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Lord Peter Palumbo, outgoing chairman of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, recently looked back on his decades-long ownership of Kentuck Knob, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in western Pennsylvania, not far from Fallingwater, that is celebrating its 60th anniversary as well as the 20th anniversary of being open to the public.
Wright built Kentuck Knob—a small, one-story Usonian house on the crest of a knob, or hill, 2,050 feet above sea level, in Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania, in the Laurel Highlands mountain range six miles from Fallingwater—for I.N. and Bernardine Hagan, an ice-cream maker and his wife.
According to Lord Palumbo, Wright asked the Hagans when he interviewed them about their commission whether they were “nesters or perchers,” and that they told him they were nesters. If they were nesters, which Wright preferred, this meant, “you site the house just below the top of the knob and then you walk out to the knob. His reasoning was no man can compete with natural beauty and therefore you should not try to compete with it.” Lord Palumbo finds the view from the knob “quite extraordinary, one of the great views from this part of the world.”
He visited the house in the mid-1980s on a trip from Chicago (he once owned the Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House outside Chicago, as well as Le Corbusier’s Le Jaoul Houses, outside Paris, selling all of them subsequently). “I fell in love with [Kentuck Knob], but I couldn’t get inside it. I fell in love with the outside, and said to myself, ‘If it’s as beautiful inside as it is outside, I must do something about it.’ So I went back six weeks later and effectively bought it then,” he said.
The architectural core of the open plan house—which is built of native sandstone and tidewater red cypress—is its hexagonal, stonewalled kitchen; its two wings are anchored by stonewalls, which rise to penetrate the horizontal line of its copper roof. Cantilevered overhangs and expanses of glass integrate its interior and exterior.
Shortly after Lord Palumbo purchased the house, a fire destroyed the master bedroom and bathroom. He was fortunate enough to find a retired Carnegie Mellon architect, Robert Taylor, who had worked on the home when it was built, to oversee the reconstruction.
Lord Palumbo and his family lived part-time in the house until the mid-1990s, when they decided to open it to the public. “We were getting quite a lot of interest from people, from students, architects, people interested in Frank Lloyd Wright, to visit the house, so it seemed like an obvious move to open the place to the public,” he explained. “It was also one way of ensuring that if anything happened to me, the house would be self-sufficient financially.”
Visitors, he added, “love the situation, love the house, and find that it has a human dimension because they can go through the house and see more or less how we live; they can see the toothbrushes, hairbrushes, family photographs. I think that family dimension is appreciated.”
Lord Palumbo originally bought 89 acres of land in Chalk Hill from the Hagans and now owns 600 acres and a 1920s farmhouse at the foot of the knob where he and his family stay when they visit. At Kentuck Knob, he has put out an eclectic array of fine and decorative arts and natural objects. On display is a wide array of decor, from Native American, Middle Eastern, and Chinese pottery to furniture by Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames, Tapio Wirkkala, and George Nakashima (the last commissioned by the Hagans), as well as drawings and a collection of birds’ nests Palumbo found nearby. “I’ve always thought that quality goes with quality. I’ve never felt that a ball and claw foot by Chippendale, for example, does not sit anything other than easily with a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair. I think they acknowledge one another as equals and have a good working relationship by being next to one another, because they are all the top quality of their time.”
Another change wrought by the Palumbos at Kentuck Knob is the addition of outdoor sculptures: Over 30 works by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Sir Anthony Caro, and Claes Oldenburg have been placed in the landscape around the house and along the trail to the visitor center. They have also converted Kentuck Knob’s greenhouse—which once stood at Fallingwater and was brought to Kentuck Knob by the Hagans in the early 1960s—into a gift shop and cafe, and have restored the house’s original, triangular, man-made pond, built from boulders by Taylor.
The “great message of Kentuck Knob,” according to Lord Palumbo, is “the relationship between the art of Frank Lloyd Wright and nature—as it is at Fallingwater. It is the interaction between the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and the beauty of nature. It was something that he always put great store by.”
A National Historic Landmark, Kentuck Knob can be seen only by formal tour, offered in 40- and 90-minute lengths from March through November and on a limited basis in December.
The Exquisite Everyday
With a trio of exhibitions, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation makes an in-depth exploration of the home
There is something about the towering, architectural designs of Donald Trump that brings out the best in New York’s architectural wordsmiths and critics: The Trump International Hotel & Tower at 1 Central Park West was a perfect foil for Herbert Muschamp in The New York Times. Philip Johnson and Costas Kondylis re-skinned the old Gulf and Western Building in bronze-tinted glass. (Trump had wanted the glass to be gold.) Johnson, according to the book New York 2000, promised Trump, his client, “a fin de siècle version of the Seagram” building. Muschamp called the facade “a 1950s International Style glass skyscraper in a 1980s gold lamé party dress,” a change he considered an “undeniable improvement.…” “This is not a major work by Mr. Johnson,” Muschamp wrote later in the article. “Still, he has introduced considerable refinement to an essentially crass idea. In fact, the design’s chief merit is the contrast between the commercial vulgarity of the gold skin and the relative subtlety with which it is detailed.”
The building, he said, stands as a “triumph of private enterprise in such a publicly conspicuous place.” Now, he concluded, “a new Trump flagship sails into these troubled civic waters, carrying with it more than a faint air of a floating casino, or perhaps the winnings from one.” But elsewhere he wrote that it could have been worse. True, the design could have sported dollar-sign finials, a one-armed-bandit handle sticking out the side, window shades painted with cherries, oranges, and lemons, and a pile of giant Claes Oldenburg coins at the base instead of the scaled-down version of the Unisphere. Or maybe that would have been an improvement. Refinement was never this building’s point anyway.
Critics like Muschamp, Ada Louise Huxtable, and Paul Goldberger could hardly depend on Trump for an informed comment on his designs or buildings. He called his own Trump Tower triplex, an Angelo Donghia–designed, marble-and-onyx-covered ode to Versailles, “comfortable modernism.” The New York critics had varying opinions about the tower and its six-story indoor mall, which Trump claimed had been designed by his wife, Ivana. The mall’s interior of polished brass and 240 tons of Breccia Pernice marble in shades of rose, peach, pink, and orange was called a “pleasant surprise” by Goldberger, who saw it as “warm, luxurious, and even exhilarating—in every way more welcoming than the public arcades and atriums that preceded it on 5th Avenue.” Huxtable took a more critical view of the space, which she called a “pink marble maelstrom and pricey super glitz…unredeemed by [its] posh ladies’ powder-room decor.” (There may be hope for future buildings, however; Trump’s current wife, Melania, apparently studied architecture and design in school.)
The 725 5th Avenue Trump Tower exterior, with 28 sides, was designed by Der Scutt, of New York’s Poor, Swanke, Hayden & Connell, and was equally criticized by Muschamp, who concluded, “everything [about it] is calculated to make money.” This, of course, was seen as a positive design value by Trump, who argued that the faceted facade gave every room two views and therefore made them more valuable. In fact, the designs of Trump’s buildings are driven solely by profit. Is this unusual for commercial construction in New York? Of course not—but Trump’s buildings are such obvious, in-your-face examples of this reality of how the city is being built in the 21st century.
Beyond the large, expensive brass “Trump” lettering that adorns his buildings, Trump has made a career of taking advantage of public subsidies and then putting up the cheapest-looking project possible. His re-skinning of the Penn Central Transportation Company’s 2,000-room, Warren and Wetmore–designed Commodore Hotel is an example of one such project. Here, he took a perfectly decent—even handsome—1919 brick-and-limestone building, next door to Grand Central Terminal, and clad it with a reflective glass that has not weathered well. The project, rebranded by Trump as the Grand Hyatt Hotel, was done by one of his favorite architectural firms, New York’s Gruzen & Partners, with Der Scutt. The architects did not remove the old facade but instead overlaid a bronze-colored glass set in a grid of dark anodized aluminum. Trump spoke about that facade in The Art of the Deal; he was “convinced that half the reason the Commodore was dying [was] because it looked so gloomy and dated and dingy.…[He] wanted a sleek, contemporary look. Something with sparkle and excitement that would make people stop and take notice.” It’s not that the business barons of yore, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, the developer of Grand Central Station, were not concerned with profit, but Vanderbilt and his architects, Reed and Stem, as well as Warren and Wetmore, designed a handsome public work of architecture, whose striking stone gateway’s presence makes Trump’s glass skin seem cheap and dated. The building has one of the worst 1980s-era facades in New York.
Given his background, it’s not surprising that Trump, who wallows in his New Yorkness, has no idea of the difference between architecture and building. He was raised in Jamaica Estates, Queens, hard up against the Grand Central Parkway, in what today would be called a Federalist Georgian McMansion, with tall Corinthian columns. He went to New York Military Academy for high school, attended Fordham University, and graduated from the Wharton School, where he studied real estate. While at Wharton, he worked at his father’s building company, which made a fortune developing small buildings in Queens and Brooklyn after World War II, when the government (via the Federal Housing Administration) subsidized affordable housing. Woody Guthrie lived in one in of these buildings, Beach Haven, in Coney Island, and wrote a song about its racially discriminatory rental policies:
I suppose Old Man Trump knows Just how much Racial Hate He stirred up In the bloodpot of human hearts When he drawed That color line Here at his Eighteen hundred family project
Beach Haven, like so many other federally financed affordable projects, was forbidden by the National Housing Act of 1934 from including any extra architectural details or embellishments, something the national real estate industry worked to have included in the law. Though it has directness to its design and some sort of dignity missing from Fred Trump’s Manhattan buildings, Beach Haven is nevertheless a standard New York City complex of stripped down, bland six-story brick boxes, spread across a city grid. It—like his son Donald’s later projects—was a profit-seeking opportunity. The FHA later discovered that Fred Trump had pocketed over $4 million in illicit profits from the construction.
Donald would later put up (or at least put his name on) a similar sort of development, along Riverside Drive just north of 57th Street. Like Beach Haven, Riverside South is a series of bland rectangular boxes spread across a series of city blocks. Though here, rather than looking out over Coney Island, the development looks toward the river. The detailing of these riverside buildings is faintly art deco, recalling their Upper West Side neighborhood in their massing and repetitive walls.
This was also the site for Trump’s proposed Television City, which could have been even worse, or at least more massive. In 1974 to 1975, Trump proposed to develop Television City—with 4,850 apartments, 500,000 square feet of retail space, one million square feet of office space, a 50-room hotel, television studios, parking for 3,700 cars, and 28 acres of open space—in a largely abandoned old train yard. The original scheme, which proposed a large superblock of high-rise towers, with a three-armed telescoping tower, was designed by Murphy/Jahn Architects, of Chicago, and would have been the tallest tower in the world, at 1,670 feet and 150 stories. It was a massive development, with several towers over 70 stories, all built on a podium over the old rail yards and a park. The West Side Highway would have been relocated under the towers to create a road not unlike the one under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Needless to say, there was opposition to this new complex. The world’s tallest building, many thought, was never meant to be built, but was a ploy, a wedge to get more square footage in the plan approved by the city.
In some ways, Television City came closer to real architecture than any other project from the Trump family (albeit as a forerunner of the contemporary glass boxes that have risen all over the city since the late 1990s). Though Goldberger claimed the tower was “hardly a real building for real people in a real city,” Michael Sorkin was more pointed. In the Village Voice column “Dump the Trump,” Sorkin wrote, “Looking at the boneheaded proposal, one wonders whether the architect even visited the site. Indeed, there is evidence that he did not. The rank of glyphs bespeaks lakeside Chicago, and the centerpiece of the scheme, the 150-story erection, Trump’s third go at the world’s tallest building…was there ever a man more preoccupied with getting it up in public?”
Trump, on the other hand, was his typical ebullient, promotional self and called the plan, in a press release, “the master planner’s grandest plan yet.” Because Trump, more than any builder in New York in the late 20th century, has transformed the city with barely the slightest architecturally-worthy design or public service.
In East Baltimore, three artists have created a pushpin-on-steroids to put an oft-forgotten community on the map and welcome new residents to the area.
The big red pushpin is the main feature of a bus stop that was erected this fall in the Baltimore Highlands neighborhood.
The oversized pin juts into the sidewalk at an angle, as if it’s pinning the shelter to the ground. On the shelter’s undulating roof is the Spanish phrase, estamos aquí (“We are here”), a nod to the many Spanish-speaking residents who have moved into the area.
“We decided to do the pushpin as a statement about putting our neighborhood on the map,” said artist and Baltimore Highlands Neighborhood Association co-president Rachel Timmins, who designed the bus stop.
The pushpin was a reference to the icons used on Google Maps, she said, and the phrase was meant to embrace the neighborhood’s diversity.
“We have the most diverse population in Baltimore City but we have a very large Latino population, so we really wanted to highlight that. We want to be inclusive,” said Timmins.
Timmins said her rowhouse neighborhood doesn’t get the same attention from the city as many other communities and doesn’t have many landmarks besides a nearby cemetery.
She said she saw the bus stop as a way to create a new sort of landmark that sends a message about the community and the fact that it’s changing and needs more attention.
The giant pushpin is clearly inspired by the work of Claes Oldenburg and the late Coosje van Bruggen, sculptors best known for public art installations featuring large replicas of everyday objects, from a pair of binoculars in southern California to a spoon that becomes a bridge in Minneapolis.
Timmins said she used bright red for the pushpin because it’s a powerful, vibrant color. The “pin” is actually a repurposed light pole turned upside down, and the red top is made of a synthetic stucco material.
The shelter itself is a utilitarian structure with metal posts, a wooden bench, and an open space for someone in a wheelchair. Its roof undulates like a fluttering piece of paper that needs to be held down by a pushpin.
Pinning down something that might otherwise scatter to the wind could also be a metaphor for the community itself.
“This is one of the most heavily used bus stops in the city, but it’s also a drug market,” Timmins said. “We’re hoping that by putting this here, it’s a way of reclaiming the space for the community that lives here...The neighborhood has been neglected by the city for so long. This is a way of saying, ‘Hey, we matter. Hey, city, pay attention to us.’”
The intersection of Baltimore Street and Highland Avenue was selected as the setting for the artwork, Timmins said, because it’s a busy location, serving four city bus routes. From the start, it has gotten heavy use.
As soon as the artists completed their installation, people started gathering under the pushpin shelter to wait for their buses.
“I love it,” said Laura Irvizu, who lives nearby.
“Seeing this sign here, it makes us feel like we’re a part of the community,” she said. “Most of the time, we feel invisible. Seeing this message in Spanish, it feels like someone cares.”
The project is a collaboration of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, local residents and artists of the Highlandtown Arts District and Association.
The bus stop design won a $25,000 PNC Transformative Art Prize for 2015. Timmins collaborated with two other artist-engineers, Kyle Miller and Tim Scofield, to fabricate the shelter, mostly off-site.
Her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, and in many publications, including Unexpected Pleasures from Rizzoli, Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective published by Lark Books, and Jewel Book: International Annual of Contemporary Jewelry Art published by Stichting Kunstboek.
Miller and Scofield are Baltimore sculptors who collaborated last year with the Madrid design collective Mmmm… to create another sculpture in nearby Highlandtown, a bus stop and pedestrian shelter that consists simply of three letters: B-U-S.
The PNC Transformative Art Prize is a program of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, made possible through a partnership with PNC Bank and Baltimore’s Housing department. Other funding included $5,000 from the Baltimore Community Foundation and $5,000 from Healthy Neighborhoods.
Minneapolis’ celebrated sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center will close its gates in October, reopening May 2017 after a major redesign of its landscape and conservatory. Snow Kreilich Architects and landscape architects Oslund & Associates, both of Minneapolis, will lead the $10 million design in collaboration with Minneapolis’ Park & Recreation Board. According to architect and Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Project Manager Dana Murdoch, the work is long overdue.
“The garden is deteriorating. The plant mat is becoming overgrown. Some of the granite infrastructure is falling aside and cracking,” said Murdoch. “We have some fairly serious drainage issues because it’s a formerly swampy area, and it has had impacts on the navigability of the walks.”
As part of an ancient drainage bed for the Mississippi River, the site has a high water table. Murdoch said the garden—built in 1988 by Edward Larrabee Barnes and landscape architects Quinnel Rothschild & Partners, and expanded four years later by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates—has needed an overhaul for at least a decade. It took until May 2014, however, for the Park Board to win $8.5 million in general obligation bond funding from the state of Minnesota. The project got another $1.5 million through the regional Mississippi Watershed Management Organization for its focus on stormwater retention.
“It’s a very unstable condition,” said lead landscape architect Tom Oslund. Trees have started to sink into the site’s soggy soil, even warping pathways. “It’s kind of a mess. But we decided to actually embrace that.”
On the north end of the site, where the drainage problems are most severe, the design team plans to reorganize the space around three circular, outdoor “rooms.” Riprap slopes raise the rooms above a large cistern and retention pond that, according to Oslund, is shaped “kind of like an Aalto vase.” The depression will contain the entire garden’s stormwater and will be bridged by elevated granite pathways.
To the southern end of the site, four square rooms will feature an “enhanced turf” to aid stormwater drainage while supporting the artwork and granite pathways. Oslund’s design replaces an existing arborvitae perimeter with a lower, deciduous hedge. Along with perennial plantings and ornamental grasses, the new greenery is meant to help invoke a sense of discovery.
“There is this series of reveals,” said Oslund, “so it’s not just a one-liner.”
Depending on the room, these reveals could be for work by Fritz Haeg, Mark di Suvero, Ellsworth Kelly, or one of dozens of artists who have contributed more than 40 sculptures to the 11-acre site over the years. The redesign maintains the central location of perhaps the garden’s most well known piece, “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Spoonbridge will stay in place during construction, as will work by Sol LeWitt, Frank Gehry, and Richard Serra. A handful of sculptures are going on long-term loan elsewhere in the area, including to Gold Medal Park and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The rest will stay in protected storage in an adjacent parking lot, according to the Park Board’s Dana Murdoch.
Snow Kreilich is in the early phases of “revitalizing” the garden’s Cowles Conservatory to make it more accessible and energy efficient, according to a firm spokeswoman. Murdoch said the work could include opening up the conservatory to the elements, adding seasonal food vendors and imparting “a more picnicky feel to it.”
More than 350,000 annual visitors will have to wait two years to return to the garden, a popular wedding destination and event space, but Murdoch said the closure was unavoidable due to the nature of the work—specifically the new stormwater system and the upgraded irrigation.
“You just have to dig everything up for that,” she said.
Camila Schaulsohn is Communications Director and Editor-in-Chief of e-Oculus. She was born and raised in Santiago, Chile.
On May 22, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, unveiled the newest addition to its 22-acre Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. Entitled Glass Labyrinth, the glass walled maze designed by world-renowned artist and Kansas City native Robert Morris follows a series of similar installations made over the past decade from various materials including steel, stone, and even chain-linked fencing. “This interactive and contemplative labyrinth sets the stage for an exciting future for the sculpture garden, the museum, and Kansas City,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, the Nelson’s Director, at the ribbon cutting of Morris’ first permanent glass work in the U.S.
The Nelson is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the sculpture park with the opening of the new commission, funded by the Hall Family Foundation of Hallmark Cards fame. In 1986, the Foundation bought 57 master works by artist Henry Moore from an Oklahoma oil tycoon. They approached the Nelson shortly thereafter, and by 1989 had collaborated to build an outdoor museum in the spirit of the Foundation’s mission of creating places for the public to experience the relationship between art, architecture, and nature.
At 7 feet tall and weighing more than 400 tons, Glass Labyrinth is a 62-foot equilateral triangle–shaped maze. Considering the museum’s desire to have the commission take a prominent position on the grounds, and with limited space left in the sculpture park, the Nelson’s landscape architect, Rick Howell, had to be strategic about the work’s placement.
Toni Wood; John Lamberton
The permanent installation is located at the foot of the museum’s Bloch building, designed by Steven Holl Architects, and creates a gateway element at the southeast corner of the campus. Glass Labyrinth responds to the purity of the original building and the Holl addition. The piece’s translucence creates an interesting juxtaposition between the backdrop of the Bloch building’s frosted, channelized glass, and its adjacency to Henry Moore’s bronze Sheep Piece, with Roxy Paine’s stainless steel Ferment lurking over the scene and across from Claes Oldenburg’s infamous Shuttlecocks.
This is not a typical museum piece, where guests are discouraged from touching the art. “Visitors are invited to walk into the labyrinth to experience it and become a part of the art,” said Jan Schall, the Nelson’s Sanders Sosland curator of modern art.
The concrete foundation for the labyrinth was laid last Fall, and final assembly began in April. It was completed in early May. The Nelson has organized a summer of public activities to celebrate the sculpture garden’s anniversary.
Though Graham claims he was “never a conceptual artist,” the work he produced during the 1960s—and labeled conceptual by Lucy Lippard—is perhaps the revelation of the show. They are buried in cave-like rooms on the back of the fourth floor, and began Graham’s lifelong interest in the culture of everyday life.If this is not enough Graham for you, the catalogue includes some of his critical writings on art, architecture, and rock and roll, along with a cute manga by Fumihiro Nonomuro. The exhibit will feature accompanying lectures and discussions, including one with the musician Glenn Branca, whom Graham has championed for decades.
PS – While you’re there, take a relaxing break from Grahamiana and visit the Whitney’s excellent Claes Oldenburg show, which closes on September 6.PPS – And also don't miss the nice installation LA's Jeffery Inaba just did at the old DIA space on West 22nd Street. Graham used to have an installation up there, before the arts foundation sold the place in 2004. But hurry, because the new piece is only there through Saturday.