25 December 2015

60º on Christmas

So what do you do when it's 60º or thereabouts on Christmas Day, you're in New York City but the museums are all closed, it's cloudy but not raining now, your "supper" reservation is for 4:30 p.m. but it's only 9:30 a.m.? You go for a long walk. I noticed that Gates Avenue ran from near John's where I'm staying all the way from Queens into Brooklyn and Gates met Fulton Street near the Brooklyn Academy of Music. So Christie and I decided to start from our ends of Gates and we'd meet in the middle.

When I got to the corner of Gates and Bushwick, I found two incredible buildings: one a Masonic temple; the other was probably a villa and is now the Iglesia de Cristo Misionera, Inc.

Thank heavens for the Internet and the ease of searching and the wealth of information (right or wrong).

The Ridgewood Masonic Temple, aka Ridgewood Lodge No. 710, Free and Accepted Masons, was designed by Koch and Wagner, completed in 1920, and declared a city landmark in 2014. Currently unoccupied.

According to a photo on Flickr, the "villa" was the Eastern District Turn Verein, designed by Theobald Engelhardt and built in 1902. It was built as an extension to the Italianate Tuttle Mansion which has been demolished. Bushwiki has somewhat different, but rather more, information.

The Iglesia de Cristo Misionera is now closed so both of these buildings are sitting vacant. They do make for a lovely sight and I hope they find new uses.

After Christie and I met, we took the B52 bus down Gates toward BAM and had brunch at The Quarter at 87 Lafayette (in the space formerly occupied by Stonehome Wine Bar). The restaurant had only been open for 12 days so it wasn't crowded, and it WAS Christmas. Our brunch was very nice. Then we walked over to Janet's, where Christie is staying, took Riley for a walk, and then left for our 4:30 appointment at Bacchus Bistro on Atlantic Avenue. Adele beat us to the restaurant and it had started raining. Our supper was very tasty as was the wine: Altitudes Côte de Roussillon. The cute and scruffy waiter with the French accent (he may have been Algerian or Moroccan by background so I was feeling very ecumenical) stole my heart and he could say "Roussillon" a hundred times and I'd say "une fois de plus s'il-vous plaît" (one more time, please). Merci.

18 December 2015

more architecture biennial and chicago

Thursday started with shlepping my suitcase from Karen's to the Congress Hotel. While I waited for my room to be ready, I stopped in at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago. The exhibition on view was "Grace of Intention: Photography, Architecture and the Monument" which included this haunting "Fengjie III (Monument to Progress and Prosperity), Chongqing Municipality" (2007), by Nadav Kander, part of his "Yangtze, the Long River" series. The show also included works by Iman Issa whose work I met through the "Monuments" show at Lismore Castle Arts. That show came into my scope through the work of Pablo Bronstein. The Issa works in "Grace of Intention" were each entitled "Materials for a sculpture ..." Really good show.

After I checked into the hotel, I took the El up to Andersonville for a visit to Women & Children First bookstore, a favorite store of Nicole Gotthelf with whom I was going to have supper. The store was full of good stuff as well as holiday shoppers. Somehow, holiday shoppers at an independent bookstore are quite easy to take.

Snacked at Taste of Lebanon and then took the Clark Street bus back down toward the Loop and checked out the Barbara Kasten show and installation at the Graham Foundation. Really great. The show was on all three public floors of the foundation which is in the 1902-1903 Madlener House. Lots more information about the foundation on their website but they are a great supporter of architectural publications and programs that "foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society."
The Kasten "Scenario" installation on the third floor, in the ballroom, commissioned for the Biennial, was a lovely play of color, shape, and shadow across a simple set of plaster boxes. Reality and illusion.

Then off to Wicker Park for a stop at Quimby's Bookstore ("specialists in the importation, distribution, & sale of unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets, and assorted fancies" and lots and lots of zines) which hadn't been on my radar but Michael Donovan, VR person at the U of Chicago, asked if I'd been there when I went to Myopic Books. I found the catalog from the Palais de Tokyo for the Ugo Rondinone show "I [heart] John Giorno" at Quimby's. Then supper with Nicole at Club Lucky.

Today was rather quieter but this whole week has been such a wonderful visit to Biennial locations and to Chicago at large, and time with friends. I went out to the lakefront to see "Chicago Horizon" by Ultramoderne, the winner of the BP Prize competition to design a lakefront pavilion in conjunction with the Biennial. Ultramoderne is a collaboration of architects Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest, and structural engineer Brett Schneider, based in Providence, R.I.

Then lunch with Helen Schmierer at Miss Ricky's, a new faux diner at the recently-opened Virgin Hotel. Then I sort of diddled away the rest of the afternoon with a visit to Bookworks up on Clark that I had noticed from the bus back from Andersonville, to Lucky Horseshoe Saloon, and to the Thai restaurant nearby for some pad thai before heading back to the hotel.

16 December 2015

"community cataloging" at Stony Island Arts Bank

I saw a picture of this amazing book room that is part of the Stony Island Arts Bank, one of the Rebuild Foundation's buildings in Chicago, and was pretty excited that one of their "community cataloging" exercises would take place while I was in town for the Architecture Biennial. The vision was that we would see how community would build metadata. Well, it didn't turn out quite like that but it was interesting to see how an arts organization might look at a collection of books in a creative way. The books, by the way, belonged to the Johnson Publishing Company, the publishers of Ebony and Jet.

Our project was counting slides from the Art Institute of Chicago that are now one of the Rebuild collections. The approach was much more archival than library. Collection-level rather than item-level cataloging. They anticipate that users will make connections from the images rather than use them as illustrations as an art historian might.

Whatever, it was great to see the renovated bank and how it had become an art space. There was a model on the second floor that indicates there might be a garden of related spaces for performance and observation next to the bank building.

The bank is several long blocks South of the University of Chicago campus. The rain had stopped so I didn't get all wet again on my way up to the campus.

I stopped in at the Logan Center gallery (So-called Utopias), the Renaissance Society (drawings by Paul McCarthy), and the Smart Museum of Art (expressionism from Central and Eastern Europe) before heading back to the Loop. A ceramic work entitled Translated Vases by Yeesookyung in the permanent collection galleries at the Smart played nicely off No Light For Whom by Jörg Immendorff in the expressionist show.

15 December 2015

how many art trips do you take in a year?

Even though this trip to Chicago was primarily to see the Chicago Architecture Biennial, I was flummoxed when Karen asked me how many art trips I take in a year. I guess I just don't think of them in those terms. My conference trips usually include some time in museums and/or galleries with a good bunch of architectural sightseeing. Still, this trip is more "art trip" than most. I got here late Sunday afternoon and spent the evening with Karen, her daughter Catherine, and Bella (dog), Napoleon (Leo), Sam, and Mouse. The latter three are cats but I still haven't really seen the elusive Sam. She disappears into the cupboard when a stranger arrives.

Monday morning, I left with Karen (who still has to go work at ALA) and stopped at the Chicago Cultural Center (ex central library) to get my Biennial bearings. Good. It really worked because there is a daily overview tour of the exhibits in the center, this being the first time that they have devoted all of the gallery spaces to a single exhibition.
The structure in the background is House No. 11 (Corridor House) by MOS Architects of New York. The rooms are gone, only the corridors remain, but it's still got plenty of room. The small works on stands in the foreground are street detritus as models of possible buildings with small figurines sharing the pedestals. Found architecture, by Sou Fujimoto Architects.

The tour was fine but its special value was the overview. Then, off to meet Anne and Leigh for lunch at Tesori for a satisfying margherita pizza. Anne had a burger.

Leigh split off to run errands and Anne and I went back to Ryerson so I could chat briefly with the new head librarian (Doug Litts) and go out the back door of the library into the galleries. The David Adjaye show was delightful.
I really like his architecture as does much of the world these days. He has finished a number of esteemed buildings, such as two branches of the D.C. Public Library and some U.K. Idea Stores (public library and community center), the just opened Aïshti Foundation in Beirut and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, and Sugar Hill Housing in Harlem. The first Adjaye building I visited was the modest Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. The show included great models and supporting materials as well as some really good videos and a sound installation done in collaboration with his brother Peter Adjaye. Pretty close to sated when I was done with the exhibition so I skipped through a few galleries, and then went and got my coat from the library and headed back to Karen's.

Tuesday started with an expedition. I'd had the address of Myopic Books -- 1564 North Milwaukee Avenue, in the Wicker Park neighborhood -- on my Chicago list for a few years but hadn't made it out to the Damen Avenue stop on the Blue Line. That is also close to The 606, a new urban park space above street level on an abandoned rail line. Its plantings aren't as fancy as the High Line in NYC, it's more of a bike passage though the pedestrian accommodation is fine, but it does give that wonderful freedom from the street craziness without removing you from the urban mix. And good views further afield.

Back to North Michigan Avenue. The Graham Foundation isn't open on Tuesday so I headed for the Museum of Contemporary Art which always provides a good experience. First, lunch (kale and grain salad with a very tasty small baguette). Even though the third-floor galleries were closed for installation, the American surrealism show on the first floor included some really wonderful works, a fine mix of early "classical" surrealism as well as much more recent works. A great Jess painting that looked just a tad Bosch-like (yes, I did make my flight reservation to go see the 500-year memorial exhibition in the spring in Den Bosch, another admittedly art trip) and a group of small paintings by Forrest Bess. I also really enjoyed the small exhibition of riffs on columns by Ania Jaworska.

I finished up Tuesday with some more time in the Chicago Cultural Center and the annex across Randolph Street with three installations including one from Assemble. They just received the 2015 Turner Prize. I think I did their authority record for the Avery Index and it was fun to know a lot of the architects in the Biennial from my indexing.

02 November 2015

President Buchanan

How could I have forgotten official residences when I started using Pinterest a while ago? It goes way back: Judith Holliday was collecting library postcards and I loved finding her exotic (mostly not vintage) cards of libraries as I traveled about. She said I needed a category and I wanted something architectural and picked official residences. I quickly had plenty of postcards of the White House and the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. I had spent much of my childhood in official residences; my dad was a pastor and we lived in the parsonage. What I mean by official residence is the domicile that comes with a position. I've got postcards of jailer's houses, parsonages, college president's houses, governor's mansions, palaces, and other types. I don't think I have a maid's room or the Downton Abbey lower level, but they'd fit. I include the houses of U.S. presidents other than the White House since many of the presidents used them during their term in a semi-official (or totally official) way. Besides, they're often nice houses.

Yesterday's New York Times had an article about "The other presidents' houses: lesser-known homes can have their own rewards" by Robert Strauss.
This is Wheatland, the Federal-style house of President James Buchanan, in Lancaster, Pa. The picture is by Will Figg for the Times and accompanies the article. Buchanan bought the estate in 1848 (before he became president, 1857-1861) and lived there until he died in 1868. He was the only bachelor president and has been rumored to have been bisexual or homosexual.

Just before the Civil War, Buchanan was upset that Lancaster residents weren't renting rooms to Franklin & Marshall College students when there weren't enough rooms on campus. So he rented out some rooms and got the neighbors upset. My mind, naturally, meandered to the pleasure of having some young men, presumably most of the students were men, around the house. Probably nothing in it since Buchanan was in the White House and they are only rumors but still ...

By the way, the lacuna of "Official residences" in LCSH was remedied about a dozen years ago when I proposed it as a new subject heading. The narrower term is "Parsonages."

25 October 2015

adkins and motherwell

I went to the exhibition closer for the Kenneth Adkins show at The Belfry in Hornell last night. I really liked the paintings and had a good talk with Ian McMahon, one of the gallerists. This painting is from the exhibition page and is one of his obituary paintings.

Now it's Sunday and I'm doing my regular Sunday duty at the ceramics library and looking at the 2002 MIT Press book on Black Mountain College. There's a show on Black Mountain College at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston that I'm looking forward to seeing when I'm there for ALA in January. Meanwhile, this Robert Motherwell from the Art Institute of Chicago (Málaga, 1950) caught my eye in the MIT book:

The background story is probably pretty different but the visuals resonate.

23 October 2015


This correction was in yesterday's New York Times:

A film review on Wednesday about Laurie Anderson's "Heart of a Dog," which is partly a meditation on loss and love, misspelled the surname of an artist who died in 1978 and was a friend of Ms. Anderson. He was Gordon Matta-Clark, not Matta-Clarke.

I would have loved to have him as part of the family.

Here pictured is Bingo, seen in the Urban Alchemy show at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts: http://mattaclark.pulitzerarts.org/ The work was done in 1974 and is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. It was on display at the Albright-Knox in the "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-Garde in the 1970s" show.

Here's the review of "Heart of a Dog" by Manohla Dargis from the Times with a short video.

19 October 2015

cities and Jews

This year's Lefkowitz Lecture in Jewish Studies at Alfred University was given by Deborah Dash Moore who teaches at the University of Michigan. Her topic was the "Urban Origins of American Judaism" which is also the title of her most recent book (published by University of Georgia Press in 2014).
I really enjoyed the lecture though she started out by saying that Alfred was probably as far from a city as she could imagine. Sigh.

Dash Moore divided her comments into three sections: synagogues, streets, photographs. The sections blended nicely. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the Touro Synagogue in Newport (the only extant synagogue building from colonial times) and Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati which I was happy to visit when SAH met there some years ago. It's a Moorish Revival pile across the street from a Catholic cathedral and near a no-longer-standing Episcopal church, with the three religious buildings across the way from the city hall. She noted the importance of them near the center of civic power and prestige. Perhaps the Moorish Revival building brought in the Muslims too. Into the 20th century, she showed a picture of the Brooklyn Jewish Center (1920s) which had a pool, gym, and restaurant. She didn't speculate on whether the building of a Jewish community center was related to people not being on the street as much because they had bigger houses, or drove more, or wanted to be with their kind, or it was a reaction to discrimination. Other national and ethnic groups, of course, also had community centers, and I can blame almost anything on our car-oriented culture.

She talked for a while about the rhythm of street life following the Jewish calendar. That is, people shopped on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, in preparation for the Sabbath. I wonder if she knew that Alfred was observant of the Sabbath until the 1950s. The stores and post office in Alfred were closed on the Sabbath (Saturday) because the town was founded by Sabbatarian Baptists (Seventh-day Baptists). See, Alfred is more like a city than you might imagine.

Lots to think and muse about. I might just have to read the book.

11 October 2015

refugees and peacemaking

Today's New York Times has an article about refugees stuck in a "grinding U.S. process" as they await permission to come to the land of the free. We've increased the turmoil with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our adventures in Syria, Israel, and Palestine. We've helped make it well nigh impossible to peacefully survive in a wide swath of the Middle East and South Asia.

The Global War on Terror has been about as successful in bringing justice, liberty, and peace to the world as the War on Drugs. Perhaps the problem is the WAR part of both of these efforts.

Facing the article on the refugees is one about a concert in the Cathedral Plaza in Havana. There, Lang Lang played a Steinway while Cuban music superstar Chucho Valdés played another piano and the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra (conducted by American Marin Alsop) played Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, and works by Valdés and other Cuban composers. Steinway is contributing the piano to the Cuban Institute of Music.

I know it's not black-or-white, or just war-or-peace, and that it's been fifty years of embargo and distrust between Cuba and the United States. Cuban refugees have been mostly successfully absorbed into life in Florida and I wish more international relations and interactions could be on the music side.

04 October 2015

Tania Bruguera

I had heard the name Tania Bruguera before I went to Cuba in May during the Biennal de La Habana but I certainly didn't know her work well. Others in the College Art group were well aware and Judith Rodenbeck participated in the reading of The origins of totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt at Bruguera's house. The September 2015 issue of Art in America has an interview with Bruguera by Travis Jeppesen. Just a few quotations:

"Also, we will have a big library [at the Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism]. We'll put shelves on the walls. It will be a specialized library, for people working in art, activism, philosophy and politics."

"I'm an anticapitalist. So I'm present in the discourse. I believe that socialism is a better model, even if it has some problems. I'm afraid that Cuba will go in a direction that is completely contrary to the Revolution."

"And racism is coming back. Yesterday I was talking to a former student, a black artist whose work deals with these issues. She told me that she will no longer go to some private restaurants, because nobody there is black -- not the cook, not even the person who cleans. Everyone is white. Racism is, of course, related to classism. This is something we haven't seen for a long time in Cuba. We were color blind. We saw people for who they were, how they behaved -- not how much money they had or the color of their skin."

As I walked the streets in Havana, there did indeed seem to be a diversity and mixing of people that was authentic and positive. I've been reading The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander so colorblindness and racism are much in my thoughts. The interview shakes my idealism about the situation in Cuba, a little bit, but I am very glad that there continues to be movement on the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S.

01 October 2015

Thursday adventures in Rochester

Thursday is usually one of my days to work at Scholes Library but I had a visit to the dermatologist in Rochester today. So it was off to the big city for a bit of adventure. I wanted to check the used bookstores to see if I could find of copy of The Gallery by John Horne Burns. I had finished not long ago the new biography on Burns entitled Dreadful: the short life and gay times of John Horne Burns by David Margolick. Imagine my delight that Greenwood Books had a copy and the added bonus was that it was a copy of the original 1947 Harper & Brothers edition that had belonged to the composer David Diamond. Franlee, the owner of Greenwood Books, said that she had bought several thousand of his books when his library was being cleared out. Normally I'd rather not have a marked copy but this copy had the marks of someone in whose notes I might be interested. On the way from the East End to the dermatologist, WXXI announced that they were going to be playing his fourth symphony tomorrow, 2015 being the centennial of his birth.

After I bought my book, I went over to Spot Coffee which is located in a former Chevrolet dealership.
I had last Thursday's New York Times with me, to read as I had a bagel snack and coffee. I was saddened to see the obituary for Phil Patton. I have enjoyed reading his essays and books since I was reading the chapter on Route 66 in Open road: a celebration of the American highway (1986) while sitting in a cafe named Route 66 in Amsterdam (yes, the one in the Netherlands). And I even saw a small version of the route sign on someone's mailbox post as I drove home.

Another article in the paper that especially caught my eye was a profile of fashion designer Nicole Hanley Mellon. She had been on a trip to Cuba in the spring. The article states that she "was initially confused by the Cuban capital. 'The first day we were there, it felt like there was no commerce. Each day, through conversation and observation, you peel off another layer.' She met a college student who was 'pretty candid and spoke about the way you're taught art to express a social issue or a political issue more than being personal, which I found interesting.'" This sense of the importance of social welfare and equality was something that seemed alive to me too when I was in Cuba in May. I just hope that Cuba doesn't become just another Caribbean island.

05 September 2015

Hervieu: a fiction?

I just finished reading Fanny: a fiction by Edmund White (2004) which is a tale of Frances Wright and Frances Trollope. Both were English writers and lived in the first half of the 19th century. Neither called herself Fanny but White refers to them as Fanny throughout his fictional telling. They did interact in real life but, like any good historical novelist, White winds a good deal of fiction around what we know of their reality. (My mother was a Frances too and she didn't call herself Fanny either.)

One of the fictional bits, not surprising for Edmund White, is a romance between Henry Trollope (son of Fanny) and Auguste Hervieu, an French painter who was a confidante of Fanny Trollope in England and went with her to America when she visited, as a prospective resident, the utopian community Nashoba that was started by Fanny Wright. White also describes Mrs Trollope as amusingly unaware of the nature of Henry and Auguste's friendship. The Frances Trollope page on Wikipedia is illustrated by a portrait by Auguste Hervieu but he doesn't have an entry on Wikipedia.

When I googled "auguste hervieu," one of the hits was a drawing of two nudes signed "HERVIEU." Another couple clicks and I had arrived at "A couple of lesbians" by Louise Hervieu.

The drawing was for sale on antiques.com, available from "Erotic-Secret" at the Marché Malassis in Paris. The portrait of Louise Hervieu is from her French Wikipedia page.

Hmmmm. Perhaps just another little twist from our friend Edmund White.

28 August 2015

the best way to find something new is to get lost

The wonderful thing about following someone else's blog about their trip, for example, https://reallynotlost.wordpress.com/ from Vicky Brown and her husband, is that you get to see some of the same things you've seen from different eyes, things you've always wanted to see but haven't, and things you can't imagine why they whizzed right on by. In a reallynotlost post from a day or two ago, they whizzed right by Basel on their way from Strasbourg to Luzern. How could they not stop to see the Beyeler Foundation or Vitra Design Museum? To say nothing of the many museums in Basel? Or look at the Mario Botta buildings? But then I've never been to Strasbourg to say nothing of Karlsruhe. Oh, you say they wanted to see the mountains.

When Vicky and Andy were in Brussels, they were loving the mix of buildings just like I do.
Their hotel was even not too far from where my rented apartment was, near the Central Station and Palace of Justice. I could tromp for many more days on the streets of Brussels than in the Swiss mountains. Each to his own (of course) and it might be different if my daily setting was totally urban.

The subject line for this post is the text from a bumper sticker from Scouting New York which is stuff found by Nick Carr, a location scout in New York City who shares his findings with us even if we're not looking for an event place or movie/TV setting.

You may not know where I've been lately since I haven't blogged for a while. I guess the March road trip and May Cuba trip posts wore me out but I have gone back and read them again and am filled with memories in spite of the NY Times essay on how video and cameras spoiled the family vacation and on whether you remember better by taking a picture. One cited study was on folks in an art museum: one group was supposed to go look at some works; the other group was supposed to take a picture of some works. The lookers had way better memories of their works. Not surprising to any of us who have watched museum visitors read the whole label, take a picture of the art, and move on to the next object. The internet does, by the way, know where I was not so long ago. I keep getting adverts for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. The advert popped up on the NY Times and Scouting NY websites when I was checking for URLs. Does it know I posted those pictures from my late July trip?

One evening in Maine, we drove to Haystack to hear Maira Kalman speak. I was selected to be driver since it would be after dark even though I am less familiar with the roads. I studied the map but I got totally turned around (and turned around again) and would have gotten totally lost but I probably would have found something wet rather than new. The roads twist and turn because of hills and seacoast.

09 June 2015

artists books and atriums

Back in the late 1990s, I bought a small artist's book at Printed Matter when it was still on Wooster Street. It was only a couple bucks and had no identifying text. The clerk said that the artist came in every once in a while, dropped off some copies of a book, didn't give his name, didn't ask for reimbursement, just left the books and left. Actually, it has no text at all; it is just drawings of geometric shapes looking like flags, floorplans, architectural details, or objects.

When I was at the Estudio Carlos Garaicoa in Havana a couple weeks ago, there was an artist's book that had a similar feel but rather larger in size and with less busy pages. It also had a title page and statement of authorship: Loidys Carnero.
I thought maybe I'd found my artist even though the geographic difference argued against it. I checked Carnero's webpage and he wasn't born until 1982 in Havana so not at all likely that he was dropping off books at Printed Matter as a teenager.

What I also discovered at Carnero's webpage were some pictures of his Visita Guiada (Guided Tour) project from 2012 in which he revisited the sites in a 2004 Stan Douglas photographic project which had appropriated the settings of a 1968 film "Memories of Underdevelopment" by Cuban filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Talk about layers of memory and revisiting. One of the images in the Visita is identified as the Presidio on the Isla de la Juventud.
(You can see a bigger version of the photo on the artist's webpage, this being the thumbnail from the webpage.) Those of you that followed me on the road trip in March will not be surprised that I was reminded of the West Baden Springs Hotel in southern Indiana.
For accommodations, I imagine the hotel beats the prison.

05 June 2015

old cars

Last week, I was in Cuba where old American cars are part of the mix on the streets. It wasn't all American convertibles. There were also Russian Ladas and other rather plain compacts. Generally speaking, the shiny ones were taxis for cavorting tourists.
And here it is, just a few days later, and I'm in Oneonta for a VRA chapter meeting and it's old car night on Main Street. Most of them are pretty shiny but they're just for show.
I'm still feeling Cuba plenty and the next book, just started, is The other side of paradise: life in the new Cuba by Julia Cooke (Seal Press, 2014). Published last year so she'll probably have to do a new edition on "life in the new new Cuba." Meanwhile, I'm finding out what I missed.

03 June 2015

Cuba: the postmodern National Art Schools?

Something I read described the National Art Schools, built in the early 1960s to designs by Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garratti, and Roberto Gottardi, as postmodern. It seems to me that they are a continuation of Le Corbusier's brick and concrete houses with a good dose of expressionism as practiced by Eric Mendelssohn, which is not to say merely derivative. For me, postmodernism involves a conscious use of historical motifs. Seeing the schools was a major inspiration for my desire to visit Cuba and they did not disappoint. It was wonderful to be able to meander all about the halls and classrooms of the School of Plastic Arts, to see the rather ordinary mid-century modern of the blue dormitory, and to walk about the ruins of the School of Music, to say nothing of seeing the opera "Cubanacán" in front of the arched entrance tubes of the School of Plastic Arts.

Much has been written recently about the schools and Revolution of forms: Cuba's forgotten art schools by John Loomis (Princeton Architectural Press, 1999) is probably the starting point.

02 June 2015

Cuba: the 12th Bienal de La Habana

Our trip to Cuba was timed to be during the Bienal de La Habana. We visited several group venues as well as individual shows. My favorite spaces were the Bicycle Factory and the Pabellón Cuba.

The Bicycle Factory show included works by about a dozen artists. I did like many of the works on display though the building was perhaps the star. The miniature landscape "Holy Place" by Shimabuku fit right in. I also enjoyed his "Cuban Samba," water pinging on cans as it fell from the rafters. One of those "my kid could have done that (but he didn't)" works. Simple but beautiful.

The Pabellón Cuba show was much more diverse and chaotic. The space was kind of Corbusian.
Works here included some funny videos by Casey Neistat (instructional videos on how to, for example, make your own Dr Dre Beats headphones) and a santería celebration of Ana Mendieta.

The group shows at the fortresses at the mouth of the port were also interesting. There, the spaces were more separated, like galleries with one or more artists in each room. There was also a fine show from the Bronx Museum of Art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, familiar stuff but in a new and particularly relevant setting.

Many of us went to the apartment/studio of Carlos Garaicoa. The works there included some newspapers with most of the text blacked out but the papers were on newspaper sticks and you could "read" them like you were in the newspaper room of your local library. The paper was very sensuous to the touch.

Barbara Hoffman and I got a chance to talk at length with Felipe Dulzaides at his show in a FOCSA penthouse. He is a junior and came back to Cuba from San Francisco after Raoul Castro became President a few years ago. Dulzaides created scanned "collages" of images from his father's archive. His father was a jazz pianist and the "collages" mixed portions of the pictures with the verso captions. He then did drawings based on the collages. One simple drawing, kind of minimalist AbEx, was my favorite.

You might enjoy reading "The Havana Biennial is running at full throttle" by Holland Cotter in the New York Times for May 29th. 

01 June 2015

Cuba: music and opera, and using what you have

Our Cuba tour package included one of the first performances of "Cubanacán" -- the first new Cuban opera in fifty years, according to their website. It is based on a book about the building of the National Art Schools on a former golf course. Michael Cooper wrote about it in the New York Times on the day before we left for Havana. The opera was intriguing, the singers were good, and we saw it in front of the triple arch at the front of the School of Plastic Arts. Talk about context.

The worst moment of the trip for me was the evening at the Buena Vista Social Club. Tourist trap, and I felt trapped in the club when I would have loved to escape. The performers were good enough but seemed mostly to be going through the motions.

Far more exciting than Buena Vista was the music that greeted us at several sites along the way or during a meal. Here's Alabao playing at Las Terrazas:
I bought their CD and it is very evocative for me. You can google "alabao cuban band" and find several videos of them. Las Terrazas (The Terraces), by the way, is an ecopark and biosphere with reforestation and new housing. We got treated to music by a family troupe at lunch that day. Very fine.

The regular greeting drink was a mojito but these had little or no rum. Now, the Hotel Nacional bar made a yummy mojito for those late-evening discussions. My swizzle stick collection includes a turkey with drumsticks on a platter; there must have been a special on them at Walmart. Or, rather, you use what you have. I was amused to see French-language signs on a couple school buses, presumably because the buses came from a francophone country. It is more important that you have the bus than getting it repainted.
The sign above the windshield says "Ecoliers" and I saw this bus in the neighborhood around Kcho's studio. He has done a lot of neighborhood improvement and community work there (aka social practice) and pays for a wifi hotspot.

Cuba: being high up, getting the long view

 View of the Centro and beyond, from the 8th-floor restaurant of the Hotel Parque Central.

 View from the fortress at the head of the port, across from Old Havana.

View to the West from the 29th floor of the FOCSA building, over the Vedado, Miramar, and Playa.

View of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (1930, McKim Mead & White) where we stayed, from the 29th floor of the FOCSA building.

Cuba: houses

The eclectic mix of houses in Havana was delightful. Lots of Hispanic influence, not surprisingly. Mostly in stone and plenty of decorative elements. The condition of the houses varied quite a bit. Some were in good shape and consistent style.
Others showed evidence of extra floors being added or inserted.
Since many houses are home to multiple generations, it isn't surprising that more space on the same footprint has to be figured out.

We passed this house at least twice while on the bus. Its dusty rose exterior and long rectangular shape reminded me of a villa in Vittoria, Sicily. Not similar in style or even size but evocative.

Apartment houses varied considerably too.
Courtyard building on the Malecón, near the Hotel Nacional where we stayed.
There was an installation of works by Felipe Dulzaides in a 29th-floor penthouse in the green-and-white building in the background. The show was great and the views were stupendous.
(there was an art opening on the third floor of the building on the right so we got to see the interior of that apartment and go out on the balcony for a view over the neighborhood)

The buying and selling of houses is one of the reforms enacted in the past few years with the presidency of Raoul Castro. This may be part of the reason that you see a broken-down house or empty lot left between other houses; no one could buy the lot for (re)construction.

Cuba: overall impressions

Cuba had been on the list of places I wanted to go for a long time, particularly since my co-worker at NYU, Janet Alicea, went in the early 2000s. Then, in 2004, I learned about the National Art Schools in a show at Storefront for Art and Architecture. The buildings thrilled me with their domes and circular plan. My desire increased as my friend Moira Kelly and I discussed going on the SAH trip about three years ago. College Art announced last fall that they would do a trip in May during the Bienal and I leapt at the opportunity. A few days after I sent in my deposit, President Obama announced that the U.S. was finally going to normalize relations, political and socio-economic, after fifty years of enmity and embargo. Since then, Docomomo US has announced that they are doing a trip in October 2015 that I bet will be delightful.

All that excitement and desire doesn't mean I wasn't somewhat apprehensive. It would be my first extended trip to a developing country. I did get to Mexico a couple times when I lived in Texas, once to a conference in Guadalajara and once for a couple hours on my bike, both fairly restricted in space, time, and coverage. This would cover more ground and involve more diverse circumstances.

The guidebooks described the double currency of convertible and common pesos. It seemed confusing but actually works easily as we tourists mostly didn't see any of the pesos that Cubans use. All of my dealings were in the convertible pesos (CUCs, pronounced kooks which was the source of much amusement, as you can imagine). One of our group members bought an ice cream cone when we were at the National Art Schools and that was in street pesos. By the way, it was melting so fast that he lost control and didn't finish it.

Our CAA group included 39 people, including executive director Linda Downs and president DeWitt Godfrey. Alison Fraunhar of Saint Xavier in Chicago, who has published numerous articles on Cuban art, was there for guidance. I would guess that there were slightly more artists than art historians/curators along with other art professionals and assorted spouses, spices, and companions. I was the only man traveling alone but there were several women traveling alone.

As we rode into the city from the Havana airport, I was thinking about how I'd take some photos of old cars and colorful houses, not yet realizing that both of those would be seen everywhere.
The cars didn't always match. The freshly-scrubbed cars seemed to be mostly those serving as taxis for tourists. There were also metered yellow cabs and rather ordinary cabs in various colors and conditions with spoken prices that presumably were negotiable, not that I did any of that. Five of us did take a ride from Casablanca back to the hotel that was faster and more dramatic than we wanted, and expensive to boot. Having survived, it makes a good story. Another time, the taxi ride was slow and you wondered if the driver would get the gears shifted. Fast and slow, a real mix on the streets including the occasional horse cart or farm equipment.
Not all of the houses were this colorful. This one is the doctor's surgery in the fishing village of Jaimanitas, on the outskirts of Havana. When artist José Rodríguez Fuster started decorating his house in homage to Antonio Gaudí of Barcelona, the neighbors asked Fuster to also decorate their house. Now there are several dozen houses and fences with mosaic and painted decoration. Even this street name marker got mosaicked.

I have posted all of my Cuba pictures on Flickr but have lots of stories to tell. I'll try to get some more blog posts done before the memories get drowned in real life. Being there was perhaps transformative. I know we were rich American tourists and our guide was a government employee but I really did feel, through observation and the guide's words, that there was a greater equality and richness and diversity of social interaction than in the US. Perhaps I read too much about income inequality here but we could use a good dose of income compression as long as it was toward the middle. Gretell Sintes (our guide) said that the important people did get better housing but not immense salaries so they don't drive flashy new cars (how can you compete with a '57 Chevy convertible?) or have McMansions. I just realized that I didn't see a single stretch limo full of shrieking tourists. We did, however, go to supper one night in an entourage of old convertibles, honking and yelling at each other and smiling.