Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Read a tribute to Patrick D. Hazard written by one of the blogger’s editors, Dan Rottenberg.

Rest in peace, Patrick.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Mies Mess

As we speak, a stupendous error in German culture is being revealed. The British architect David Chipperfield is simultaneously displaying his own work as he deglassifies the windows of the Neue Nationalie Gallerie in Berlin. Hazard’s first commandment of museum design: Thou shall not ever again encase an art museum in glass. 

If you try, you’re turning those art works over to the Sun, not the art visitor. Mies van der Rohe may have sensed that. But he was a prisoner of Cuba's new dictator, Fidel Castro.

The original glassy design was devised to promote Cuban rum. But Fidel decreed that his citizens already drank too much so the glassy display structure would never be built in his Cuba! Mies got the rights to the design, and his own contradictory structure got off to a wheezy start. 

It’s a fluke that I know this. Two Cuban art historians were snooping secretly to see how the old rum bum was humming. They identified themselves to me as art historians, as that type usually do on the roll.

Mies, alas, is the most overrated architect in Germany, perhaps in the whole world. It all began because he was the blue collar son of a stone mason in Aachen. His excess use of glass was his grim search for innovation that would raise his self esteem. It didn’t.

My first taste of his work was the Weissenfels project—many famous European architects gathered to show the world Mies was no loser. (I’d never take Corbusier’s mangled concrete jungle there free!) 

And the leading American architectural critic (Peter Blake—actually a pseudonym for a Jew who fled Germany) argued in his obit of Philip C. Johnson that he corrupted America’s commercial architecture in the twentieth century—with Mies’s collaboration. They were what the greatest factory architect of all time, Albert Kahn, called the "glass house" Boys!

Kahn was an inspired autodidact. One of the six Jewish kids of a rabbi from Mainz, he couldn’t even afford high school. He drew so well, the leading Detroit architectural firm hired him, and at 21 sent him to Europe to get the big picture. Ford’s River Rouge was in his future. 

During the Depression, Moscow hired him to build tank factories. We used to joke on the Ford assembly line, where I worked summers for doctoral tuition money, that Kahn won World War II by himself. Moscow was slow to pay. So he returned to Detroit.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Coping with Copenhagen

My favorite museum in the world is Louisiana, an hour by train North of Copenhagen in a village, Humlebaek, facing the Ore Sound which separates Denmark from Sweden. This year is special because an unorthodox businessman named Knud W. Jensen founded it fifty years ago in 1958. Its strange name derives from the odd coincidence that he married seriatim three women named LOUISE. He also believed museums felt too much like Churches: he wanted a place where whole families could relax as they responded to art, small “a”.

Cultural leaders at that time considered such opinions vulgar, to be overlooked whenever possible! But he was prescient and his view now prevails, even in the most rarified cases, with their intimate cafes and mini-shopping malls. Its rural ambience—with lazy, hazy hills wandering down to the Sound—is ideal for family group picnicking, or couples courting. A rambling sculpture “garden” encourages unplanned pauses for contemplating. Highlight of all is the Alexander Calder Sculpture Garden between the outdoor restaurant and the sea. Four great black steel Baubles, three Mobiles and one Stabile.

To honor this anniversary, the museum picked up on a marvelous innovation in museology—the Basel Switzerland Art Center which dreams up fresh exhibition ideas and packages them for an international itinerary. The Current Theme is the art museum as the archetype building of the 21st century. You know, the Bilbao Effect. Book Starchitect Frank Gehry to fling around computer generated Titanium strips and before you can say Pritzker fifty times backwards your dingey town is full of rich, gullible tourists who are too dumb to see they’re being scammed.

The Bilbao Guggenheim is a lousy place to display art, unless, say, you're Gehry’s Steel Brooder, Mark de Suvero who needs a place to park his Monoliths until they’re carted off to the metal recycling junkyard. Gehry never considers his clients' needs so eager is he to concoct (with emphasis on “con”) a walk through sculpture honoring His Godlike Creativity!

Mind you there are many architects who think first of their clients’ needs before their own Ego’s: Renzo Piano, for example, whose new Musee des Arts Contemporains in Lyons gave me recently great pleasure in a Keith Haring retrospective, Bilbao’s tend to encourage bad habits like the Jeff Koons’ Flower Puppy. Yuck. The excellent catalog is mainly written by architects ruminating on their problems aloud. Don’t miss Lousiana’s idiosyncratic pairings like this spring’s Cezanne and Modigliani. And their standing collection where will encounter many Danes you had no idea were so Great.

My next favorite place in the Copenhagen area is the Danish Design Center where in this show they were deploying the infinite possibilities of diverse woods making anything from furniture to kid’s games. Aalto showed us how humane a material wood is, in a century of Modernism gone gewgaw over the techno brutishness of steel, glass, and, ugh, concrete. It’s a great place to have lunch where Danish table design adds to the pleasures of Slow Food.

The place is lousy with great museums. My problem is always which three or four I have to miss this time, which was a day after landing from Iceland, where the guy in charge of keeping lines manageable told me when I asked for a locker if I were flying back to Germany after my week in Iceland. My answer was YES so he checked me in at 0900, viz. immediately!

I have a suggestion for hotels: there’s a new chain with the attention getting name of ZZZZZLEEP! One subway stop from the airport on the line that also goes to the main train station. Book rooms.