[Paleopsych] NYT: Philip Johnson, Elder Statesman of U.S. Architecture, Dies at 98
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Thu Jan 27 15:27:59 UTC 2005
Philip Johnson, Elder Statesman of U.S. Architecture, Dies at 98
January 26, 2005
By PAUL GOLDBERGER
[Was Johnson put into jail during WW II for sedition? I recall hearing
that he was. A bunch of NYT pieces are appended, even one entitled,
"American Culture's Debt to Gay Sons of Ha'va'd." Question: are homosexual
and bisexual graduates from Ha'va'd any more prominent in American life
than other graduates from Ha'va'd? In which parts of American life?]
Philip Johnson, at once the elder statesman and the enfant terrible
of American architecture, died yesterday at the Glass House, the
celebrated estate he built for himself in New Canaan, Conn., said
David Whitney, his companion of 45 years. He was 98 years old.
Often considered the dean of American architects, Mr. Johnson was
known less for his individual buildings than for the sheer force of
his presence on the architectural scene, which he served as a
combination godfather, gadfly, scholar, patron, critic, curator and
cheerleader. His 90th birthday, in July 1996, was marked by
symposiums, lectures, an outpouring of essays in his honor and
back-to-back dinners at two venerable New York institutions he had
played a major role in creating: the Museum of Modern Art, whose
department of architecture and design he joined in 1930, and the Four
Seasons Restaurant, which he designed as part of the Seagram Building
Mr. Johnson was the first winner of the Pritzker Prize, the $100,000
award established in 1979 by the Pritzker family of Chicago to honor
an architect of international stature. In 1978, he won the Gold Medal
of the American Institute of Architects, the highest award the
American architectural profession bestows on any of its members.
His long career was a study in contradictions. For all his honors, Mr.
Johnson was in some ways always an outsider in his profession. His own
architecture received mixed reviews, and frequently startled both the
public and his fellow architects. The style of his work changed
frequently, and he was often accused of pandering to fashion and
designing buildings that were facile and shallow.
Yet he created several buildings, including the Glass House, the
sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of
Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, that are widely
considered among the architectural masterworks of the 20th century,
and for his entire career he maintained an involvement with
architectural theory and ideas as deep as that of any scholar.
As an architect, he made his mark arguing the importance of the
esthetic side of architecture, and claimed that he had no interest in
buildings except as works of art. Yet he was so eager to build that he
willingly took commissions from real-estate developers who refused to
meet his own esthetic standards, and liked to refer to himself, with
only partial irony, as a whore. And in the 1930's, this man who
believed that art ranked above all else took a bizarre and, he later
conceded, deeply mistaken detour into right-wing politics, suspending
his career to work on behalf of Huey Long and later Father Charles
Coughlin, and expressing more than passing admiration for Adolf
Mr. Johnson's foray into Fascism was over by the time the United
States entered World War II, and two decades later he sought to make
public atonement to Jews by designing a synagogue in Port Chester,
N.Y., for no fee. But to the end of his life the contradictions
continued. With his dignified bearing and elegant, tailored suits, he
looked every bit the part of a distinguished, genteel aristocrat, but
he played the celebrity culture of the 1980's and 90's as successfully
as a rock star. He was far and away the best-known living architect to
the public, and his crisply outlined, round face, marked by heavy,
round black spectacles of his own design, was a common sight on
television programs and magazine covers.
With the exception of his brief involvement in right-wing politics,
all of Philip Johnson's careers - historian, museum director and
designer - revolved around architecture. He began his professional
life as a writer, historian and curator and did not enter architecture
school until he was 35. Even when he became one of the nation's most
eminent practicing architects, he continued to be a major patron of
institutions and of younger architects, whose work he followed with
He began his career as an ardent champion of Modernism, but unlike
many of the movement's early proselytizers, he changed with the times,
and his own work showed a major movement away from beginnings that
were heavily influenced by the architect Mies van der Rohe. In the
late 1950's, just after he had collaborated with Mies on the design of
the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, he introduced elements of
classical architecture into his buildings, beginning a long quest to
find ways of connecting contemporary architecture to historical form.
It was a quest that would begin with highly abstracted versions of
classicism in the 1960's and culminate in a much more literal use of
the architectural forms of the past in his revivalist skyscrapers of
That phase of Mr. Johnson's career included such well-known monuments
as the classically detailed pink granite AT& T Building (now the Sony
Building) on Madison Avenue, which he completed in 1983 with John
Burgee, then his partner; the Republic Bank Tower (now NCNB Center) in
Houston, which used elements of Flemish Renaissance architecture; the
Transco Tower in Houston, which recapitulated the setback forms of a
romantic 1920's tower in glass, perhaps his finest skyscraper; and the
PPG Center in Pittsburgh, a reflective glass tower whose Gothic form
copied the shape of the tower of the Houses of Parliament in London.
Institutional clients also got their share of Mr. Johnson's fixation
with historical form: he designed a Romanesque structure in brick for
the Cleveland Play House and a classical building based on the designs
of the French visionary architect Étienne-Louis Boullée for the
architecture school of the University of Houston.
In the late 1980's Mr. Johnson's restless mind, having played a major
role in shifting American architecture toward Postmodernism, with its
re-use of traditional elements, moved on yet again. Fascinated by the
intense, highly abstract work of a group of younger Modernist
architects who were to become known as the Deconstructivists, Mr.
Johnson began to incorporate elements of their architecture into his
He was particularly entranced with the buildings of the Los Angeles
architect Frank Gehry, whose complex, seemingly irrational forms would
appear to be the antithesis of the cool, rational, ordered
architectural world of Mr. Johnson's first mentor, Mies, and much of
his late work reflected Mr. Gehry's influence.
Mr. Johnson, an urbane, elegant figure, was perhaps the best-known New
York architect since Stanford White. Born to wealth, he and Mr.
Whitney, a curator and art dealer, lived well - for many years in a
town house on East 52nd Street that Mr. Johnson had originally
designed as a guest house for John D. Rockefeller 3d, then in an
elaborately decorated apartment in Museum Tower above the Museum of
Modern Art - and always on weekends in the famous Glass House
compound.Mr. Johnson had lunch daily amid other prominent and powerful
New Yorkers at a special table in the corner of the Grill Room of the
Four Seasons restaurant. His guest was as likely to be a young
architect in whose work he had taken an interest, and for years his
table functioned as a kind of miniature architectural salon.
In the evenings, he was frequently seen at exclusive social events -
for years by himself, and in the last decade, as he felt greater ease
in making his relationship with Mr. Whitney public, with his
companion. He was among the few architects whose comings and goings
were considered worthy of notice in the gossip columns.
He had been an active art collector since the days when, as a student
traveling in Germany, he purchased a pair of Paul Klees directly from
the artist. Eventually he came to be a busy collector of contemporary
art: advised by Mr. Whitney, he filled his walls with paintings by Roy
Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns when these artists were
just gaining public attention, and he amassed one of the most complete
collections of paintings by Frank Stella in private hands.
Mr. Johnson not only lived and ate in places of his own design, he
worked in them as well. Until 1986 his office was in the Seagram
Building, the great skyscraper he designed with Mies, who was its
principal architect. Mr. Johnson practiced alone there for some years,
then collaborated with Richard Foster of Greenwich, Conn., for a time,
and in 1967 formed a partnership with John Burgee.
It was this partnership that transformed Mr. Johnson from a
scholar-architect designing small to medium-size institutional
buildings for well-to-do clients to a major force in American
commercial architecture. Mr. Burgee's arrival coincided with the
firm's movement toward a number of major and widely acclaimed
skyscraper projects, including the I.D.S. Center in Minneapolis and
Pennzoil Place in Houston. Mr. Johnson's own leanings were always
toward the esthetic issues involved in design, and in Mr. Burgee he
found a partner who could serve not only as a colleague in design but
also as an executive overseeing the kind of large architectural office
required to produce major skyscrapers.
As if to mark Mr. Burgee's role, the Johnson-Burgee firm moved in 1986
into the elliptical skyscraper at 885 Third Avenue, between 53rd and
54th Streets, popularly known as the Lipstick Building, which the
partners had designed together. But the partnership was not to last
long beyond the move: Mr. Burgee, eager to occupy center stage,
negotiated a more limited role for Mr. Johnson, and in 1991 exercised
the prerogative he had as chief executive of the firm and eased Mr.
Johnson out altogether.
It proved an unwise decision, since the firm, crippled by an
arbitration decision unrelated to Mr. Johnson, soon went into
bankruptcy, all but ending Mr. Burgee's career. Mr. Johnson, his ties
with his former firm having been severed, had no liability, and he
went on to rent a smaller space in the Lipstick Building, gleefully
hanging out his shingle and declaring himself in business as a solo
practitioner at the age of 86. Before long, he had several
commissions, including a cathedral in Dallas, and his career had
recharged itself completely.
Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born on July 8, 1906, in Cleveland, the
son of Homer H. Johnson, a well-to-do lawyer, and Louise Pope Johnson.
Supported by a fortune that consisted largely of Aluminum Company of
America stock given him by his father, Mr. Johnson went to Harvard to
study Greek, but became excited by architecture and spent the years
immediately after his graduation in 1927 touring Europe and looking at
the early buildings of the developing Modern architecture movement.
He teamed up with Henry-Russell Hitchcock, at that time the movement's
chief academic partisan in the United States, and their travels
together resulted in their book "The International Style," published
in 1932 and now a classic. "We have an architecture still," is how Mr.
Johnson and Mr. Hitchcock concluded the book, which played a major
role in introducing Americans to the work of European modernists
ranging from Le Corbusier to Mies to Walter Gropius, then barely known
In 1930, before "The International Style" was published, Mr. Johnson
joined the department of architecture at a new institution in New
York, the Museum of Modern Art. He moved the museum quickly to the
forefront of the architectural avant-garde, sponsoring exhibitions on
contemporary themes and arranging for visits by Gropius, Le Corbusier
and Mies, for whom he also negotiated his first American commission.
Mr. Johnson left the museum in 1936 to pursue his political agenda
full-time, dividing his time between Berlin, Louisiana and his
family's home in Ohio. By the summer of 1940, his infatuation with
Fascist politics had faded, although as Franz Schulze, his biographer,
wrote in 1994, it was never clear whether he withdrew because he
changed his mind or because he had failed to achieve political
success. "In politics he proved to be a model of futility," Mr.
Schulze wrote.. "He was never much of a political threat to anyone,
still less an effective doer of either political good or political
In 1941, at the age of 35, Mr. Johnson turned once and for all to the
field that would occupy him for the rest of his life, and enrolled at
the Harvard Graduate School of Design to begin the process of becoming
While at Harvard, Mr. Johnson did what few students, even those of
great means, have been able to do - he actually built the project he
designed as a thesis. It was a house in the style of Mies, its lot
surrounded by a wall that merges into the structure, and it still
stands at 9 Ash Street in Cambridge, Mass.
After wartime service in the United States Army - although the Federal
Bureau of Investigation had investigated Mr. Johnson for his Fascist
leanings, the Government decided he was sufficiently repentant to wear
the uniform - he returned in 1946 to the Museum of Modern Art. At the
same time he began slowly to build up an architectural practice of his
own, combining it with his career as a writer and curator.
He designed a small, boxy house, also highly influenced by Mies, for a
client in Sagaponack, L.I., in 1946, but his first significant
building, and still perhaps his most famous, was not for an outside
client at all but, like the Cambridge house, for his own use: it was
the Glass House at New Canaan, completed in 1949 with its
counterpoint, a brick guest house.
The serene Glass House, a 56-foot by 32-foot rectangle, is generally
considered one of the 20th century's greatest residential structures.
Like all of Mr. Johnson's early work, it was inspired by Mies, but its
pure symmetry, dark colors and closeness to the earth marked it as a
personal statement, calm and ordered rather than sleek and brittle.
Over the years, Mr. Johnson added to the Glass House property, turning
it into a compound that became a veritable museum of his architecture,
with buildings representing each phase of his career. A small, elegant
white-columned pavilion by the lake was built in 1963; an art gallery,
an underground building set into a hill, with pictures from Mr.
Johnson's extensive collection of contemporary art set on movable
panels, in 1965; the sculpture gallery of 1970, a sharply defined,
irregular white structure covered with a greenhouse-like glass roof; a
library of stucco with a rounded tower that from a distance looks like
a miniature castle (1980); a concrete-block tower, as much a piece of
sculpture as a building, dedicated to his lifelong friend Lincoln
Kirstein, the writer and New York City Ballet founder(1985); a "ghost
house" of chain-link fence, honoring Mr. Gehry, who often used this
material (1985), and finally, what Mr. Johnson called "the Monsta," an
irregularly-shaped building of deep red with sharply curving walls,
finished in 1995.
The "Monsta" - Mr. Johnson could not quite bring himself to call one
of his buildings a monster, but he felt its shape resembled it - is
set at the gate of the estate and was designed to serve as a visitors
center once the public was admitted to the property after his death.
(Although Mr. Johnson kept an office in New York, working part time
there until a year ago, he and Mr. Whitney have spent most of their
time at the Glass House in recent years.) The Glass House compound is
willed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which plans to
operate it as a museum.
In addition to Mr. Whitney, Mr. Johnson is survived by a sister,
Jeannette Dempsey of Cleveland, now 102.
After the Glass House was completed in 1949, Mr. Johnson received
other residential commissions, including a number of houses in New
Canaan. His first work at very large scale, however, was the Seagram
Building, designed in association with Mies, though Mr. Johnson
himself did the elegant Four Seasons restaurant within. The deep
bronze Seagram, completed in 1958, is considered by many critics to be
the finest postwar skyscraper in New York.
By that time, however, Mr. Johnson was already becoming impatient with
the limitations of the strict, austere Miesian design vocabulary. He
began to explore a more decorative sort of neo-Classicism, which led
to such designs as the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth (1961), the
New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1964) and the Elmer Holmes
Bobst Library at New York University, designed in 1965 but not
completed until 1973.
His work in that period led the architectural historian Vincent Scully
to refer to him as "admirably lucid, unsentimental and abstract, with
the most ruthlessly aristocratic, highly studied taste of anyone
practicing in America today."
"All that a nervous sensibility, lively intelligence and a stored mind
can do, he does,"Mr. Scully said.
Mr. Johnson's active art collecting brought him a nearly continuous
stream of commissions to design museums, and his ties to the Museum of
Modern Art brought him the request to design the museum's 1951 and
1964 expansions beyond its original 1939 building, including the
sculpture garden. He also designed the original Asia House gallery on
East 64th Street, now the Russell Sage Foundation, as well as museums
in Utica, N.Y., Fort Worth, Lincoln, Neb., and Corpus Christi, Tex.
Despite his record as a museum designer and his long association with
the Modern, the museum's board, of which Mr. Johnson was a member,
decided in 1978 to hire a different architect to design its new West
Wing. The job went to Cesar Pelli, and Mr. Johnson was deeply hurt.
For some time, relations cooled between him and the museum he had
supported nearly since its founding, but eventually they resumed, and
Mr. Johnson and Mr. Whitney moved into the apartment tower above the
museum designed by Mr. Pelli. In 1984, as a tribute to Mr. Johnson as
its founding curator, the museum's department of architecture and
design named its exhibition space the Philip Johnson Gallery. And the
museum marked Mr. Johnson's 90th birthday with a pair of exhibitions:
one of notable works of art that the architect had donated to the
museum, and another of works given by architects in Mr. Johnson's
The beginnings of Mr. Johnson's late career as a major commercial
architect were not in New York, however, but in Minneapolis, through
an immense project in 1972 for Investors Diversified Services, a
financial conglomerate that has since become part of American Express.
A square-block complex containing a 51-story glass tower roughly
shaped like an octagon, a hotel and a retail wing placed around a
central glass-covered court, the design blended Mr. Johnson's interest
in angular forms with a sensitive urbanism. It quickly became a focal
point for downtown Minneapolis, and was the first of a generation of
what might be called social skyscrapers, towers that did not merely
house office workers but contained a myriad of public spaces as well.
Among the many observers who were impressed by the I.D.S. tower was
Gerald D. Hines of Houston, a real estate developer who had begun his
career as a builder of warehouses but by the early 1970's had sought
to make a new mark as the developer of much larger buildings by
prominent architects. Mr. Hines hired Mr. Johnson and Mr. Burgee to
design Pennzoil Place, a twin-towered complex of glass in downtown
Houston that was completed in 1973. One of the most widely known
skyscrapers in the country, Pennzoil Place consists of two trapezoidal
towers placed so as to leave two triangular areas open on the site.
These areas were covered with steel and glass trusses to create
greenhouse-like lobbies; as a further formal gesture, each tower was
given a slanted roof for the top seven floors.
Pennzoil Place would prove widely influential, but five years later
Mr. Johnson and Mr. Burgee moved away from it with the design for one
of the most startling skyscrapers of the last generation, the AT& T
(now Sony) headquarters in New York, the so-called "Chippendale
skyscraper" of granite with a split pediment resembling an antique
During the 1980's Mr. Johnson and Mr. Burgee also designed major
skyscrapers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas,
most of which, following the lead of the AT& . Building, were lavishly
finished in granite and marble and imitated some aspect of the
architecture of the past.
Mr. Johnson also designed the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove,
Calif., and the Museum of Television and Radio on West 52d Street in
New York, and with Mr. Burgee produced plans through the 1980's for
office towers for Times Square. Widely criticized, they have yet to be
built. On his own, since the dissolution of his partnership with Mr.
Burgee, he produced several projects for Donald J. Trump, including
the glass tower at 1 Central Park West and projects for the Riverside
South residential development; plans for a cathedral for a gay
congregation in Dallas; and an office building for Berlin.
Although he gave up formal scholarship when he became an architect,
Mr. Johnson continued to write and lecture frequently. He constant
theme, unchanged through all his stylistic variations, was his belief
in the need to view architecture as an art - something that separated
him, in fact, from the socially minded early Modernists whose cause he
once championed so ardently.
In a famous lecture in 1954 at Harvard titled "The Seven Crutches of
Modern Architecture," he said, "Merely that a building works is not
sufficient." Later, in an oft-quoted remark, he said, "I would rather
sleep in Chartres Cathedral with the nearest toilet two blocks away
than in a Harvard house with back-to-back bathrooms."
Years later, Mr. Johnson told an audience, "We still have a monumental
architecture. To me, the drive for monumentality is as inbred as the
desire for food and sex, regardless of how we denigrate it."
But he ended by arguing: "Monuments differ in different periods. Each
age has its own.
"Maybe, just maybe, we shall at last come to care for the most
important, most challenging, surely the most satisfying of all
architectural creations: building cities for people to live in."
An Appreciation | Philip Johnson: A Tastemaker Propelled by Curiosity
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
At the height of his power, Philip Johnson's tentacles seemed to
reach into every corner of his profession. As the founding director of
the Museum of Modern Art's department of architecture and design, he
almost single-handedly introduced American audiences to European
Modernist buildings; he was a tireless promoter of emerging
architectural talents, from Mies van der Rohe to Frank Gehry. And
although he often played down his creative talent, he produced a
number of 20th-century landmarks in his long, eclectic career, among
them the 1949 Glass House, rightly considered a masterpiece of
Yet his greatest talent of all may have been his unquenchable
curiosity, which prevented him, and by extension, his audience, from
becoming mired in any specific architectural style or movement.
In architectural terms, Mr. Johnson's output was uneven. His most
memorable works are almost without exception his most intimately
scaled, and they evoke a remarkable range of references that with
hindsight, imbues them with unexpected subtlety. The Glass House in
New Canaan, Conn., for example, was famously inspired by Mies's
earlier design for the Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill., but its sleek
Modernist appearance and slender brick base also suggested a
traditional home with its skin stripped off.
That catholic sensibility was also evident in his 1950 design for
Dominique and John de Menil's residence in Houston, whose blank brick
facade masked a more transparent interior that opened onto flowing
gardens, echoing, in its small way, the Janus-like vision of
precedents like the 17th-century French estate Vaux le Vicomte.
But what most separates his work from more austere influences like
Mies is its thinly veiled hedonism. The beauty of the Glass House, for
example, arises from the quality of the glass, which is less about
transparency than about the creation of a subtle interplay of visual
images, from reflections of the surrounding trees to the movement of
bodies inside. Similarly, the polished interiors he designed for the
Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan, with beaded steel curtains that
conjure up a woman's slip, make it one of the sexiest rooms in the
city 45 years after its completion.
That bias toward aesthetics over social issues had been clear since
his 1932 "International Style" show at the Modern, which he organized
at the age of 26 with Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The show, which
celebrated the work of such pillars of early Modernism as Mies, Le
Corbusier and J. J. P. Oud, electrified an audience that was
unfamiliar with Modernist achievements in Europe. But its relentless
focus on form tended to overlook the deeper social goals that inspired
such architecture. While Mr. Johnson may have made such work palatable
to the American cultural elite, he also emptied it of some of its
Nonetheless, that narrow devotion to aesthetics may also have been
what allowed Mr. Johnson, in his later career, to slip so easily from
one architectural style to the next. When the glow of late Modernism
began to fade sometime in the early 1970's, Mr. Johnson was one of the
first to abandon that vision in favor of postmodernism, a movement
that he helped spawn and that eventually landed him on the cover of
Time, clutching a model of his AT&T tower with its granite Chippendale
A decade later, Johnson was exploring the more fragmented forms of
architects like Frank Gehry, which led to a short-lived collaboration
on an unbuilt guest house for the insurance magnate Peter B. Lewis.
His forays into so-called deconstructivism yielded the canted walls
and curved shapes of a visitors center at his estate in New Canaan.
Mr. Johnson's fickleness often led to accusations that he was more an
arbiter of architectural tastes than a creative groundbreaker. And in
truth, few of his buildings from the 1970's and 80's could be
considered distinguished. Most - banal corporate towers done on the
cheap - seemed a winking testament to his famous quip that all
architects are whores.
Yet there were exceptions. The angular glass surfaces of his 1976
Pennzoil Place, for example, frame a thin sliver of sky that gives a
palpable tension to what are otherwise a pair of conventional
corporate towers. His Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.,
completed in 1980, is a mesmerizing composition of faceted glass
And in many ways, Mr. Johnson's restlessness may have been his
greatest asset: not so much as an architect as in his effect on the
culture of architecture. During his long reign, no one was a more
eloquent advocate for architecture, and few were more open to new
ideas. Nor has any American architect been more indefatigable in
promoting new talents, many benefiting from his patronage.
Mr. Johnson accomplished much of this through his position at the
Modern, where he continued to curate shows until he was into his 80's.
The 1988 show on deconstructivism, which he organized with Mark
Wigley, may not have had the impact of his earlier successes, but it
underlined Mr. Johnson's zest for exploring contemporary architectural
ideas at an age when most would be content to play the role of
His connection to the Modern was only the most visible aspect of his
stature as architectural tastemaker, a position enhanced by his
aristocratic charm and social connections. It was Mr. Johnson, for
instance, who famously introduced Mies to the Seagram heiress Phyllis
Lambert in the early 1950's; soon afterward she commissioned Mies and
Mr. Johnson to design the landmark Seagram Building. Later, he was an
ardent supporter of emerging talents then like Peter Eisenman and Mr.
Gehry. His dinners at the Century club, meanwhile, were coveted as a
means of entree into the tight-knit world of New York high culture,
the kind of circles that guaranteed large-scale, high-profile
Conversely, the architects he ignored sometimes felt as though the
power he wielded could be devastating. But Mr. Johnson felt free to
follow talent and ideas wherever they led him. That blazing openness
to the new - that ease in gliding from style to style, from one milieu
to another - seems virtually impossible to replace.
New Life and New Mission for a 1964 World's Fair Relic
July 17, 2004
By FRED A. BERNSTEIN
Philip Johnson's steel and concrete fantasia in Flushing
Meadows-Corona Park, designed as the New York State Pavilion for the
1964-65 World's Fair, has been crumbling for decades. Now it is
finally getting some attention.
Adrian Benepe, New York City's parks commissioner, said his department
had begun soliciting ideas from groups interested in renovating the
pavilion. If there are enough expressions of interest, he said, the
department will issue a formal request for proposals.
At the same time, the Queens Theater in the Park which produces
performances geared to the borough's immigrant communities is planning
to build an 8,000-square-foot addition to its space, a small section
of the pavilion that was called the Theaterama during the World's
Fair. That section has been maintained while the rest of the pavilion,
including the huge "Tent of Tomorrow" and cluster of round observation
towers, continues to fall apart.
The addition will consist of a 75-seat cabaret and a new entry hall
with an inverted-dome ceiling, a shape that one of its architects,
Sara Caples of Caples Jefferson, said would recall the "va-voom
architecture" of Johnson's pavilion. The city has allocated $5.2
million for the addition and hopes to break ground this fall, the
cultural affairs commissioner, Kate D. Levin, said. The opening is
planned for late next year.
When completed, Ms. Caples said, the new entry hall will join the
original Theaterama, the observation towers, and the tent to be "a
fourth geometric figure in this wonderful composition of Philip
But the shiny new addition will also call attention to the blighted
condition of the tent, which appears to be on the verge of collapse.
Sixteen 100-foot-high concrete towers once supported a multicolored
canopy above a football field-size map of New York State. The canopy
is gone, and the map is now a forest of weeds that have cracked the
state's 62 counties.
As recently as 2001, the city's parks commissioner at the time, Henry
J. Stern, said he thought the tent structure was useless and should be
But Mr. Benepe said the pavilion as a whole was worth preserving
because it is a remnant of the fair and was designed by "an important
Mr. Johnson, who turned 98 last week, was not available for comment
and has not seen the plans for the theater addition, said his design
partner, Alan Ritchie. But Mr. Johnson once said that he cringed every
time he passed the crumbling pavilion on the way to the airport.
One group, Mr. Benepe said, has proposed creating a New York City
sports hall of fame at the pavilion. Another, which includes the
Manhattan architect Frankie Campione, has proposed turning it into an
aerospace museum. Mr. Campione said he was concerned that the theater
addition would detract from Mr. Johnson's composition. Worse, he said,
construction could damage the existing building, which, because it was
not intended to be permanent, was constructed on wooden pilings.
But Ms. Caples said that her team, which includes Lee/Timchula
Architects of Manhattan and the structural engineer Stanley Goldstein,
was aware of the wooden pilings and had performed what she called
"obsessive" engineering studies to make sure the pavilion did not
topple as a result of the construction.
The proposed theater addition is only one of several significant
building projects in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. A radical
alteration to the Queens Museum, by the Los Angeles architect Eric
Owen Moss, is in the planning stages. And a 55,000-square-foot
addition to the Hall of Science, by Polshek Partnership Architects of
Manhattan, is nearing completion.
Ms. Caples said she believed that she and her partner, Everardo
Jefferson, were respecting the Johnson building by adding to it.
"Repurposing cultural buildings and bringing them into our time," she
said, "is a stronger way of keeping these beloved institutions part of
the life of the city than letting them fall into disuse."
Minimalist Oases in a Bustling Manhattan
April 23, 2004
By RANDY KENNEDY
TAKING a Minimalist art tour in a maximalist city like New York is
In many ways, it's the polar opposite of going to Marfa, the tiny West
Texas town where the artist Donald Judd bought a defunct Army base in
the late 1970's and created a sprawling mecca of Minimalism. Getting
to Marfa is difficult, but once you're there, everything else is
simple. Little comes between you and the art, except the light and the
view of uninterrupted high desert through the windows, which was
Judd's almost monastic intention. It's like going to a museum on the
New York City is, of course, a much more populous planet.
And its citizens have not always been so friendly toward Minimalism,
which still poses difficult questions about the purpose and
definitions of art. Remember that in 1989, Richard Serra's rusty steel
"Tilted Arc" was hauled away from the plaza in front of the Jacob K.
Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan, after years of complaints
from the building's workers.
So when a group of curators and artists at the Guggenheim Museum
recently proposed a tour in which they would present the city through
the eyes of Minimalism and demonstrate how much the movement's
precepts have already shaped the everyday fabric of New York I signed
on as a curious art tourist with a notebook.
The ramps at the Guggenheim are now completely filled, or sometimes
purposely not filled, with Minimalist art, as part of "Singular Forms
(Sometimes Repeated): Art From 1951 to the Present." The pieces,
selected mostly from the museum's permanent collection, highlight the
work of artists like Judd, Mr. Serra, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre,
Ellsworth Kelly, Bruce Nauman and younger artists who have absorbed
and transformed Minimalist and post-Minimalist ideas, like Rachel
Whiteread and Liam Gillick.
The tour started at the museum early one morning, with the show's two
curators, Nancy Spector and Lisa Dennison, leading the way, along with
Ms. Spector's husband, the architect Michael Gabellini, who designed
the exhibition's installation, and Mr. Gillick, a young British artist
whose work often investigates the relationship between architecture
The basic idea was to use the museum as a kind of lodestone and then
over the rest of the day to search the city for traces, echoes and
mutations of what we had seen there. Looking at people who are looking
at Minimalist art is always fun, of course, and as visitors began to
fill the Guggenheim's curving ramps you could almost see many of them
becoming self-conscious as they stared at stark works like Robert
Rauschenberg's 1951 "White Painting," an all-white canvas that relies
on the shadows of the viewer for part of its effect.
For some people staring at the painting, the induced
self-consciousness an important element of much Minimalism seemed to
be insulting or disorienting, and they laughed or shook their heads.
("It's a good thing we have some Impressionism on the second floor,"
joked Anthony Calnek, a spokesman for the museum.) But as our tour
group left the cloister of the museum and plunged into the chaos of
the city, the idea of self-consciousness became an important one to
follow. New York, with its avalanches of billboards and advertisements
and lavish store windows, often seems like a giant distraction
machine. Every piece of the landscape seems designed to make you think
about something or someplace else besides what you are looking at the
tropical island where you need to relax, the pretzel you need to eat,
the shoes you need to buy, the swimsuit on the model, the model
Minimalist artists like Flavin and Judd (who hated the term
Minimalism) wanted to create art that did not make you think about
other things, like the subject of a painting or a sculpture, but about
the artwork itself, and the space around it, and about your looking at
"It's become our form of modern classicism," Ms. Spector said. And in
a city as exhausting as New York, which is always trying to pull you
out of yourself, experiencing this sounded to me like an almost
religious experience, an aesthetic oasis.
Arriving at this state of Minimalist Zen, however, would require a lot
of driving. So we all piled into a van in front of the museum. It felt
a little like the scene in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters," in
which Sam Waterston, playing an architect, gives Dianne Wiest and
Carrie Fisher a car tour of his favorite Manhattan buildings. Except
in this case, there were seven of us, along with Ms. Spector's and Mr.
Gabellini's 3-month-old daughter, Chiara, in her own state of Zen, and
the driver, who never quite understood the point of our tour, but
didn't care as long as he could hear our directions.
A Recurring Theme
The grid is a recurring visual theme in Minimalism, and no sooner had
we left the museum than we were imprisoned in one, somewhere on Park
Avenue, gridlocked. (Mr. Gillick, with a lot of time to look out the
van's window, remarked that the city's smoking ban had been good for
architecture appreciation. "Look at all those people standing outside,
staring at buildings," he said.)
Finally, we reached our first stop, or stops: the Seagram Building at
53rd Street and Park, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip
Johnson in 1958, and Lever House, just up the avenue between 53rd and
54th Streets, designed by Gordon Bunshaft at Skidmore, Owings &
Merrill in 1952. Both buildings predate the Minimalist art movement as
such, but they were revolutionary precursors of Minimalism's
intentions and practices reducing, stripping off the unnecessary,
revealing the structural bones.
Mies wrote that for most buildings, "when the outer walls are put in
place, the structural system, which is the basis of all artistic
design, is hidden by a chaos of meaningless and trivial forms."
His bronze-and-glass Seagram building now a city landmark, along with
Lever House is certainly devoid of trivia. Even the lines of the
ceiling panels that you can glimpse through the glass are in lock step
with the building's unbroken exterior lines. It is a place where "the
structure, really, is the expression of the building," Mr. Gabellini
said, adding, "With Mies you knew the kind of suit he was wearing, and
it was always a very formal one."
In a city of jumbled and often jammed-together architectural styles,
the two buildings still have an almost puritanical effect today. Mr.
Gabellini, who designed the Guggenheim's show by rethinking the
museum's lighting and many of the surfaces inside, noted how the
Seagram Building stands back from the avenue on its roomy plaza,
making you aware of the space it occupies in a way the other buildings
around it don't. And while other tall buildings push up like
stalagmites, essentially extensions of Manhattan's bedrock, Lever
House instead seems to float on its horizontal slab, breaking the
city's vertical monotony.
The next stop was also architectural, but of a different sort. It was
the Jil Sander store on 57th Street near Fifth Avenue, designed by Mr.
Gabellini, who explained how much he had been influenced by Minimalist
artists, especially those who deal with light, like Doug Wheeler,
whose work at the Guggenheim is a large, serene room in which a
blue-white light emanates from the corners of one wall.
The same effect could be seen in the spare Jil Sander clothing store,
where light emerges from unseen places near the corners of one wall.
The strong influence of Judd could also be seen. Isolated metal
shelves jutting from the walls were reminiscent of the rows or stacks
of wall boxes that Judd made, often from brass or aluminum. In fact, a
metal display case in the store looked much like the aluminum Judd
boxes on display in Marfa. Except that the box in the store displayed
atop it a very pricey Jil Sander blue purse, reminding you that these
days, Minimalism is the language lots of New York boutiques speak to
The stop at the store was quick because Ms. Dennison had warned us
upon entering, "There is a very real danger that I will start to shop,
so we'd better be brief."
Next it was across town to a much bigger and more crowded nexus of
architecture and commerce the new Time Warner Center at Columbus
Circle to see the artist James Carpenter's towering cable-net glass
wall, the largest such glass wall in the world. It takes the
reductionist mantra even further: crystal-clear glass interrupted only
by the requisite number of stainless-steel cables needed to keep it
together. It is a window that is barely there, as much for looking
into the building as for looking out, reminding me of Gerhard
Richter's plain glass window panes, which we had just seen in the
Guggenheim show, and especially of a 1972 work by Lawrence Weiner that
uses no materials at all, unless you count ink. It's simply words on a
wall saying, "To See and Be Seen."
The last stop before lunch finally took us off the commerce trail and
closer to art for art's sake again. We drove to Trisha Brown's new
dance studio complex on West 55th Street, where she moved in 2001.
While the 16,000-square-foot studio itself stripped-down loftlike
space, painted white, with movable walls and basic lighting is minimal
enough, the point was to talk with Ms. Brown, who in her early years,
especially, was very influenced by Minimalist artists and, in turn,
influenced them. The stop was particularly appropriate in such a tour
of the city because Ms. Brown's earliest work rejected conventional
stages altogether and often put dancers atop roofs in SoHo or in a
harness, scaling the walls of a Lower Manhattan warehouse.
She has collaborated frequently with Mr. Rauschenberg and also with
Judd, whom she recalled once sitting in a chair and watching her
dancers as a pained expression spread across his face. "He said,
`Trisha, they keep moving,' " she said. "He didn't know how to deal
Echoing a theme that the tour had emphasized over and over, Ms. Brown
said she was extremely happy with the new dance space on a street
filled with trucks and warehouses between 11th and 12th Avenues
because it reduced distractions.
"I've made very good work here in part because I think it just is what
it is, a very clean, basic empty space," she said, adding later that
there was "nothing here to gobble up your eye." (She said that she was
also glad that it was in a former garage because, as a girl, she had
attended her first dance classes in a garage in Aberdeen, Wash. "It's
sort of like parentheses on my life," she said.)
By this point, art had made us so hungry that we almost abandoned
Minimalism and veered off to a Greek diner on 10th Avenue. But we
remained disciplined, stayed the course and ended up on a slow slog
down to TriBeCa and 66, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's pared-down palace
of Shanghai food, which was designed by the architect Richard Meier as
a kind of "2001: A Space Odyssey" version of China.
After so many hours of looking at the city through Minimalist goggles,
I was beginning to see it everywhere. It was easy in the restaurant,
of course, which one amateur food critic described on the Web as "a
Zen dim sum commune," but on the ride down, I had also been noticing
many things differently. A pipe leaning against a building reminded me
of Mr. Serra's "Close Pin Prop" at the museum, which is essentially a
sculpture made with a leaning pipe. The huge metal plates that cover
construction holes in the street were reminiscent of Mr. Andre's
famous hot-rolled steel plates, arranged on the floor of the museum.
And later, when we dropped by the sleek Apple Store in SoHo, an iPod
display in the window with three colored light columns looked just
like a Flavin fluorescent work.
Mr. Gillick, who described himself as distrustful of categories in the
art world, says he also has Minimalist moments in many places in the
city you might not expect. Like Penn Station. Or around the United
Nations, where he has an apartment. He also says that he finds the
empty space where Mr. Serra's sculpture once sat in front of the
Javits Federal Building to be powerful in its own right because of the
ghostly memory of the sculpture.
In the Guggenheim show, Mr. Gillick chose to hang "Trajectory
Platform," one of his own works, which resembles a dropped ceiling
panel with stripes of red in it, in an anonymous corner, near a door
to a staff room. "I wanted a place that I thought of as semi-ambiguous
architecture," he said, "a place that kind of plays with your
A Judd Building
The last major stop on our tour was that kind of place, too, but only
because of its interaction with a city that never stays still. It was
a building on Spring Street in SoHo that Judd, who died in 1994, owned
and used as a home and studio.
Surrounded now by expensive perfume shops and shoe stores, and almost
abandoned by other galleries, it can take a viewer by surprise.
Through smudged windows, you can see an open first floor, with some of
Flavin's fluorescent tubes glowing against the wall, Judd's boxes
nearby and a plain roll-top desk and chair near the back of the room.
Someone who didn't know the building's history might mistake it for a
bankrupt store that hadn't yet moved out all of the lights and display
But inside it is a kind of monastery of Judd's ideas and the tenets of
Minimalism, and undoubtedly a great way to end the tour, solemnly,
almost silently, finally shutting the city out again.
This cast-iron building, a former garment factory, has five large
floors, almost all left completely open, displaying works by Claes
Oldenburg, Frank Stella, John Chamberlain and Duchamp. On the second
floor is a spare living and dining area. The third floor was Judd's
studio, with a drafting table that still has a fold-out ruler, metal
triangles and pieces of drawing paper atop it.
The fourth floor was intended as a formal dining room, but in theory
only. In practice, almost no one ate there, said Peter Ballantine, a
longtime Judd collaborator who conducts appointment-only tours of the
building. Instead, it allowed Judd to make dining-room things like
tables and a cabinet for storing dishes. The fifth floor is a bedroom,
with a mattress barely raised from the floor on a wooden platform, and
very Quaker-like cubicle rooms designed for Judd's son and daughter.
The most telling floor, however, is the first, which was Judd's studio
before he had to abandon it, convert it to a gallery and flee
upstairs. Why did he have to retreat?
Mr. Ballantine said that too many people started knocking on the
windows to say hello to Judd, and that he couldn't stand it anymore
too many distractions in a city that has always been too full of them.
Mr. Ballantine shrugged. "He became too famous, and SoHo became SoHo,"
he said. "What could he do?"
Residential Real Estate: Cold Call Leads to Philip Johnson Project on East
November 21, 2003
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE
By NADINE BROZAN
It is safe to assume that few designs for luxury high rises start
with a cold call, but that is how Roy Stillman and Martin Levine,
developers of a new 32-story condominium at East 90th Street and Third
Avenue, first reached Philip Johnson and his partner, Alan Ritchie.
Shortly after Mr. Stillman and Mr. Levine acquired the
8,017-square-foot site, at 181 East 90th Street and occupying half a
block on Third Avenue, they decided to call the 97-year-old Mr.
Johnson, dialing information to get his phone number.
"It took us two calls, but we got through to him and heard an old,
frail voice on the phone," Mr. Stillman recalled. " `Mr. Johnson,' we
asked, `is that you?' " Indeed it was.
Persuading the architects to undertake the project was not even a
tough sell. "I had never met them," Mr. Ritchie said, "but their
enthusiasm and concern for architecture rather than just being
developers whetted our appetite. Hearing architecture discussed early
on in a project that is not a museum or church, I said to Mr. Johnson
that we should get to know them."
Although Mr. Johnson is increasingly fragile, Mr. Ritchie said, "he
was involved in the early stages and continued to be informed about
what was going on."
The architects were not starting from scratch. The site had been
assembled, and since it was to be developed within zoning regulations
for the area, the project needed no special approvals. The air rights
that would allow the developers to transfer unused height
authorizations from other buildings had been bought from their owners.
The shape of the building, called the Metropolitan, had been worked
out by the firm of Schuman Lichtenstein Claman Efron Architects, which
designed the apartment interiors. "When they came to us, they already
had the zoning and massing of the building approved, but we created
the facade and changed some shapes," Mr. Ritchie said. "We also had
control of the interior public spaces, lobby, corridors and
Among the building's more distinctive characteristics is the way it
cantilevers 21 feet over one adjoining building on East 90th Street
and 15 feet over another that extends along Third Avenue to 91st
Street. Because zoning restrictions require a setback at 60 to 80 feet
high and that half the structure be below 150 feet high, "we decided
to build fat instead of tall," Mr. Stillman said.
Fat and curvy, in fact. In addition to the cantilevers, which hover
over but do not touch the neighboring structures, the building has
seven semicircular bays where glass-enclosed living rooms are set.
But the interiors came first, Mr. Levine said. "We always knew that
this was a family neighborhood, and we needed family-size apartments,"
Mr. Claman, whose firm was the architect of record, said, "We
determined that these apartments would be like prewar units, with
large foyers and rooms larger than what can be found in the rental
market. The two-bedrooms here are in excess of 1,250 square feet,
compared to new rental buildings we are doing that are approximately
950 square feet. So they are about 30 percent bigger."
One-bedroom apartments of 1,255 square feet are $750,000 to $925,000.
Two-bedroom units of 1,423 to 2,077 square feet are $1.1 million to
$1.950 million; three-bedrooms, at 1,948 to 2,319 square feet, are
$1.930 million to $3.7 million; and four-bedrooms, all of them 2,234
square feet, are $2.295 million to $2.475 million. There are also
three terraced penthouses, which are $4.7 million and $7.5 million,
The $120 million project is the first collaboration between Mr.
Stillman and Mr. Levine.
In addition to the de rigueur touches for condos commanding these
kinds of prices, like marble bathrooms and sophisticated
telecommunications systems, the building has some unusual touches.
Kitchen cabinets are by the craftsman Wendell Castle.
The master bath is a tub within a tub that permits the water to
overflow, pass through a filter and recirculate. "And look at this,"
Mr. Stillman said proudly, slamming his shoe into a glass cabinet. It
made not the slightest crack.
American Culture's Debt to Gay Sons of Harvard
May 29, 2003
By DINITIA SMITH
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. George Santayana, F. O. Matthiessen, Lincoln
Kirstein, Leonard Bernstein, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Philip
Johnson: all of them Harvard men professors and students and all of
them gay or bisexual. But is that news?
"The fact that, individually, they were gay is not news," said
Douglass Shand-Tucci, the author of "The Crimson Letter: Harvard,
Homosexuality and the Shaping of American Culture," recently published
by St. Martin's Press. "But the Harvard gay experience is more
important in the shaping of American culture, because, in so many
ways, Harvard is more important."
Harvard being Harvard, one could make a list of prominent people with
ties to the university in almost any category alumni from Cincinnati,
say, or Jews, or blacks. Still, Mr. Shand-Tucci says there is an
important untold story about the singular environment Harvard provided
for gays and how it shaped their later contributions to American
Harvard, of course, has viciously discriminated against gays in the
past. Last year a writer for The Harvard Crimson discovered records
from 1920 of a secret university court that had persecuted
homosexuals, apparently driving two to suicide. But Mr. Shand-Tucci
argues that despite harassment, Harvard's atmosphere was also
creatively and intellectually fertile for gays.
The biggest factor in the evolution of Harvard's gay culture, Mr.
Shand-Tucci said, was the university's proximity to Boston, which was
the nation's intellectual capital at least until the turn of the 20th
century. Gay Harvard men had access to the city's rich cultural and
intellectual life. New Haven, he said, was a provincial town, Yale's
presence notwithstanding; Princeton was deliberately built away from
big-city temptation. But Boston also had a liberal tradition and
thriving Bohemian culture, "a synonym for gayness," Mr. Shand-Tucci
said, with many bars and venues where gay men met.
Another aspect of Harvard that nourished gay culture, Mr. Shand-Tucci
said, was the Socratic tutorial, which can lead, as it did at Oxford
and Cambridge, to intense teacher-student relationships.
Mr. Shand-Tucci, Harvard '72, was interviewed amid the paneled walls,
oil paintings and tasseled curtains of the Harvard Faculty Club. With
his tweedy dress he could be a professor. But he has a mischievous
air. "There are two Douglasses," he said. "One respectable. One not."
He admits to being "50-something," and says he suffers from
"unrequited love" for another man.
He speaks in the drawl of a Boston Brahmin, which he almost is. He was
raised in "genteel poverty," he said. His father, John, was
Italian-American, Harvard '32, a prominent anesthesiologist. His
mother, Geraldine, a social worker, was Scotch and German. They
divorced when Mr. Shand-Tucci was 10, and the family's mansion was
divided into a rooming house. Today, the relics of his patrimony
portraits, faded rugs, old furniture are crammed into his studio
He came to his history of gay Harvard by way of his 1998 book "The Art
of Scandal: The Life and Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner," about the
19th-century art collector. "She and Santayana were the presiding
geniuses of gay Harvard," he said. He is also author of "Boston
Bohemia, 1881-1900," a biography of the architect Ralph Adams Cram,
and of the official Harvard Campus Guide.
In "The Crimson Letter" Mr. Shand-Tucci builds on the work of other
scholars to describe how gay Harvard men were exposed to a world of
learning and artistic achievement. Gay faculty members mentored gay
students, gays formed friendships, collaborated and became patrons of
Among prominent Harvard gay men whose stories Mr. Shand-Tucci recounts
is Professor F. O. Matthiessen, who virtually created the field of
American literature with his book "American Renaissance: Art and
Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman." Mr. Shand-Tucci cites
"Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature"
by the scholar David Bergman to argue that "American Renaissance" was
a direct result of Matthiessen's 20-year love affair with the painter
Russell Cheney. Cheney encouraged Matthiessen's interest in Whitman.
That book, Mr. Shand-Tucci said, was the ultimate expression of
Matthiessen's love for Cheney and a secret celebration of the gay
artist. Matthiessen committed suicide in 1950 after Cheney's death.
Citing O'Hara's biographer Brad Gooch, Mr. Shand-Tucci writes that the
intense friendship between O'Hara and his fellow undergraduate Mr.
Ashbery contributed to the development of postmodernism. Mr.
Shand-Tucci describes the two wiling away hours in the 1950's,
discussing high and low culture, everything from Schoenberg to
Leonard Bernstein "was introduced at Harvard to the glories of Western
classical music," Mr. Shand-Tucci said. "He had an affair with the
conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, who was visiting Boston." Mr.
Shand-Tucci said that a tutor took Bernstein to a concert in New York
where he met Aaron Copland, who was not a Harvard student but "with
whom he had an affair, and who stayed with him in his dorm."
"His experience at Harvard solidified him as a gay man," Mr.
Shand-Tucci said, though Bernstein later married and had children.
Another bisexual Harvard man, Lincoln Kirstein, went on to be
co-founder with Balanchine of the New York City ballet. He was also
co-founder with Varian Fry at Harvard of the magazine Hound & Horn.
The art historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock published an article in the
magazine on the decline of architecture. Another gay Harvard man, the
future architect Philip Johnson, read the article, became Hitchcock's
friend, and together they developed what became known as the
Kirstein later repudiated Boston and Harvard. Nonetheless, he wrote
that his "identification with a society of living and thinking New
England dynastic actors gave a security and assurance prompting
freedom of action."
Mr. Shand-Tucci points out that three gay or bisexual former Harvard
graduate students changed the course of gay history. Alfred Kinsey,
who is said to have been bisexual, by asserting in the Kinsey Report
that 10 percent of men had homosexual experiences, made it difficult
to consider homosexuality a crime anymore, Mr. Shand-Tucci said.
Franklin Kameny helped lobby the American Psychiatric Association to
remove homosexuality from the list of psychiatric illnesses. And the
historian John Boswell made it more difficult to consider
homosexuality a sin, Mr. Shand-Tucci said, by depicting the church's
sanctioning of gay relationships in his book "Same-Sex Unions in
Some may disagree with Mr. Shand-Tucci's broad definition of
homosexuality, which includes those who have sex with both men and
women, and "the ideal of the platonic, that homosexuality is the
highest and purest kind of love, more so than opposite-sex love." And
some of Mr. Shand-Tucci's assertions may raise hackles. The historian
Martin Duberman, who has written of his experiences as a Harvard
graduate student, is writing a biography of Kirstein. He has not read
Mr. Shand-Tucci's book, but he said: "I was certainly not nurtured at
Harvard. Instead, I was hounded and belittled." As for Boston's gay
culture, he said, "In the mid-1950's there were only two gay bars in
Boston." He added, "In Cambridge there wasn't anything."
Mr. Shand-Tucci said: "There are not more gays at Harvard than
anyplace else. But when you put together that such an enormous number
of gay men who influenced the arts and culture came out of Harvard, it
is a significant phenomena."
Fort Worth Updates Its Museums
May 11, 2003
By ROBERTA SMITH
FORT WORTH is unusual among small American cities for its high
incidence of seriously ambitious art museums. There are three to be
exact - a lot for a town of 535,000 people. For more than 30 years
they have shared a swath of meticulously maintained greensward along
Camp Bowie Boulevard, not far from the Will Rogers Memorial Center
near the center of town.
One has tended to outshine the others: the Kimbell Art Museum, blessed
with an acclaimed building designed by Louis Kahn, opened in 1972 with
a small, choice collection of ancient and Asian art and European
painting. In the Kimbell's shadow are the Fort Worth Modern Art
Museum, the state's first art museum (founded in 1892 and committed to
living artists almost since then), and the Amon Carter Museum, founded
in 1961 to house a collection of Western art, including a cache of
works by Frederick Remington. Both institutions have been perennially
hamstrung by cramped buildings that no amount of fiddling or expanding
seemed to improve.
Now the balance has shifted. In October 2001, the Amon Carter, having
torn down two awkward additions and called back the original
architect, Philip Johnson, unveiled a handsome new wing that triples
its gallery space while dovetailing nicely with the original building.
And in December of 2002, the Fort Worth Modern pulled up stakes
altogether for a striking new building, designed by the Japanese
architect Tadao Ando, that is right next to the Kimbell.
To see the results, I went to Fort Worth with my husband in early
April for a weekend. What we found was, as they say, a whole new
There are not many places where you can contemplate new museum
architecture without getting depressed, view extraordinary groupings
of European and American paintings and have an epiphany in feminist
history all in the same day, while stumbling across a calf-cutting
contest and never once have to resort to vehicular transportation. All
these high points were within comfortable walking distance of one
First we paid our respects to the Kimbell, which I had not visited for
more than 20 years. In the downstairs entrance hall we found a
stunning array of European paintings: Caravaggio, de la Tour, Picasso,
Goya, Velázquez, Bellini - a nice welcome but, well, a little
premature. Upstairs we discovered why. While the building is as great
as ever, the airy central gallery once used for the display of art has
been given over to a large gift shop that, to add insult to injury,
sells toys and frivolous accessories for the home along with art books
and postcards. One group of galleries was closed for the installation
of a traveling exhibition of Egyptian art (opening today); another
held a traveling show of so-so quality: "Modigliani and the Artists of
Montparnasse" (through May 25). I suggest visiting Fort Worth when the
Kimbell is devoting more of its luminous gallery space to its own
Nearby, the new Modern impressively synthesizes late-20th-century
austerity with the more intimate scale and textures of Japanese and
Bauhaus architecture. This imposing two-story Minimalist structure in
glass, steel and architectural concrete quintuples the museum's
gallery space and includes its first cafe (highly recommended for
lunch). Curling around a two-acre reflecting pool, Mr. Ando's design
exploits the fact that in a place as historically parched as Texas,
few things are as riveting as quantities of water, elegantly
presented. When the water's surface is nearly level with the floor -
as it is in the museum's enormous foyer, the cafe and the wonderful
glass-walled corridors that wrap around the exteriors of the
ground-floor galleries - the experience is sublime. A sprawling,
garrulous Philip Guston retrospective (through June 8) filled the
upstairs galleries at the time of our visit, but it is great to see
the collection begin to strut its stuff on the ground floor.
Despite the thrills of the Ando building, the biggest surprise of the
trip came at the Amon Carter. The compact two-story Johnson addition
is admirably understated, lined with exquisitely fossil-pocked Texas
limestone. Like Mr. Ando, Mr. Johnson seems to have taken a page from
Kahn's use of unadorned surfaces as well as his exploitation of the
clear Texas light. The museum's popular Western art, mostly by
Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, still occupies pride of
place in the old building (which now resembles a spacious and
sprightly porch) and fills a long new gallery leading to a skylighted
dome. The real treat is upstairs: the museum's 19th- and
early-20th-century American paintings ensconced in skylighted
galleries. There are exemplary canvases by Thomas Cole, Frederic
Church, Martin Johnson Heade, Thomas Eakins, John Frederick Peto and
John Mix Stanley, as well as works by American modernists like Georgia
O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove and Stuart Davis (six astutely selected Davis
works form a veritable survey). There were also impressive displays
from the museum's large photography collection and a lively exhibition
of watercolors by Winslow Homer, which he made during fishing trips
into the wilderness.
Pleasant nonart adventures lurk nearby. The newest is the National
Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, which opened last June in a small Art
Deco-style building on the other side of Lancaster Avenue, a short
walk from the Kimbell. The incongruous Beaux-Arts interior is overdone
and occasionally tacky - as in the lenticular images of Western
heroines, including Georgia O'Keeffe, that line the balcony. But the
exhibits are both illuminating and uplifting (take your daughter).
Packed with artifacts and punctuated with kiosks showing film clips
(Dale Evans's saddle, the sequined costumes of the eminent Western
designer Nudie and a white leather trick saddle passed down from
mother to daughter), it vividly traces the daring and the achievements
of professional cowgirls, the first American women to live off their
earnings as athletes. On our way to the museum we ventured into the
Coliseum at the Art Deco Will Rogers Memorial Center and were smitten
by the sight of highly trained horses shadowing the movements of young
steers with amazing quickness, skill and, it seemed, no apparent
direction from their riders. (We learned that it was a calf-cutting
contest; that, yes, the riders don't do a whole lot and that there is
something horse- or cattle-related at the arena nearly every week.) On
our way back we came upon a sizable flea market in the center's Hall
of Cattle and found a painting that fitted both our budget
requirements (under $10) and our weekend luggage.
For accommodations, we lucked into the Ashton, a new 39-room boutique
hotel that occupies a refurbished 1916 Italianate Arts and Crafts
building, of brick with wrought-iron balconies - on Main Street, a
five-minute drive from the museum cluster. Well run and extremely
comfortable, the hotel is part of a downtown revitalization that has
brought back to serviceable life many of the turn-of-the-20th-century
and Art Deco buildings that managed to survive the city's various
postwar building booms.
And Fort Worth seems to excel at casual, inexpensive dining. Joe T.
Garcia's offers unpretentious but outstanding Mexican food (there is
no menu). If you're willing to wait in line on busy nights, you can
dine beneath the stars in the large, lush garden. At Angelo's, a
legendary barbecue place that is beyond authentic, spurs are normal
and stuffed trophies of several species, including moose and buffalo,
stare down as you tuck into what may be the world's best ribs. If the
experience doesn't bring out the inner vegetarian in you, you probably
don't have one.
In other words, a weekend of looking at art and architecture of Fort
Worth can be punctuated with equally vivid encounters with the
plainer, indigenous pleasures of Texas life.
ROBERTA SMITH is an art critic for The Times.
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