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Friday, August 29, 2008

Larry Bell and his evolution toward Installation Art

Larry Bell - Untitled, 1964
Hirshhorn Museum
tinted glass and brass

A brass cube on a transparent pedestal.

I like to think of my glass constructions as tapestries of reflected and transmitted light, says Larry Bell who has been interested throughout his artistic career to build surfaces that work both as windows and mirrors.

He started with Abstract Expressionist paintings, incorporating fragments of glass in his works. He passed then to the sculpture: cubes resting on glass pedestals (then using also more and more sophisticated materials). The cubes started to be incorporated inside the pedestals, mirroring each other and declaring a much larger virtual space.

The next logical step was the installation art: exploring the way his virtual spaces are mirroring with the environment.

Image from Larry Bell's Virtual Studio

Made for Arolsen, 1992
Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)

Gordon Cheung

Floating Worlds, 2006
inkjet print on paper

With Gordon Cheung we enter the Matrix. We pass back and forth from our world to another that seems to be no more beyond our senses: it is here, the virtual universe is here, colliding with ours, or we are the virtual ones?

Here is an interview where the artist speaks about these four prints and about other works of him.

Colosseum, 2006
inkjet print on paper

Monkey, 2006
inkjet print on paper

Rider, 2006
inkjet print on paper

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Calder at Hirshhorn

It was early one morning on a calm sea, off Guatemala, when over my couch — a coil of rope — I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other.
(Alexander Calder, Autobiography)

It was 1922: Calder was working by that time on a ship, and as he would later remember, one morning he woke on deck off the Guatemalan Coast and witnessed both the sun rising and the moon setting on opposite horizons (Wikipedia).

Some years later, in 1926, Calder settled in Paris and established a studio in Montparnasse. At the suggestion of a toy merchant he started to create articulated toys. He would never find that merchant again, but this was the beginning of his wired sculptures and kinetic art: this suggestion from a toy merchant, and an older passion of him, the world of the circus. Eventually he created a toy circus of his own.

I am looking now at his art works on display at Hirshhorn: yes, they are sculptures, of course; only they have the grace and delicacy of a drawing.

You get the impression that Calder was creating his sculptures with a pencil.

Form against Yellow (Yellow Panel), 1936
painted sheet metal and wood with wire

Mobile, 1942
painted wire, wood, and string

Vertical Constellation with Yellow Bone, 1943
painted and unpainted wood and wire

Stabile-Mobile, 1947
painted metal and wire

Red Cascade, 1954
painted steel and wire

Mobile, 1958
painted metal, metal rods, and wire

Critter with Mobile Top, 1974
painted steel

(Hirshhorn Museum)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Josef Csaky at Hirshhorn

A fine example of Constructivism this stone sculpture by Josef Csaky. It was made in 1919, the title is Abstraction, with some kind of explanation (Standing Figure) which apparently adds to the confusion.

Is it Suprematist or Constructivist this sculpture? Good question. I say it's Constructivist and here are my reasons: Csaky starts here from geometrical volumes to suggest a figure while a Suprematist (or a De Stijl follower) would have been interested rather in suggesting what is beyond the geometrical abstraction.

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Suprematism and Constructivism)

Country Baroque from West Virginia

I got these splendid images from Mrs. Dorothy Maier. You should look also at some of her paintings. I had the honor to be the guest of her and her husband, Stefan, at their house in Fairfax, Virginia, as well as at their vacation lodge, up in West Virginia. Some pieces of furniture there made a great impression on me: pure country baroque. Enjoy!

(West Virginia - Wild, Wonderful)

It Happened in Denver Last Night

I think this blog covers topics that could interest people of various political affiliations, so I'm trying to keep it as far from politics as possible. But this episode was too cute to resist (no matter who wins in November).

Zoon Politikon)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Nicolai Ouroussoff about Lebbeus Woods

I come again to Lebbeus Woods, the irreverent architect, as Nicolai Ouroussoff characterizes him (and for good reasons). And Mr. Ouroussoff adds to this, Lebbeus Woods has become his own kind of outcast. How is that? Well, here's the explanation:

Architecture is big business today. While most of his friends and colleagues have abandoned their imaginary cities to chase lucrative commissions, Mr. Woods has shown little interest in building. Instead he continues to work at a small drafting table in a corner of his downtown apartment, a solitary, monklike figure churning out increasingly abstract architectural fantasies, several of which are on view in the Dreamland show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Lebbeus Woods Remains an Architect Unshackled by Limits of the Real World: this is the title of the article published by Nicolai Ouroussoff in today's NY Times. Look also at this presentation of some of Lebbeus Woods' projects.


These are lonely times for Lebbeus Woods.

In the early 1990s this irreverent New York architect produced a series of dark and moody renderings that made him a cult figure among students and academics. Foreboding images of bombed-out cities populated by strange, parasitic structures, they seemed to portray a world in a perpetual state of war, one in which the architect’s task was to create safe houses for society’s outcasts.

Since then Mr. Woods has become his own kind of outcast.

Architecture is big business today. While most of his friends and colleagues have abandoned their imaginary cities to chase lucrative commissions, Mr. Woods has shown little interest in building. Instead he continues to work at a small drafting table in a corner of his downtown apartment, a solitary, monklike figure churning out increasingly abstract architectural fantasies, several of which are on view in the “Dreamland” show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Some question the wisdom of his choices. (They certainly haven’t made him a rich man.) But that he now stands virtually alone underscores a disturbing shift in the architectural profession during the past decade or so. By abandoning fantasy for the more pragmatic aspects of building, the profession has lost some of its capacity for self-criticism, not to mention one of its most valuable imaginative tools.

Not so long ago many of the world’s greatest architectural talents behaved as though the actual construction of buildings was beneath them. During the 1960s firms like Superstudio in Florence, Italy, and Archigram in London were designing urban visions intended to shake up the status quo. These projects — walking, mechanized cities and mirrored megastructures that extended over mountain ranges and across deserts — were stinging attacks on a professional mainstream that avant-garde architects believed lacked imaginative energy.

When I was an architecture student in New York in the early 1990s, the architects my peers and I admired most were famous for losing competitions, not winning them. For us it simply meant that their work was too radical, too bold for the cultural establishment.

This was not just youthful idealism. Free of mundane professional considerations like budgets, clients and zoning laws, these architects were able to produce works that were aesthetically inventive and piercing social commentaries. And their designs were wildly influential, closely studied by younger architects who sought to apply their ideas in the real world.

Mr. Woods, now 68, was a regular fixture of that scene. In the early 1990s he published a stunning series of renderings that explored the intersection of architecture and violence. The first of these, the Berlin Free-Zone project, designed soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was conceived as an illustration of how periods of social upheaval are also opportunities for creative freedom.

Aggressive machinelike structures — their steel exteriors resembling military debris — are implanted in the abandoned ruins of buildings that flank the wall’s former death zone. Cramped and oddly shaped, the interiors were designed to be difficult to inhabit — a strategy for screening out the typical bourgeois. (“You can’t bring your old habits here,” he warned. “If you want to participate, you will have to reinvent yourself.”)

Some critics condemned the design for its coldblooded imagery. But it also turned cold-war Modernism on its head. In the 1950s American architects were striving to retool wartime military production for the construction of a peacetime paradise. One result was the mind-numbing conformity of suburban subdivisions. Mr. Woods, by comparison, has never been so utopian. In his drawings society seems to be coming apart at the seams. His glistening pods, armored against the surrounding mayhem, are intended as sanctuaries for society’s most vulnerable: outcasts, rebels, heretics and dreamers.

This vision reached its extreme in a series of renderings he created in 1993 in response to the war in Bosnia. Inspired by sci-fi comics and full of writhing cables, crumbling buildings and flying shards of steel, these drawings seem to mock the old Modernist faith in a utopian future. Their dark, moody atmosphere suggests a world in a constant struggle for survival.

Things began to change, however, at the end of the last millennium. High-end architecture was suddenly a valuable commodity. Architects like Daniel Libeskind and Rem Koolhaas, once relegated to the halls of academia, were suddenly struggling to handle an abundance of new commissions coming not only from elite cultural institutions but also from mainstream developers and wealthy corporations.

Mr. Woods, a large, burly man who still likes an occasional cigarette, doesn’t try to hide his disdain for this new reality. “Big corporations today want to present themselves as benefactors of the human race,” he told me recently, summing up the current state of affairs. “ExxonMobil runs ads about the ecology now. And architecture is part of this. It’s a business.”

It’s hard to disagree with the main thrust of his argument: that architecture has always needed a place that is wholly free of self-censorship, and that this place does not exist in the often-contentious exchange between architect and client. Most of us remember, for example, what happened to Mr. Koolhaas in the 1997 competition for a major expansion to the Museum of Modern Art. Choosing to ignore the museum’s internal politics, he indiscreetly highlighted the museum’s corporate agenda in his design. An enraged MoMA board instantly dropped him.

The pressure to smooth over anything in a design that might be perceived as threatening has only increased in recent years, as a lot of architecture has begun to look like a sophisticated form of marketing. Architects who once defined themselves as rebels are now designing luxury residential towers for the super-rich.

The greatest influence of this trend, however, may be on a younger generation of architects. Reared in an era when there seems to be an irresistible supply of work, these architects often seem eager to build at any cost. And their facility with computer software can make it easy to churn out seductive designs without digging deeply into hard social truths.

As Mr. Woods put it: “With the triumph of liberal democracy and laissez-faire capitalism, the conversation came to an end. Everyone wanted to build, which left less room for certain kinds of architecture.”

Meanwhile, as his peers moved on to bigger, more lucrative commissions, Mr. Woods’s work has become more and more abstract. In 1999 he began working on a series of designs whose fragmented planes were intended to reflect the seismic shifts that occur during earthquakes. (“The idea is that it’s not nature that creates catastrophes,” he said. “It’s man. The renderings were intended to reflect a new way of thinking about normal geological occurrences.”)

Last year the architect Steven Holl, a close friend, hired him to design a pavilion for a housing complex in Chengdu, China. A towering composition of crisscrossing bridges and ramps, the project is the closest Mr. Woods has come to real architecture: a dense Piranesian space in which people can climb to peer out at the urban sprawl of the new China.

“I’m not interested in living in a fantasy world,” Mr. Woods told me. “All my work is still meant to evoke real architectural spaces. But what interests me is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits. Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.”

(Contemporary Art)


Lake Anne

Lake Anne in Reston, Northern Virginia.

(Washington, District of Columbia)

Sunday, August 24, 2008


MG is a British sports car brand founded in 1924 by William Morris and Cecil Kimber (Wikipedia). There is an MG Drivers Club of North America.

A body-shop in Fairfax Circle (Northern Virginia) deals exclusively with antiques. Each Saturday afternoon there is a great show: the mechanics come on their motorcycles at the place, and then take the old cars to drive them in a huge parking lot.

(Around Fairfax Circle)


Mountain Biker

(Around Fairfax Circle)


La Belle Americaine

(Around Fairfax Circle)


Friday, August 22, 2008

Iron Heart

I was leaving the PanAm center to return home when I saw the motorbikes, and the motorists. There were five or six. I did not have the camera with me, and one of the bikes was so cool that I decided to come back to record a video.

When I came back I found only two of the bikes: luckily the cool one was still there.

Now you will ask me where's the PanAm center. It is between Fairfax and Merrifield, where Lee Highway is crossing Nutley Street. The Vienna Metro Station is in ten minutes walking distance.

There is no connection between this shopping center and the PanAm airline.

(Around Fairfax Circle)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rocks on a Tributary of Akotink Creek

(Around Fairfax Circle)

Ice Cream Van

(Around Fairfax Circle)

Again on Olmstead Island

(Great Falls)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lake Akotink: Les Adieux

(Akotink Trail)

Lake Akotink: The Dam and the Railroad Bridge

(Akotink Trail)

Lake Akotink

(Akotink Trail)

Akotink Trail: Endless

(Akotink Trail)

Akotink Trail: Wakefield

(Akotink Trail)

Akotink Trail: Middle of the Road

(Akotink Trail)