20 June 2018

Pier 54 and the Italian pavilion

When I was in the Whitney this past spring, there was construction happening on the Hudson River waterfront and I was afraid the remnants of the pier building (Pier 54), an arched opening, had been demolished. It has been threatened off and on. Two days ago, when I was walking down the High Line after leaving Bill at his bus stop, I got a lovely view of the arch between buildings and against the New Jersey skyline.
Yesterday, I went to Avery Library to look at a book on Michele Busiri Vici, an Italian rationalist architect. Wikipedia says he's known for his works on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. The building that caught my attention was the Italian Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair. There's a model for the building in the Wolfsoniana collection in Nervi (Genoa), Italy.
There were quite a few pictures of the completed pavilion in the book at Avery. I like the model better, the simple classicizing is clear. The finished building looks rather more imposing and, I must admit, a little bit more fascist.

The main moment for rationalist architecture in Italy was the 1920s and 1930s and I really enjoy the classical allusions. You can't really disassociate the architecture of the public buildings from the governments that commissioned the works and then inhabited the buildings. The Casa del Fascio in Como, designed by Giuseppe Terragni, was the party headquarters and is now the headquarters of the provincial Guardia di Finanza police force. I was delighted to visit it some years ago and enjoyed seeing the reflections of the cathedral in its large windows. Architecture must reflect the society that builds it but it makes me a little queasy that the rationalist buildings I like so much might be described as fascist. Busiri Vici's seaside villas are more like Miami modern (or maybe the style went the other way) -- think kidney shaped pools -- and I don't like them nearly as much as the rationalism of the Italian Pavilion or the Casa del Fascio, or the neo-rationalists like Aldo Rossi and O.M. Ungers.

29 April 2018

Pompeo & Sesto San Giovanni

The morning news on NPR included a story about new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going to Israel and then on to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He was quoted about fighting the Islamic State and finding partners on other "homeland security" issues. I dearly wish that he and his colleagues would do as much on the social and economic justice issues as they do on the terrorism and military side. I have to believe that a more just world would experience less tumult from war and terrorism.

I got my Sunday Times and a few groceries at Wegmans and headed off to Billy Schu's for some pancakes. A few pages into the main section of the paper, I was taken back to Milan. Our first airbnb apartment in Milan was very near the Bande Nere stop of the Metro M1 line. One end of the line is Sesto San Giovanni, a northern suburb. So we'd take the train in the direction of Sesto 1° Maggio if we were going toward the center of Milan. We had a good modern architecture guide and there were quite a few buildings out that way, e.g., Campari headquarters (Mario Botta), the art space Pirelli Hangar Bicocca (Studio April), Pirelli Real Estate headquarters (Vittorio Gregotti), Deutsche Bank headquarters (Studio Valle), and the Bicocca campus of the University of Milan (Gregotti). Bicocca and Sesto are old industrial areas that are seeing new development. So Sesto was on my list for a field trip but we didn't make it out that way on this trip.

Today's paper had an article entitled "Outside Milan, a taste of a right-wing Italy" about the new mayor of Sesto San Giovanni, expulsion of migrants from public housing, and construction being blocked on a mosque. The new mayor, Roberto Di Stefano, said "If it starts with this [mosque], tomorrow they will ask for a Muslim soccer team, a Muslim school, a Muslim swimming pool." This is happening in a neighborhood that has a significant population of second and third generation Muslims. It just seems to me that it's obvious that an "Italy first" policy, just like "America first," leads to rancor between people which is more likely to lead to the sort of disgruntlement that fosters terrorism and/or fascism, especially when exacerbated by the arrival of war refugees. It seems trite to argue that "we should all just try to get along" but I think I'll keep on saying that we should always give peace a chance.
(anti-war banner in Genoa, March 2018)

18 April 2018

I went to Milan and I saw the "future"

I was looking for a lost book in the stacks and saw a few items that were unusual for the collection or were classified for a general collection rather than the special collection of the Scholes Library of Ceramics. One of them was Magic Motorways by Norman Bel Geddes, published in 1940 just after he'd designed the Futurama exhibit for the 1939 New York World's Fair. Scholes serves the art and engineering schools of the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, part of SUNY. The engineering is mostly related to ceramics (not surprising), glass, and other materials. Not so much traffic or civil engineering. The book was a gift in 1951 so it's not that surprising that it crept into the collection, and it actually has circulated a few times in the last twenty years.

The Futurama exhibit envisioned the world twenty or more years into the future. Things like the interstate highway system, super highways on city outskirts and smaller feeder highways out from the city, high towers dispersed around the city, divided pedestrian and car traffic but big streets. Some of this has happened, some of this has happened badly, some of this has been demolished and replaced by a denser fabric or parks over sunken highways (Boston's Big Dig or Dallas's Klyde Warren Park, for example).

I was intrigued by this illustration on page 270:
It rather looks like a meld of some of the Italian rationalist buildings I saw in Italy last month and the Porta Nuova development in Milan. The plaza (Piazza Gae Aulenti) at the Porta Nuova is a lively pedestrian area and the car traffic zips underneath and there's a train station (Garibaldi station) just to the East.
Torre Littoria in Turin, 1933-1934 (originally Reale Mutua building)
Porta Nuova

One of the side treats was seeing the NBG logo on the spine of Magic Motorways:

14 April 2018

Zoe Leonard, Danh Vo, and Adrian Piper

The Zoe Leonard and Danh Vo exhibitions were on my list for the two NYC days I spent after three weeks in Italy. I had seen a good number of the works in the Zoe Leonard show at the Whitney and it was great to see the Fae Richards Photo Archive again. I really like the pieces that combine everyday objects and demographics/popularity. For example, the Niagara Falls postcards were stacked by viewpoint. Some viewpoints were only evident on one postcard, others on many postcards. Niagara Falls cards were also spread out on a gallery wall.
Another work had editions of How to Make Good Pictures arranged in stacks of copies of a particular edition. This was displayed in a gallery with a window wall looking out over the Hudson River. There was construction going on across the West Side Highway, where the piers used to be. I was thinking about the wonderful arch, remnants of a warehouse, that is off-and-on threatened for demolition but it's actually got a website now: http://pier54.com/ -- so maybe the threats are in abeyance.

The Danh Vo show was very interesting too. The Guggenheim was jammed on Friday, April 6th, when I was there. I mean jammed. The fellow in the Aye Simon Reading Room said it had been jammed for about a week. Easter rush? Lots of people speaking other than English. European spring break? Vo's work is complex and occasionally rambunctious. Folks seemed to be there for the Frank Lloyd Wright and were making comments like "Oh, look, a chandelier." Vo's chandeliers are from spaces of historical importance like the hotel conference room where the Paris Peace Accords were signed. It was actually difficult at first to be there but I worked at getting over that and wrapped myself in a visual and auditory bubble. Having just been traveling internationally, I was quite amused by the slices of a fruitwood Saint Joseph in carry-on bags. Christie and I often stopped on the street in Italy when we saw a stationery or pen shop. Another of Vo's works was Esterbrook fountain pen points used for signing the nuclear test ban treaty.

As much as I enjoyed these two shows, it was a late addition -- the Adrian Piper show at MoMA -- that really knocked my socks off. I was fairly familiar with her work but had never seen a comprehensive show. She is just a bit younger than I am. She was doing traditional work in high school and found the conceptual and minimal artists when she came to New York City to study art. I'm not a practicing artist but I similarly evolved in what I wanted to look at at about the same time, the mid-late 1960s and into the 1970s, when Lucy Lippard was writing Six Years and the next generation of artists was succeeding the Abstract Expressionists (to massively overgeneralize). The political overtones are strong here as they are in both Zoe Leonard and Danh Vo.

I did do a bit of other gallery hopping and saw some friends for meals but it was a real rich couple days after three weeks of wonderment in Italy.

looming towers

Part of the charm of old cities is the narrow streets. Part is the intervention of plazas, the cacophony of old streets or the intervention of new wider streets. When I first saw a picture of the new Intesa Sanpaolo Office Building in Turin by Renzo Piano, I thought it was perhaps too disruptive. But seeing it as I walked about the city was enjoyable.
I also really enjoyed seeing the UniCredit skyscraper in Milan. It is the tower with the spiky top.


I probably enjoyed it more as part of the cityscape than being right up against it though I must admit the Milano e Torinos (Campari and Punt e Mes sweet vermouth) that we had at the Feltrinelli RED cafe on the plaza level were just fine. It is part of the Porta Nuova development which is compared to the High Line in New York City on the construction billboards. The strolling and retail is much more mixed at Porta Nuova. The pedestrian traffic is a vigorous mix of strollers, shoppers, and neighborhood folks, and car traffic is mostly separated.

13 April 2018

olfactory

I really enjoyed Sofija Stefanovic's essay "Smells Like Home" in the New York times a few days ago. She talks about how smells -- good or bad -- can take you to another place. For Stefanovic, who migrated to Australia as a child from the former Yugoslavia, the childhood smells of Belgrade can become like Proust's madeleine though totally unrecognized when she was in Yugoslavia.

I'm not sure my childhood had such evocative smells but today was an olfactory, or potentially very smelly, day. When I pulled on my jeans, I noticed the smell of the laundry in Turin. We were in Italy in March and decided to use a laundry rather than try to figure out the washer in our airbnb apartment. I don't normally use scented detergent so it was strange to whiff the Italy-laundered jeans and totally splendid to think of Turin.

Out for my morning walk. It's earlier than usual because I was heading out early to an ARLIS/NA Upstate New York chapter meeting in Corning. I was walking along in my morning quasi-meditative fog when I'm brought up short by the skunk just a few paces ahead of me. I crossed the street and he slunk off into the brush. Phew.

I got to the chapter meeting and one of my colleagues admitted that she was in the process of moving and had had trouble finding clean clothes to put on and hoped she wasn't smelly. Nope, you're fine.

Our chapter likes to do silent auctions at our chapter meetings. I don't know if it was the skunk, Proust, laundry detergent, or just the crazies but I bid on the little box of scented soaps. All the way home, the car interior was creating a whole new, very fragrant memory.

07 April 2018

Palazzo Carignano

I didn't do very well selecting my favorite city on our recent Italian trip: Milan, Turin, Genoa. There were lots of buildings and monuments -- Roman, medieval, early modern, art nouveau, mid-century modern, 20th century, brand spanking new 21st century -- that I really enjoyed seeing. But the Palazzo Carignano in Turin stood out as (perhaps) my single favorite building. It was designed by Guarino Guarini and construction started in 1679. It has changed significantly over the years but the High Baroque curves of the facade, done in brick, are still powerful and mostly as Guarini designed them.






06 April 2018

peace in Italy

Arco della Pace and former tollhouses, Parco Sempione, Milan

PAX on the Bocconi family mausoleum, Cimitero Monumentale, Milan

Anti-war vigil, Piazza De Ferrari, Genoa

"No F35" on the Via Garibaldi, Turin

Italian coffee bars

One of the immense delights of traveling in Italy is the ubiquity of coffee bars. You go in and get your coffee receipt from the cashier. Depending on the bar and how busy they are, they may forgive you for forgetting and going right up to the bar instead of paying first at the cassa. It's usually only one euro for espresso or macchiato but will be more for cappuccino and may be more at an Illy bar or fancy place. You put your receipt on the bar and tell the bartender what you want. He or she puts out a saucer and spoon and brews the coffee. And then you drink it, standing at the bar, and go immediately to heaven.

When Christie and I are together in Italy, our morning ritual is a variant on this. She rather likes to check the day's weather forecast, work on directions and transit for the day's adventures, check in on the news, and similar preparation things. I really like my early morning walk to the nearest bar for our cappuccinos and croissants, take-away per favore. I am a regular by the second or third day. In Milan, many of the bars were run by Chinese. On Sunday in Turin, I had to go further afield since our regular Wonder Bar, around the corner, wasn't open. The further place gave me a paper shopping bag with an insert with two indentations for coffee cups, for taking away. I kept that and it became part of my regular costume for fetching coffee. I didn't think to take a picture but it definitely identified me.  Yeah right, as if they thought for a second that I was Italian. A couple of the bartenders used small pieces of aluminum foil to cover the cup. Reduce, reuse, recycle. When I took the foil back the next day for reuse, they smiled. The Chinese bartender in Milan even said "bravissima" when I showed him that I still had the foil.

Yes, "take away" is the usual term for getting something to go.

what's your favorite city?

When you go on a multi-city trip, you ask yourself which was your favorite. Was it Milan? Turin? Genoa? Each city, in turn, had its delights and highpoints.

Was it Milan? Big and busy. Over-the-top cathedral. Great rationalist buildings from the mid 20th century. Good museums like the Brera. Recent developments with work by such international star architects as Zaha Hadid, Pei Cobb Freed, Daniel Libeskind, and Rem Koolhaas.



Was it Turin? Grid city plan that made wayfinding easier. Art nouveau (Liberty) houses and other buildings which were easy to identify because of the walking guide found at the Palazzo Reale bookshop. The views of the Alps from across the Po River. The wonderful central plaza. The Basilica of Superga, also across the river and high above it.



Was it Genoa? Hilliest of the three cities. On the Mediterranean coast. More art nouveau. Narrow narrow streets. Seafood. Easter season. Funiculars and elevators to expedite getting up the hills.



Still mulling over which was my favorite city as we landed in New York City. I had decided to stay a couple days since there were a couple exhibitions (Danh Vo and Zoe Leonard) that I wanted to see. After a couple hours on the NYC streets the morning after, still a little jet-lagged, I realized that "what is your favorite city?" was not the right question for me. It was "what is your favorite environment?" and the answer is "city." And I like the mix of buildings and neighborhoods but especially the gritty and unresolved parts.

More pictures from Italy in my "Italy 2018" album on Flickr.