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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

Thursday
Jan232014

Book Review: Museum Piece

Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Galllery of Art and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Neil Harris (University of Chicago Press, $35).

I had the good fortune to know Carter Brown during the 1970s when I lived in Washington DC, and this detailed account of his 23-year stewardship of the National Gallery brings back many fond memories—of wide-ranging conversations, ambitious exhibitions, and the excitement stirred by I.M.Pei’s East Building. Harris shares my hero worship of an extraordinary individual and his many successes, but this book is chiefly valuable as a critical appraisal of the achievement and its legacy. Brown could charm birds out of trees and, thanks to the support of Paul Mellon, he enormously enriched the NGA collections. But, along with Thomas Hoving, his arch-rival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he focused too much of his attention on blockbuster exhibitions, borrowing pictures that should never have been allowed to travel, and assembling them as theatrical spectacles.

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Thursday
Jan162014

Book Review: Chilean Creativity

White Mountain: Architecture in Chile. Puro Chile and Hatje Cantz; DAP. $85  

All the usual suspects and several unfamiliar names are rounded up in this ambitious bilingual catalog of recent work by about sixty Chilean architects, working alone or on collaborative ventures.  Essays by Miquel Adriá,  Horacio Torrent, and Pablo Allard provide a historical background, explain how architecture has flourished in Chile over the past two decades, and introduce some of the leading players. Each architect or team is represented by one or more buildings—the prolific Mathias Klotz has eight—shown in plans and photos with brief factual descriptions.

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Monday
Jan132014

Book Review: Crucible of Invention

Think Dutch: Conceptual Architecture and Design in the Netherlands.  Bilingual text by Jeroen Junte and David Keunig. Daab/Frame Publishers. $175.

A third of the Netherlands lies below the present sea-level and the first priority is to live with, above and even on water. So it’s appropriate that this provocative survey should begin with a focus on water. Here are inventive bridges, a floating mosque, and a half-submerged  tax office, as well as water purification devices.

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Tuesday
Dec102013

Book Review: New York, New York

Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture. John Hill. Norton ($29.95).

This is a catch-up review of a handy pocketbook I missed when it first appeared—much to my regret. It would have saved me hours of digging up information on new buildings and have been an indispensable companion on recent visits to New York. Having written an architectural guide to LA, and edited two others, I know how much skill and effort must have been invested in research, selection, procuring images, and writing succinct descriptions. Hill has chosen more than 200 buildings completed in the first decade of the 21st century in all five boroughs, plus a selection of projects anticipated for the second decade. What makes the guide a joy to use is the clarity of the layout, in which buildings are grouped in 22 districts and indicated on useful maps that also include subway stops. Scattered through the geographical coverage are break-out sections on public spaces, designer shops and restaurants, fire houses, memorials and other categories.

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Monday
Dec022013

Exhibition Review: Calder Explores the Third and Fourth Dimensions

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic November 24, 2013–July 27, 2014 Los Angeles County Museum of Art © Calder Foundation, New York, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.Forget the shopping and enjoy the best seasonal gift that you or your friends could imagine: LACMA’s pitch-perfect Alexander Calder retrospective. Curated by Stephanie Barron and installed by Frank Gehry in the Resnick Gallery, it’s an ideal fusion of art and architecture, form and space, stillness and motion. Calder and Abstraction, from Avant-Garde to Iconic comprises 50 sculptures and maquettes that trace the artist’s career from 1931 to 1975, the year before his death. Most are grouped in shallow curved bays to encourage visitors to focus on one at a time and surrender to their leisurely rhythms. Gazing at the mobiles as a current of air animates one part and then another, you realize that Calder took the surreal abstractions of Joan Miró, whom he met in Paris in 1928, and added the third dimension of depth and the fourth of time. The compositions are constantly shifting so that each mobile incorporates a multitude.

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