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This week we asked Jamie Thompson Stern, who compiled and edited The Filmmaker Says, the latest addition to our Words of Wisdom series, to tell us about five things that have been on her mind lately.
1. James Turrell
James Turrell had three major shows up this summer, and I was able to catch the one at the Guggenheim and then the one at LACMA (which is up through 2014). Verbal superlatives fail to convey the physical experience of seeing his shows. Aten Reign in the Guggenheim rotunda blew me away. His work is disorienting (in a good way), deeply moving, and otherworldly, and it simply transported me. Like all good art, the longer you sit with it, the more it reveals. Just go if you can, and make sure you plan to stay a long time. I hope someday to visit his as-yet-unfinished Roden Crater project in Arizona.
Wrapped LA is a fantastic new company based here in Venice, California, that makes beautiful wrapping paper, journals, floor coverings, wall décor, and more. The vision of the two young entrepreneurial founders is expressed not only in their brilliant and vibrant design aesthetic, but in the way the products make you focus on minute details that otherwise might pass by unnoticed. Lovely and inspirational.
3. The Story of Film
A friend of mine just turned me on to The Story of Film on Netflix. How had I never heard of it? Mark Cousins, a film critic from Northern Ireland, directed and narrated this 15-hour documentary originally broadcast in the UK in 2011. It’s a comprehensive, unconventional, non-Hollywood-centric take on the entire history of film. Like the best college course you’ve ever taken, The Story of Film is a master class that makes you fall in love with movies all over again. Cousins’ lilting voice and dry, lightly deadpan delivery is hypnotic. You’ll grab for something to write with as he mentions yet another gem you’ve never seen but which he makes sound absolutely seminal. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll look at film in a new way after watching it.
4. Bookman’s Alley
My daughter Maddie goes to school in Evanston, IL and introduced me to a charmingly labyrinthine used bookstore there called Bookman’s Alley. I’ve since spent hours lost in its warren of rooms and passageways. I always find something incredible when I’m there. It’s like magic—I’m usually led to something I didn’t know existed but can’t live without. For instance, earlier this year I picked up an old copy of Andre Bazin’s What Is Cinema, which was key in helping me think about the way I wanted to organize The Filmmaker Says.
5. The Happy Show
I’m sorry—it’s cruel to tell you about another show I saw that’s now closed, but I’ve got to say that Stefan Sagmeister’s art / graphic design / typography / mixed media exhibit The Happy Show made a huge impression on me. I’d missed it in LA but caught it at the Chicago Cultural Center a few weeks ago. Sagmeister’s work is a thought-provoking examination of his intensely personal journey to increase happiness combined with comparative research of social data. Right up my alley. It was another show I visited several times, just to sit with my thoughts. You should be able to get a sense of it when he completes The Happy Film, twenty minutes of which were on display at the show. But hey—the good news is if you’re going to be in Paris later this year, The Happy Show opens November 28, 2013, at La Gaîté Lyrique.
1. John Baeder’s “Gas, Food, and Lodging”
The painter John Baeder collected real-photo and linen paper postcards of gas stations, restaurants and motels at a time when other collectors ignored them as worthy subjects. Such was Baeder’s interest that postcard dealers at the shows he frequented created a category for him that has since become the norm: Roadside. Here is one of his favorites in a chrome card, which he might have published had he pursued his interest into the high-gloss 1960s.
2. The revival of Federal architecture and design à la Mission ’66
After the debacle of the Park Service’s demolition of Richard Neutra’s Gettysburg Visitor Center, the recent renovation of the administration building at the National Arboretum off Bladensburg Road in Washington, D.C., gives one hope. The building floats above a shallow black-bottom pond, whose renovation is to be completed next year. As I write this, the news has come that the Arboretum’s buildings and grounds will close Tues–Thurs for the sequester.
3. Artist George Sánchez-Calderón
In 2001 Sánchez-Calderón installed a Villa Savoye replica under a freeway in downtown Miami—a temporary public art project that proved so popular with the highway department and everyone else that it stayed up for three years. The city of Bal Harbour recently commissioned Sánchez-Calderón to commemorate its postwar past with a reflective sculpture erected on the site of Morris Lapidus’s late Americana hotel. Entitled Pax Americana, the installation included a replica Levittown house, homage to the modest frame and shingle homes that once dominated the area as housing for war workers.
4. The outdoor flea markets of Adamstown, Pa.
These markets never disappoint as places to see people—and their things.
5. The renovation of the Smithsonian’s Arts & Industries building
The repetitious pattern of the building’s four main exhibit halls, connecting ranges, balconies and towers becomes even more disorienting when stripped down to its structural essentials. Taking the tour through the scaffolding made me nostalgic for boyhood trips to the old museum to get happily lost in the nation’s attic.
1. The elusive and ephemeral nature of Spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
For me this is particularly poignant around Thomas Jefferson’s birthday (April 13) with the appearance of twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), which blooms a pure and momentary white before disappearing into the greening forested slopes. Likewise with morels (Morchella) which appear, after a rain, about a week later, and are gone just as quickly and mysteriously. I am also forever enamored with the way the shad blow through during this same brief time period.
2. Flora of Virginia, 2012
A massive ten-year undertaking by a crew of truly dedicated botanists and illustrators, with contributions from a wide range of professional and amateur naturalists. All the more remarkable in that is only the second such Flora (of Virginia)—the first since John Clayton’s effort in the 1700s. Oh, and I love that one of our many spring ephemerals—Spring Beauty—is named for him (Claytonia virginica). Behind every seemingly obscure latin name is a fascinating botanical/cultural story.
3. Wendell Berry, past, present, and future
I never tire of his writings, from the first one I discovered in 1971—Farming: A Handbook—a book of poems that includes one that I always find myself returning to: “A Standing Ground,” to, more recently, “A Timbered Choir,” and most recently his Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, “It All Turns on Affection,” delivered last year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
4. The locavore and sustainable farming movement
Whether we are talking about Slow Food, Michael Pollen’s insights, Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, or just the incredible burst of energy in the number and quality of locally-sourced farmer’s markets and restaurants throughout the country, this is one of the most hopeful and life-affirming developments to take hold in the past few years. Check out Relay Foods and the Allegheny Mountain School for a few recent variations on this theme.
5. The Albrecht Durer exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC (March 24 – June 9, 2013)
I haven’t yet seen this show, but am so looking forward to it. Durer was probably the first serious artist I ever studied. His work was seminal, particularly in his choice to study and depict commonplace phenomena and elements. And it endures in its power and influence.
1. James Burke
According to James Burke, “No one under the age of fifty has heard of me and everyone over the age of fifty thinks I’m dead.” Until recently, I had no idea who he was but was blown away by his talk from this year’s dconstruct conference. This science historian and author became famous for producing the documentary TV series “Connections” (1978) and “The Day The Universe Changed” (1985), which survey the history of science and technology. For his dconstruct talk, Burke rifled off examples of technologies that unexpectedly emerged because of other, more fundamental innovations. Listening to his astute observations was like reading Malcolm Gladwell on crack: so much substance in only a short, hour long talk. Burke shows the importance of realizing how our every creation can lead to another, more profound creation.
2. MIT D-Lab
I became familiar with D-Lab when working at MIT. The lab “fosters the development of appropriate technologies and sustainable solutions within the framework of international development.” Instead of looking for funding to help low-income communities buy things like wheelchairs and charcoal from a company, D-Lab researchers (usually engineers and designers) look for ways to make needed items from existing resources in those communities. The idea has caught on and “D-Labs” are popping up at schools and research centers around the country, including UC Davis among others. These advances in appropriate technology get it right and I love hearing about what they’re working on.
3. COLORS magazine
Few magazines keep my attention like COLORS. Each issue investigates universal social issues with photography and illustration that is striking and often humorous. Issue 85, called “Going to the Market,” looks at how the free market has grown in different parts of the world: from marriage markets in China and hair markets in India, to an Italian bank that uses cheese as collateral for cash.
4. Vivian Maier
I was an avid photographer before I turned my focus to design and writing. I shot 120 film using a twin-lens Yashicaflex. Vivian Maier shot with the same kind of camera and that’s probably one of the reasons why I get so absorbed in her photos. They are incredible examples of street photography from the second half of the 20th century. But she never shared them with the public and the images of Americana she captured were nearly trashed after her death in 2009. Fortunately, Jo Maloof discovered Maier’s 100,000+ negatives, 3,000 prints, and hundreds of rolls of film in a Chicago auction house in 2009 and has been archiving them ever since. Maloof is in the process of making a documentary called “Finding Vivian Maier” which will incorporate her photos and films. I often visit the Vivian Maier site to see the latest additions to the archives.
5. 99% Invisible
Design is all around us, though we often forget this fact. That’s why I love this podcast. Host Roman Mars describes it as “a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.” Show topics include forgotten Soviet icons, the design of airports, and the white lines that separate lanes on highways. Aside from providing engaging content, Mars also takes time to introduce the different elements that went into producing the show, like new music and useful services. I now eagerly anticipate the next show as a package of inspiration.
The Obama family as they emerged on stage on election night inspired me. That sight galvanized my feelings as an American citizen and brought me unlimited pleasure.
Part of my fantasy life includes forays into the far reaches of the universe, and I avidly follow the movements of the Martian rover.
3. More than just entitlements
After all the controversy surrounding the viability of the Social Security and Medicare programs, I was amazed at how promptly my first check arrived when I turned 67.
4. Beam me up, Siri
It’s sick, but I love my new iPhone and I am thinking of having it surgically implanted. I was a Star Trek fan and this is as close as I might come to having a personal transporter.
5. Environmental anxiety
My approach to building sculptures on site finds me working on the world’s street corners, and conversing with a cross section of people. From that vantage point, I see that anxiety about the environment has penetrated our common mind. Most people carry a tinge of personal guilt about our stewardship and are frustrated by inadvertently being part of systems that can’t change easily or find immediate solutions. Part of the success of my sculpture is the way it hints at simple shelter and fosters the fantasy that—unencumbered by our worldly possession—we might be able to slip back through the forest curtain once in awhile to a more natural, unspoiled world.
For this installment of Five Things, we asked Christopher Bonanos, author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid, to share with us what’s on his mind lately.
1. The Panorama of New York City
The Panorama is a scale model of New York’s five boroughs—with every single building represented individually, complete with painted windows—at the Queens Museum of Art. It was built for the 1964–65 World’s Fair, and, all at once, it’s a legitimate urban-planning tool, a giant and loopy piece of mid-century kitsch, and a completely compelling art installation. My colleague Jerry Saltz once called it the greatest artwork ever made about the insane city where he and I live, and I completely agree with him. I try to get there every year or so, to commune with this crazy thing, and I’m overdue for another visit. Most touching detail: because it was last updated in the 1990s, the Twin Towers remain in place. The curators have draped them, to mark the loss.
2. Little Wonder: The Reader’s Digest and How It Grew,
by John Bainbridge
Bainbridge was a first-class New Yorker writer of long reported stories, and he’s half-forgotten today. He shouldn’t be: his book-length profile of Texas, “The Super-Americans,” is a remarkable piece of immersion journalism, and this little book from 1946 is even better: a snappy, occasionally snide, incredibly funny profile of DeWitt Wallace and the utterly square, utterly American magazine he had built into a multinational empire. I’d be happy to ever write anything as good as this little book.
3. Edward Burtynsky
I am a sucker for industrial photographs of all kinds—Charles Sheeler, the Bechers, Lewis Hine—and I can’t get enough of Burtynsky’s. He takes landscapes that have been (depending on your viewpoint) either destroyed or completely reimagined by technological change, and renders them in ways that are both abstractly beautiful and concretely terrifying. If I had to choose, I’d say his photographs of mining from a few years ago are my favorites, especially those rivers that run tangerine or bottle green, and seem to come from not our own activity but some deep, deep underworld.
4. How It’s Made
From a formal standpoint, this Canadian series (carried in the U.S. by the Science Channel) is the worst show on television. It’s stocked with bad punny narration, atrocious canned music, and a weird indirect scriptwriting style that constantly refers to a mysterious, unexplained “they.” Yet this little series of mini-documentaries—which simply amounts to three factory tours per episode, showing us how “they” make cellos, or fiberglass kayaks, or haggis—is weirdly watchable, maybe because seeing familiar stuff come out of assembly lines in neat little rows, flowing into crates and trucks, is just ridiculously soothing. When I can’t sleep, the worst show on television is also the best.
5. Make It Bigger
A shout-out here to a fellow Princeton Architectural Press author, Paula Scher, with whom I did an onstage Q&A the other day. To prepare, I logged some serious time with her not-quite-a-memoir-not-quite-a-design-textbook, which PAPress published in 2006. I loved it, not just for its insights into the way people respond to type design but also for its canny view of the business of design: Scher’s war stories of dumb bosses, tiresome clients, and navigating pecking orders are useful in many fields besides hers.
For this installment in our ongoing Five Things series, we asked Alexandra Lange, author of Writing About Architecture, to tell us what’s on her mind.
1. Cooper-Hewitt Collection Database
The Cooper-Hewitt recently launched what they are calling a ‘public alpha’ version of their collections database, as part of the process of digitizing their design collection. The tagline is “This is our stuff, we have lots of it,” and so they do: William Morris wallpaper and Dixie Cup designs, architectural drawings and Russel Wright china. The front page shows three items chosen at random, and you can keep clicking that way, or take a deep dive into a country, department, person or period that piques your interest. I am a fan of both exhibitions from museum collections and museum Tumblrs, and this is like a souped-up, anyone-can-play version of both.
2. ‘I Have Seen the Future’: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America
In 1939, if you wanted to see the future it was obvious where to go: the Futurama exhibit at the General Motors pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. That exhibition, which offered a vision of America in 1960, was designed by Norman Bel Geddes, a self-made designer and consummate self-promoter, who helped to shape (literally, in the case of streamlining) the look of the postwar world. A new exhibition at the Ransom Center (and its accompanying catalog) takes a deeper look at Bel Geddes’ influence and reach.
3. Ramona the Pest
My son just started kindergarten, and I decided it was time to graduate him to bedtime chapter books, starting with this 1968 classic by Beverly Cleary. I read the whole Ramona series as a child, and I have been surprised and delighted by how universal her experience remains. Plus, I’ve decided Ramona may have a future in branding: she names her doll Chevrolet because she likes the way the word rolls off the tongue.
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The 2011 version of John Le Carre’s classic doublecross novel is excellent, tense, well-written, and stocked with just about every current British actor you can think of. But it is also catnip for the design fan, a trove of outdated technology like dumbwaiters, typewriters and switchboards, with a dash of modern architecture, used for its many windows, all rendered in a moody, tweedy green-gray palette.
5. Wired magazine’s October 2012 Design issue
Wired's October 2012 Design issue is packed with the kind of critical longform design journalism that is becoming increasingly rare. I enjoyed Rob Walker's take on the rather more industrial future of Etsy and Bryan Gardiner's look at the past and future of Corning Glass, but I loved loved loved Jason Fagone's article “How Nerf Became the World’s Best Purveyor of Big Guns for Kids.” Suburban friends have reported to me that the activity of choice in their neighborhood are backyard crossing Nerf battles, and now I understand how that is possible. It is also wonderful to see the deep seriousness with which Nerf designer Brian Jablonski takes his job.
For the second entry in our ongoing Five Things series, we asked Visual Complexity author Manuel Lima to share what’s inspiring him these days.
1. Fabrico Próprio
As a Portuguese-turned-New-Yorker, I have my occasional cravings for our beautiful, delectable, well-crafted pastry cakes. Fortunately, a group of friends, even more obsessed than I, have recently published the mouthwatering second edition of Fabrico Próprio: The Design of Portuguese Semi-Industrial Confectionery.
One of the saddest news this year has been the passing of Christopher Hitchens, a remarkable intellect, vigorous contrarian, and outstanding writer. His last book, published posthumously, is a deep, heart-wrenching look into this extraordinary man.
3. Rubin Museum of Art
I recently discovered this astonishing museum by accident, during a Friday night birthday party at its cocktail lounge. In case you’re interested in ancient visual culture, particularly from a non-westernized point of view, or have a genuine fascination for Mandalas, you’ll fall in love with this cultural gem.
4. Fernando Botero
After spending a few relaxing days in Colombia last month, and visiting the Museum Botero in Bogotá, I felt like I was given access to the astute artistic impetus of the painter who considers himself “the most Colombian of Colombian artists”. You can experience some of Botero’s captivating paintings at Marlborough Gallery in New York.
5. McNally Jackson Books
This is one of my favorite bookstores in New York and there’s rarely a weekend in the city when I don’t try to drag my wife inside, in order to peruse every book I can get hold of. Despite being immersed in digital technology every second of the day (ed: follow McNally Jackson on tumblr), there’s nothing more soothing and satisfying to me than spending some time surrounded by old media.
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and nominated by Creativity magazine as “one of the 50 most creative and influential minds of 2009,” Manuel Lima is a Senior UX Design Lead at Microsoft Bing and founder of visualcomplexity.com—a visual exploration on mapping complex networks.
For the inaugural entry in our new Five Things series, we asked author and former PAPress editor Mark Lamster to open his datebook and share his can’t-miss cultural calendar.
1. Lunch Hour NYC, New York Public Library
As my great grandfather was the proprietor of one of New York’s great Jewish delis (Fine & Schapiro, still extant but alas no longer in the family), I consider myself something of a connoisseur of the city’s proletarian dining establishments, which are celebrated in the wonderful Lunch Hour NYC Exhibition at the New York Public Library. And of course the Power Lunch was born at the Four Seasons, designed by Philip Johnson, subject of my forthcoming biography. A challenge: can you find the picture of PJ in the exhibition?
2. Bronx Banter
My day begins with Bronx Banter, Alex Belth’s website devoted to the Yankees and all things New Yorkese, generally. I also keep my hard core baseball nerdery serviced with Jay Jaffe’s new “Hit and Run" column for sportsillustrated.com.
3. Men in Blazers Podcast
Men in Blazers, hosted by Brit expats Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, is the best hour of listening you’ll spend all week, even if you couldn’t care less about the putative subject, football (ie: soccer). Two charming gents, speaking with great insight, humor, and accents; after 20 minutes, you’ll want to give them a cuddle. In the most recent episode, Bennett (disclosure: a friend) described the lanky Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini as “an angry sunflower.” That’s genius.
4. Breaking Bad
I’m a late-arriving Breaking Bad addict. After picking up with it last season, I purchased the first three seasons online and watched them in a frighteningly short period of minimal sleep.
5. Steven Talasnik
My friend (and PAPress author) David Leven introduced me to the artist Steven Talasnik, whose visionary sculptures are discreet little architectural worlds. Later this summer he’ll be opening a new work at Storm King.
Former Princeton Architectural Press senior editor Mark Lamster is a writer on architecture, design, and the arts who is presently at work on a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. He is an associate American editor of the Architectural Review, a contributing editor to Design Observer, and a Fellow of the Forum for Urban Design. His work appears with regularity in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications.