Archive for the 'architecture' Category

The Week

The week in review

Vacation and work have kept me away for a while, a will probably continue to do so for a little while yet. While in Boston, I checked back on one of the city’s premier cultural institutions.

The new wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is emblematic of museum branding today, all the more so because of the particular intractability of its foundational stipulations. In a cultural climate where having a great collection simply isn’t enough, institutional visibility has become closely tied to event culture. for a museum that can’t even rehang its collection, this is of course a problem, so what do you do? Raise $180 million and hire go-to starchitect Renzo Piano to facilitate all the things museums seem convinced they have to do to stay afloat these days: an new wing housing a concert hall, a gift shop, a restaurant, a children’s art room, an exhibition space for artists-in-residence, a greenery. All sustainable, geothermal and daylight-harvesting, of course.

You do what you gotta do to survive, I suppose, but the absurdity of this trend for museums to go extra-curricular is particularly clear at the Gardner, whose intermittently great collection is forever trapped in a mediocre hang by the vanity of its founder, who insisted that everything be presented exactly as she left it at her death. This results in many important works being hung at low visibility and in often idiosyncratic and unenlightening juxtaposition, with the preciously empty frames of masterworks stolen in 1990 remaining on the walls as if to consecrate this “vision.” A new wing could have worked wonders for the presentation of the museum’s masterpieces, if only.

Still, Boston has a new, reportedly great concert hall and I’m sure Piano’s elegant building will attract customers. It has the potential to become a strong cultural center, if it does not blow too many leaks and if the museum’s direction finds ways of breaking its somewhat stale reputation. A good thing, even if the overall tendency is troubling.

A bunch of recent comics links:

  • The new Du9. One of the best critical sites about comics on the web, du9.org has just undergone a thorough, attractive redesign, led by editor-in-chief Xavier Guilbert’s extensive analysis of developments in the French-language comics market in the last year or so.
  • Neal Kirby on his Father Jack Kirby. Touching and informative reminiscence of growing up Kirby.
  • Shaenon Garrity on the fifty greatest pop songs about comics. Inventive, fun, insightful. And it mentions the Last Emperor’s amazing “Secret Wars.” I should add that the Philly MC does dead-ringing impressions of the rappers he casts in his epic comic book battle. Here’s hoping she will post part two soon.
  • Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • RSA Animate: David Harvey breaks down in simple terms the financial crisis from his perspective, accompanied by some great instructional white-board cartooning (above).
  • Amoeblog: Billyjam interviews hip hop legend Krs-One in depth, on the occasion of the release of his new book The Gospel of Hip Hop. As usual the Teacha’s all over the place and highly idiosyncratic, but it remains lovely to hear him speak about hip hop.
  • London Review of Books. Rebecca Solnit writes on the repercussions of the Gulf oil spill. A little wobbly, but with some interesting reporting from the ground.
  • Vanity Fair: Survey among 52 world-renowned architects and specialists on the most significant works of architecture since 1980. Of course this is just a best-of list, but it’s compiled from the responses of people who know what they’re talking about and serves to highlight many of the remarkable buildings of the last 30 years, with a great overview provided in a slideshow. I’m suprised Santiago Calatrava didn’t make the final 21, but that’s the nature of these things…
  • No Architects

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    In which I go to the Venice Architecture Biennial, so you don’t have to. Continue reading ‘No Architects’

    Walls — Bassano

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    I was in Bassano del Grappa today. A beautiful small Medieval/Renaissance town scenically situated in the foothills of the Dolemites, it’s well worth a visit. Palladio’s famous pontoon bridge is elegant, almost timeless in its grace, and the collection at the city museum of pictures by the town’s greatest artist son Jacopo del Ponte, aka. Jacopo Bassano, is both grand and moving. His best work is earthy and rustic, yet possessed of a luminous spirituality that transcends the profane. Continue reading ‘Walls — Bassano’

    On a Wall in Barcelona

    tree_t.jpgJust returned from a short, sweet trip to Barcelona. Found this on a wall, in one of the many recesses of Gaudí’s Sagrada Família. Made me think of this passage from Leonardo’s notebooks:

    “… if you look at any walls soiled with a variety of stains, or stones with variegated patterns, when you have to invent some location, you will therein be able to see a resemblance to various landscapes graced with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, great valleys and hills in any combinations. Or again you will be able to see various battles and figures darting about, strange-looking faces and costumes, and an endless number of things which you can distill into finely-rendered forms. And what happens with regard to such walls and variegated stones is just as with the sound of bells, in whose peal you will find any name or word you care to imagine.”

    Somehow auspiciously appropriate in that particular building.