other day, I would never have guessed they were 7×13; they definitely feel like 6×9. Is it possible they were reduced in size after the permit was granted?]
Untitled (Newport Center Monument) III, 2017, 72 or 84-in. x 108 or 156 in. by 12 in., Ruddy Oak and Bright White on panels, installation image: gmaps
Though they also exceed the Code’s letter size limits, the signs comply with the requirement that letters be “individually fabricated” and of high contrast for easy legibility. At least at their genesis, they were specified to be finished with Reflective Coating #1460 Bright White from Axon Aerospace, Inc.
No aesthetic delectation here, Ruddy Oak! hashtag Spanish-Mediterranean, hashtag Craftsman, hashtag Perfect Palette®, image: dunnedwards.com
The 2011 permit application [pdf] describes the new signs as having “a faux plaster finish,” but they sure looked painted to me. They match the color specified on plans [pdf] for a similar sign for an adjacent Irvine Company office building: a reddish brown from a local manufacturer, Dunn-Edwards Ruddy Oak (DE5188).
I can find no public record of this color being specified or required in either Newport Beach or Irvine Company codes or styleguides, but it is in heavy use for shopping center and commercial signs within the boundaries of The Irvine Ranch. It also appears on the permitted color lists of at least eight homeowners associations (HOA) in coastal Southern California.
Untitled (Newport Center Monument) I, II, 2017, 43 x 4 ft each, Ruddy Oak and Bright White on substrate, installation image: gmaps
They also match the color and finish of the main signs at the East Coast Highway entrance, a pair of 43-foot-tall pylons installed in 1985. Which is also the first year The Irvine Company used the “sunwave” logo. Over time the text on the signs has changed to reflect the evolving brand distinctions between Newport Center, a massive, multi-use development, and Fashion Island, the vast mall at its center.
For their part, the Newport Center signs also exceed the 20′ height limit for pylon signs by 115%, but I presume they predated the creation of the code, and/or that no one will tell The Irvine Company what it can’t do in Newport Beach. Their letters are individually fabricated.
There are at least eleven other signs at other entrances to Fashion Island/Newport Center, but they’re more architectural than sculptural, with concrete plinths and stucco-finished capitals. Only the four signs on the ECH exhibit this rigorous, minimalist aspect.
[l. to r.] Untitled (Newport Center Monument) III, I, II & IV, 2017, installation view, image: gmaps
Fashion Island was and remains a leader in the mall industry for experiential design. In an essay called, “The Archaeology of ‘Shoppertainment,'” Matthew Cochran and Paul Mullins wrote about RTKL/ ID8, a mall interior design company which worked on the Fashion Island Experience. They quote an RTKL brochure:
[Mall experience is] about storytelling. Great places tell stories, and people love to find themselves in those stories. Often this has less to do with the way a building or a district is assembled and more to do with how we read it…Experience is in the details. If a place tells a story, then the details of that place make the story interesting. The smallest elements-from manhole coves to water features-conspire to create a dynamic, authentically human environment.
What story do these signs tell? What authenticity do they conspire to create, with their approved colors from a gated community on a bluff? Can the gestalt of the minimalist object be achieved from your car, at speed, as you pass the mall, or do you have to turn in?
This ID8 quote, too, turns out to have more to do with how I read it:
What makes us linger, pause, sit and think? The building blocks of place probably have less to do with the buildings and more to do with the spaces between those buildings.
In 2002, the day they flipped the switch, architect Gustavo Bonevardi explained how he and John Bennett arrived at their solution for what became the Tribute of Light World Trade Center memorial:
We’re not reconstructing the towers in their original size, but the distance between the two squares of light is the same as the distance between the actual towers. So in effect, we’re not rebuilding the towers themselves, but the void between them.
Because I cannot look at the Newport Center signs, and their proportions, and their void, and not see the World Trade Center.
But maybe that’s just me. I invite you to visit, view, linger, think, and pause at this installation of new work and pursue your own authentic, dynamic, human experience.
Previously, unexpectedly related, c. 2002: On reading (between) the lines On’s Location
The Vermeil Room in the White House as redecorated by Pat Nixon’s plumbers, photo c.1992, LOC via Phillips-Schrock
The White House needed renovation and redecoration, and the Nixons were determined to put their mark on the place. By 1969, the French interiors commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy were worn from use. Also they were detested by politicals as reminders of a martyred rival. H.R. Haldeman and new White House curator Clement Conger set out on an aggressive fundraising effort to remake the White House and its collections, a campaign publicly led by the First Lady Pat Nixon. The period room-style appearance of the White House to this day largely reflects Mrs Nixon & co’s work.
Based on my Google Books previews of it, this story of “the Dismantling of Camelot” is meticulously told by Patrick Phillips-Schrock in his 2016 book, The Nixon White House Redecoration and Acquisition Program: An Illustrated History.
Vermeil Room a la Boudin, c. 1964, image: whitehousemuseum.org
Phillips-Schrock’s account of the 1971 redecoration of the Vermeil Room on the ground floor of the White House is representative. From a caption of a photo of Boudin’s Kennedy-era design: “The room was expensively finished in painted surfaces in blue and white with vitrines lined in white silk. Conger found it offensively French…” [p.74]
From an interview with Conger: “What we have done in ‘face-lifting’ the Vermeil Room is to change the room from a very dark blue–which is rather depressing–to a light green-gray, the appropriate color as the background for vermeil, which is gold. You use blue with silver, but never such a dark blue!” [p.76]
The room was reconceived as an early 19th century sitting room, with a table at the center “attributed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe, it was on loan until a donor could be found to purchase it.”
An 18th century lighting fixture in crystal with 10 lights replaced the Kennedy chandelier of bronze and blue tole. Further lighting was supplied by four matching sconces and by two candlesticks given by Mrs. Marjorie Meriwether [sic] Post, which were placed on the mantel. The fine Louis XVI marble fireplace was acquired and installed in 1962. [not too offensively French, I guess. -g.o] Within the firebox were a pair of valuable brass andirons, obtained from Israel Sack of New York. When the room was opened to the public, Conger related, “These are American andirons, so called ‘in the Paul Revere Manner’ with the flame and diamond lozenge–except they are a little more petite and narrow than the heavier ones of this same design one generally sees.” [p. 77]
The andirons abide.
American Andirons in the Vermeil Room, c.2008, image: CSPAN via whitehousemuseum.org
I mention this because I just googled across it. And because 1971 was a busy year for well-provenanced, Paul Revere-ish andirons. It was the same year Mrs. Giles Whiting bequeathed her Paul Revere (Attributed) andirons to the Metropolitan Museum. Interestingly, Mrs. Whiting’s Revere-ian andirons did not have a diamond and flame, but an urn and flame finial. Actually, I don’t know if that’s really interesting at all. Maybe what’s interesting about andirons is not the things themselves, but the complicated narratives into which they are enlisted.