Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil
by William Middleton
When I interviewed Dominique Schlumberger de Menil in Houston in 1987 for an article on her recently completed private gallery there by Renzo Piano—the Menil Collection, now universally esteemed as a pinnacle of modern museum architecture*—I found the seventy-nine-year-old collector and philanthropist, who was four decades my senior, to …
Minoru Yamasaki: Humanist Architecture for a Modernist World
by Dale Allen Gyure
Now that I’m about to turn seventy I finally feel able to reveal a shameful secret: I was a teenage Yamasaki addict. I have no good excuse for why I got hooked, but Minoru Yamasaki was the first contemporary architect who entranced me. I had already begun my architectural self-education …
Wiener Werkstätte, 1903–1932: The Luxury of Beauty
an exhibition at the Neue Galerie, New York City, October 26, 2017–January 29, 2018
The imaginative fervor that gripped avant-garde master builders and artisans around 1900 in Vienna, the capital of the vast and culturally diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire, paralleled equally radical innovation in other creative realms, including the music of Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg, the painting of Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, and the writings of Arthur Schnitzler and Sigmund Freud. Yet the singular contributions to the visual arts that the Viennese made during this epoch have never loomed large enough in general chronicles of modernism.
In the early 1980s, when I was an editor at Condé Nast’s House & Garden magazine, my colleagues and I were perturbed by an idée fixe of the company’s legendary editorial director, Alexander Liberman. He kept pressing us to make House & Garden more like Architectural Digest, the Los Angeles-based upstart that, under the editorship of Paige Rense, was fast approaching our once-impregnable circulation figures. He must be going gaga, we thought, as we contemplated the flashy, vulgar interiors in that veritable bible of bad taste, which we called Architectural Disgust. But as Rense understood, you don’t have to like something you are curious to see, a point that we at House & Garden never acknowledged, to our peril.
One of the consuming questions in architecture during the mid-twentieth century was whether or not what was once known as the building art could be reoriented from the technological preoccupations of the High Modernists and focused on more humane and aesthetic concerns. Venturi and Scott Brown, along with their teacher and employer Louis Kahn, did more to bring about this change than any of their peers, and the importance of what has, as a result of their all living there, been called the Philadelphia School, continues to influence the built environment in countless ways. Rather than being ironic and condescending, the partners’ commercial and quotidian borrowings represented their belief that “Main Street is almost all right,” and that there is much to be learned from popular taste.
So vivid are my memories of the incomparable Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson (1918–2005)—by general consent the foremost female Wagner exponent in the second half of the twentieth century and my favorite of all the artists I’ve ever seen in live performance—that it came as a shock to realize that this year is her centennial. I was lucky to attend many unforgettable Nilsson evenings during her peak decades, among them an overwhelming 1974 concert version of Richard Strauss’s Salome with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti, which, with her in the incendiary title part, nearly blew the roof off Carnegie Hall.
The material on view in “Cult of the Machine” is, to be sure, perennially popular with the general public, which can easily discern simple visual congruities among diverse mediums that all partake in the same visual vocabulary—cocktail shakers that look like skyscrapers, skyscrapers that look like cocktail shakers, paintings that resemble photographs, cars reminiscent of zeppelins. But to a great extent, it all comes down to stylization, and even mere styling, the manipulation of form in the service of image rather than meaning.
If curator Barry Bergdoll’s riveting MoMA preview talk was any indication, his six-part A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts series promises to be a landmark in our understanding of the display of architecture in museums.