My Providence!

My Providence! What airy hosts
 Turn still thy gilded vanes;
What winds of elf that with grey ghosts
 People thine ancient lanes!

– from ”Providence”, a poem by H.P. Lovecraft

A fanlight’s gleam, a knocker’s blow,
     A glimpse of Georgian brick—
The sights and sounds of long ago
     Where fancies cluster thick.

From the ”Superman” Building to the Fleur-de-Lys that Lovecraft despised – and made sure to tell the world, when he wrote in ”The Call of Cthulu:

”Wilcox still lived alone in the Fleur-de-Lys Building in Thomas Street, a hideous Victorian imitation of seventeenth century Breton Architecture which flaunts its stuccoed front amidst the lovely colonial houses on the ancient hill, and under the very shadow of the finest Georgian steeple in America, I found him at work in his rooms, and at once conceded from the specimens scattered about that his genius is indeed profound and authentic.”

The spirit of H.P. Lovecraft is alive, in Providence.

November 23rd, 2018

Portland, Maine || First impressions

It snows a lot in Portland in November. Not like in New York, where the snow wilts and melts and is quickly turned into a grey mass of rock salt, sleazy mud and greasy dirt – no.

In Portland, the snow is fresh and white, crisp and crunchy under the feet. It calls for walks all day long, until it’s too dark and too cold to stay outside any longer.

Walking in Portland: Victoria Mansion to City Hall, down to the Old Port and Harbor Fish Market where our juicy Maine Lobster comes from, passing by the city’s oldest historic site that is the Eastern Cemetery and outside Portland Observatory, the only remaining historic maritime signal station in the United States. Our walk ends at the Fort Allen Park catching the icy cold breeze from the harbour and glimpses of Fort Georges which is accessible only by boat.

Portland, ME

November 19th, 2018

The Glass House || The Art

The Painting Gallery

A Frank Stella dominion.

Frank Stella
Effingham II, 1966
Fluorescent alkyd and epoxy on canvas


Frank Stella
Brzozdowce I, 1973
Mixed media: felt, fabric, and acrylic on panel and plywood

Frank Stella
Hagmatana III, 1967
Fluorescent acrylic on canvas


Frank Stella
Averroes, 1960
Aluminum paint on canvas


Frank Stella
Tetuan II, 1964
Fluorescent alkyd on canvas


We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the Painting Gallery is built as a tomb, its exterior very much resembling that of the Royal Tomb of Philip II in Aigai, Greece. Philip II (382–336 BC) was the king of Macedonia from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC, and father of Alexander the Great. Our guide confirmed the design was, indeed, inspired by Kind Philip’s tomb.

**

The Sculpture Gallery

While the Painting Gallery was inspired by an ancient Greek Tomb, Johnson looked to modern Greece for the design of his Sculpture Gallery. His inspiration came partly from the Greek islands and their many villages marked by stairways. Johnson remarked that in these villages, “every street is a staircase to somewhere.” He liked it so much that he seriously considered moving his residence from the Glass House to the Sculpture Gallery. But then, he thought again: “Where would I have put the sculpture?

Robert Morris
Untitled, 1965-70
Three L-shaped units of stainless steel


John Chamberlain
The Archbishop, The Golfer, and Ralph, 1982-83
Painted and chromium plated steel

George Segal
Lovers on a Bed II, 1970
Plaster, iron bed frame, paint


Frank Stella
Raft of Medusa, Part I, 1990
Oil and enamel on etched honeycomb aluminum with steel pipes, beams, and other metal elements


Michael Heizer
Prismatic Flake #4, 1990
Modified concrete, steel base


Julian Schnabel
Ozymandias, 1986-90
It looks so much like wood that it was hard to believe it is made of cast bronze, patina and paint


An exterior view of the Sculpture Gallery

**

The Studio

The Studio, a one-room workspace and library, was referred to by Johnson as an ”event on the landscape”. When first completed, the Studio’s stucco exterior was bright white, but later Johnson painted it a soft brown color, described by colorist Donald Kaufman as ”stone greige.”

**

Da Monsta

This building, constructed of modified gunnite, is the closest to Johnson’s thinking about sculpture and form at the end of his life – what he called the ”structured warp.”

The name of the building is an adaptation of the “monster”, a phrase for the building that resulted from a conversation with architecture critic Herbert Muschamp. Johnson felt the building had the quality of a living thing.

I thought Frank Gehry would have felt at home here.

The Glass House

New Canaan, CT

November 18th, 2018

The Glass House

“In the case of the Glass House, the stylistic approach is perfectly clear. Mies van der Rohe and I had discussed how you could build a glass house and each of us built one. Mies’ was, of course, primary and mine was an adoption from the master, although it’s quite a different approach. In my case, there were a lot of historical influences at work. The Glass House stylistically is a mixture of Mies van der Rohe, Malevich, the Parthenon, the English garden, the whole Romantic Movement, the asymmetry of the 19th century. In other words, all these things are mixed up in it but basically it is the last of the modern, in the sense of the historic way we treat modern architecture today, the simple cube.” – Philip Johnson, 1991

And so it was that Johnson’s famed masterpiece came to be. But it’s not just the house: a Studio, a Painting Gallery, a Sculpture Gallery, Da Monsta, a Brick House and a Pavillion in the Pond complete the picture.

But first things first:

The Gate

A standalone structure with no fence, so anyone can just walk by. Still, quite impressive in size and mechanics, with the bar sliding up to let our shuttle bus enter, and down again behind it. It was a sailboat boom in a previous life.

The Brick House

In contrast to the diaphanous Glass House, it was conceived as a guest house offering total privacy – light pours in from skylights and the only windows were placed at the rear.

The Glass House

Although there are no walls separating them, Philip Johnson referred to areas within the space as “rooms.” So we have the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom and an entrance area – their limits defined by furniture or objects.

And, yes, it gets really hot when the sun shines. In order to avoid suffocation from the greenhouse effect, Johnson had special modular wooden panels placed on the glass ones for shade; they would be moved according to the hour of day or season.

The painting in the ”living room” is ”Burial of Phocion” ca. 1648-49, by Nicolas Poussin. It was selected specifically for the house by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art.

The only really private room is the bathroom enclosed in a rounded brick structure that holds the fireplace on the other side.

View to the Pavillion in the Pond and the Monument to Lincoln Kirstein, 1985 – a 30 feet high tower, which Johnson frequently climbed, describing it “a staircase to nowhere.”

The Grounds

Artwork by Donald Judd, Untitled (1971).
Concrete
Rear view of the Brick House and its round windows.

Let’s take a breath here because, next, we’ll take a look at the art.

The Glass House

New Canaan, CT

November 18th, 2018

The House of Jazz

“We’re right out here with the rest of the colored folk and the Puerto Ricans and Italians and the Hebrew cats. We don’t need to move out in the suburbs to some big mansion with lots of servants and yardmen and things.”

And so it was in 1943 that Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille came to live in this modest house in the working-class neighbourhood of Corona, Queens. They lived here for the remainder of their lives.

Today, the Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives is open to the public, offering guided tours while audio clips from Louis’s homemade recordings are played, and visitors hear Louis practicing his trumpet, enjoying a meal, or talking with his friends.

No one else has lived in the house since the Armstrongs passed away; the rooms, furnishings, ornaments, the all-mirrored bathroom and that lovely show-stealing turquoise kitchen reflect their personalities, taste and times they lived in. I tried to stay behind every time our guide moved on, to take a better look at each room. I was sure that if I touched the walls I would hear the echo of Louis’ trumpet playing – and not from the audio clip.

The Museum is expanding across the street from the House. The new Education Center will complement the existing experience with an exhibition gallery, a jazz club where musicians will rehearse and perform their music, and a store. The museum’s research collections, currently housed at Queens College’s library, will move into an Archival Center on the second floor.

The anticipated completion was pushed back to 2021 (pre-Covid-19).

With the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Archives currently closed because of Covid-19, the Museum has launched “That’s My Home,” their first online exhibition – absolutely worth a visit.

November 4th, 2018

Old Westbury Gardens – The Mansion

It could be no less gracious than the magnificent gardens surrounding it, could it? And yet it was designed by an artist with no formal degree in architecture.

One of the glorious Gold Coast Mansions, home of John S. Phipps, his English-born wife, Margarita Grace Phipps and their four children, the mansion we know today as ”Old Westbury Gardens” was designed by George A. Crawley in the style of a Charles II Restoration manor house, and completed in 1906.

Following the deaths of Margarita and John S. Phipps in the late 1950s, their daughter Margaret Phipps Boegner – or Peggie, as he preferred to be called, inherited the Old Westbury estate and opened the gardens to the public to honor the memory of her mother.

Today, one can visit the house and gardens for guided tours, view exhibitions or attend a number of family events, talks or gardening classes. Or just take a leisurely stroll up and down the stairs and out and about in the gardens, taking in the little details and trying to decide which room would be their favourite.

Mine was the bathroom.

Old Westbury Gardens – Long Island, NY

October 28th, 2018

The Sugar House of El Paso

“You are visiting El Paso…? No one visits El Paso, people come here for work or to catch a flight – no one stays here”… said a man who first came in El Paso thirty years ago!

Where are you from?” People kept asking us, as if tourists are few and far between in this part of the world. The truth is, we didn’t see any either. Maybe because it was foggy and rainy and people stayed inside. Or maybe because we only stayed for a day-and-a-half.

What we did see was a delightful Mexican touch, evident everywhere: the food, the people, the history, the culture.

And this house.

In an otherwise dull neighbourhood, close to a busy highway, Rufino Loya Rivas, a Levi Strauss worker from Mexico and his wife Celia, bought a modest house. Deciding he would add a personal touch, Rivas began to carve and paint these intricate designs that soon surrounded the house, spending twenty five years and hundreds of hours of work and devotion to his project.

Art can be found in the most unexpected places.

El Paso, TX

October 12th, 2018

The Chinati Foundation || Marfa

Marfa, a tiny and remote desert town of only about 2.000 people in West Texas, is the most unlikely  cultural centre for contemporary art I could think of. Yet, it is full of art galleries, cool shops that look like art galleries, cool artists that live and work in said art galleries, calling Marfa their home. And in the centre of it all is The Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati, a contemporary art museum founded by Donald Judd.

It was in the early 1970s when Judd decided he wanted out of New York and its art scene, too constrictive for his projects, and look for a place where his work could be installed and never be moved again. In other words, he needed space.

Judd rented a house in 1971 in Marfa, took one look around and bid farewell to New York forever. He began to purchase properties in 1973, which would include living quarters, studios and ranches where his work would be permanently installed, every move leading to the purchase of a 340 acres of land on the site of former Fort D.A. Russell, in 1978.

The Chinati Foundation opened to the public in 1987 as a museum hosting permanent collections of works by Donald Judd as well as by his friends, Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain (with 25 sculptures in a renovated wool warehouse in downtown Marfa). Judd later expanded the collection to include works by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Richard Long, Roni Horn, David Rabinowitch, Ilya Kabakov, and Ingólfur Arnarsson. Following Judd’s death in 1994, the museum completed additional projects: an installation of poems by Carl Andre (1995); a gallery of paintings by John Wesley (2004); and Robert Irwin’s untitled (dawn to dusk) (2016).

The Chinati Foundation is open year-round, but if you love mingling with the art crowd – or are fond of crowds in general – you may want to time your visit to coincide with the Chinati Weekend, an annual weekend-long event, the one time of year when all installations are open for self-guided viewing and the museum presents special exhibitions, talks, and performances, all free to the public.

Photography in the galleries is not permitted ”to preserve the quality of experience for all visitors”, but there is always a way to sneak-a-pic, as a keepsake. I was also fascinated by the character and monumental size of the buildings themselves, all which house permanent art installations. Needless to mention, we needed two days to see everything.

Marfa, TX

October 6th, 2018

Fallingwater || The Masterpiece

It is said that Fallingwater is the most beautiful house in the world. Blending in yet somehow managing to stand out, it certainly is one of the most unique structures we have ever seen and, from all Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, the one I would love to live in (if I could afford the millions necessary for its preservation).

Fallingwater was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2019.

September 3rd, 2018