No country balances past and present as deftly as Japan. You can take one of the world’s fastest trains from the megalopolis of Tokyo and stay in a ryokan in Kyoto, eating and sleeping, participating in a tea ceremony and trying to stay awake through a Noh play, as you would have four centuries ago. Both eras coexist in a stunning exhibition at the Getty Museum, which has drawn on its own collection and secured loans to present photographs by Hiroshi Hamaya (1915-1999) and Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1917).
By Michael Webb
“Dearest Daddy,” wrote Phyllis Lambert to her father, Samuel Bronfman, CEO of the Seagram Distillery Company. It was 1954, she was working as an artist in Paris, and he had sent her a rendering of the tower he planned to build on Park Avenue as his New York headquarters. In eight closely-typed pages she ridiculed the design by Pereira and Luckman, and pleaded for architecture of the highest quality. “You have a great responsibility,” she told him, “your building is not only for the people of your companies, it is much more for all people, in New York and the rest of the world.” He was persuaded, put her in charge of the project, and she selected Mies van der Rohe, partnered with Philip Johnson, to create the greatest corporate tower in America.
A half century later, she recalls the birth pains of the Seagram Building, which opened in 1959, the same year as Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. The struggle—with corporate bean-counters and city regulators—was arduous, but she fought relentlessly to ensure that Mies would realize his vision, with no compromises. As an architectural historian, she traces the influence on Mies of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the greatest of 19th-century German architects, and Bruno Taut, the early 20th-century apostle of glass architecture. She finds the seed of this masterpiece in the 1921-22 sketches he made for glass towers in Berlin. And she sees his Barcelona Pavilion as a model for the fusion of building and plaza—an open space she likens to a clearing in the forest of the city. Urbanist William Whyte described this plaza as “one of the great urban places of the world, in its way as significant as the Piazza San Marco in Venice.” Having shepherded Mies’s great work to completion, Lambert remained a vigilant custodian, securing landmark protection and fighting threats to its integrity.
Seagram is a total work of art, not least for Philip Johnson’s Four Seasons restaurant and the many works of sculpture displayed on its plaza. Impeccably built from the finest materials, it has grown in value as other buildings of that era have required costly retrofits. Few American corporations have the vision or will to aim so high, and most developers slash costs to boost profits, with little concern for excellence. Lambert’s 1954 letter and the book that grew from it should be required reading for everyone who plans to build in the public realm--particularly in Los Angeles where clients routinely settle for the mediocre.
Reviewed by Michael Webb
In this sumptuous catalog to a landmark exhibition, MoMA curator Leah Dickerman likens the shift to abstraction that began a century ago to the rewriting of the rules of art in the Renaissance. She quotes the poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire: “Young painters of the extreme schools want to make pure painting, an entirely new art form,” he wrote in 1912. “It is only at its beginning, and not yet as abstract as it wants to be.” The shift occurred at dizzying speed. Within a few years, Picasso, Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Leger and many other artists had pushed abstraction to its limits and begun to chart its vast potential. Modernists challenged the establishment in Moscow and St Petersburg, Paris and Munich, Vienna and Zurich, even in such philistine cities as New York and London.
By Jack Skelley
While the commercial real estate market remains in the doldrums, with high vacancies and low rents, one submarket is on fire: Tech. Companies such as Google and YouTube are expanding into Southern California, for example, and gobbling up all the “cool” buildings. You know, old bow-truss warehouses turned into creative space that feels authentic, textured, scaled to the individual, and not “corporate” like most traditional office buildings.
Some people collect stamps. Others collect teapots. Designer Coryne Lovick collects chairs. The interior designer has been acquiring them for years—scouring flea markets for intriguing seats and amassing a collection that has come to require storage. In her design work, too, chairs have played a starring role. “When I put unique chairs in my own jobs, they were almost pieces of art on their own and could set a room apart,” she explains. And therein lay a problem.
As a chair aficionado, always looking for stunning seating statements for her projects, Lovick says she “saw an increasingly growing hole in the marketplace for interesting, different and comfortable chairs.” She took matters into her own hands and recently launched her first-ever furniture collection featuring a range of chairs inspired by some of her vintage finds. The line runs the gamut from contemporary riffs on classic designs such as wing chairs and club chairs (complete with cabriole legs) to more modern looks.
In particular, Lovick’s Z Chair has a particularly 21st-century feel. Based on a vintage design that captured her heart, “The shape of this chair is totally unique for the marketplace,” she says. “You can add buttons to make it retro or add nail heads to make it more traditional. Although I present it as a dining chair it works as a side chair in any living space. Upholster it in a multicolor hide and it becomes quite a conversation piece and really makes a statement in the room.”
If you’re LA this week for the Pacific Design Center’s Westweek, stop by the Mimi London showroom there to check out her collection. The space “is a true icon of the design industry,” Lovick notes.