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Michael Webb
writes on modern architecture, design, and travel. He is the author of 26 books, most recently Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House, Boyd Collection (Rizzoli) and Venice CA: Art +Architecture in a Maverick Community (Abrams). He travels widely in search of new and classic modern architecture and contributes to magazines around the world. Michael lives in the Neutra apartment that Charles and Ray Eames once called home.

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Michael Webb

Wednesday
Oct292014

Book Review: Architectural Character

 

Nairn's London. Ian Nairn. Penguin Classics, £9.99.

There never was and probably never will be another architectural critic as impassioned, omnivorous, and outspoken as Ian Nairn (1930–1983). Largely self-taught, he conducted a one-man crusade against the outrages of post-war British architecture, which he contrasted with the best work of past centuries. But he was no reactionary: He found excellence and mediocrity in every era, dismissing one Gothic cathedral as mechanical and unfeeling—the same deficiencies he found in the widely acclaimed Royal Festival Hall of 1951. "What I am after," he wrote, "is character, or personality, or essence." He accepted the wartime destruction in London as the price paid to defeat evil; now "It is burning again, but this time only to satisfy developers' greed, planners' inadequacy, and official stupidity." 

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Monday
Oct272014

Exhibition Review: Armor as Art Work

LACMA hosts Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, which showcases battle gear for high-ranking warriors from the 14th through the 19th centuries. Image courtesy LACMA.

Does everyone realize what a treasure LACMA is, and how far it has come in its 50 years as a stand-alone art museum? An encyclopedic, constantly growing collection is augmented by loan exhibitions, such as Haunted Screens, and two complementary shows on the military arts of pre-modern Japan. Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection has been seen in other museums, but one doubts it exerted the power it has here in an inspired installation by wHY Architecture in the Resnick Pavilion. From November 1st it will be complemented by Art of the Samurai: Swords, Paintings, Prints and Textiles, an exhibition of LACMA holdings and loans from local collectors. 

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Monday
Oct132014

Exhibitions: Florentine Sketchbook

Floretine architect Andrea Ponsi's sketches are featured at an exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. Image courtesy Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles.

For centuries, architects sketched their work and recorded their impressions of the places they visited, and the Beaux Arts curriculum was based on a mastery of drawing. Software and digital cameras have eroded that tradition, but a few architects (Frank Gehry and Steven Holl are notable examples) still prefer pen and brush as tools to express their ideas. Andrea Ponsi is a Florentine architect whose watercolors of his native city are on display at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood through October 31. The exhibition, Andrea Ponsi: Florence, A Map of Perceptions, was organized by IIC Director Michela Magri, and it provides an insider's perspective on the cradle of Renaissance architecture.

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Monday
Aug182014

Book Review: America's Architectural Hub

AIA Guide to Chicago, Third Edition. Edited by Alice Sinkevitch and Laurie McGovern Petersen. University of Illinois Press, $34.95.

No American city has a greater concentration of architectural masterpieces or a stronger urban identity than Chicago, and this guide is a match for its subject. The historical span is short; little survives from before the fire of 1871. Virtually everything was created in the past 140 years: from the first steel-framed high rises to Studio Gang's Aqua, which soars on the cover. In the late 19th century and again in the postwar years, the city nurtured the great luminaries, including Sullivan, Burnham, Wright, Mies, and many more top talents, who excelled individually even as they enhanced the urban fabric.

Most of the entries in this fat volume were compiled by a team of volunteers and they lack the wit and authority of those in the oft-revised AIA Guide to New York City, which began as a collaboration of two exceptional individuals (much like the Gebhard-Winter guide to Los Angeles) But the key entries are longer and signed; the maps and layout are exemplary. More than a thousand buildings, from the Loop to Oak Park and Pullman are featured, many with illustrations. It's as much an encyclopedia as a guide; no visitor will have time to see more than a tiny fraction of these buildings, but it provides the perfect incentive to hop on a plane in the fall and explore the best of the new, as well as old favorites and treasures you missed on previous visits. See you there in late September.

Monday
Aug112014

Book Review: Artists' Adventure

The Journey to Tunisia, 1914: Paul Klee, August Macke, Louis Moilliet. Hatje Cantz, € 29.80.

A companion book to an exhibition presented at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Berne to mark the centenary of a legendary journey. In April 2014, three artists whose friendship spanned national boundaries on the peaceful eve of the First World War, made a productive two-week trip to Tunisia. That brief immersion in an exotic culture, and the brilliance of the light and colors, transformed their art. Macke had only a few months to live; he was cut down in one of the early battles. The other two lived on, Klee until 1940, Moilliet until 1962, creating work that recalled their shared experience in North Africa.

The watercolors and sketches in the exhibition are all well illustrated, and these are supplemented by work the artists created before and after. Klee kept a journal and polished his entries years later to provide a vivid account of how they were received by a Swiss emigré "who seemed more of a stranger to me than the first Arab beggar I met" and how they began sketching the morning after their arrival. The country was a revelation, much as the French Riviera had been for an earlier generation of north-European artists. "“One swims in blue air; it is frightening," as Monet wrote from Antibes in 1884. Anyone who loves the formative era of modernism and is curious how it came about, will treasure this account.