Sunday, July 29, 2007

"The Clarks of Cooperstown"

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, has always delighted me when I visit it. Similar to other small museums in the US founded by private individuals to showcase their collections, such as the Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, it showcases a collector's tastes as well as great curatorial acumen. The Clark has a distinct personality, let's say. Unlike the museums of Europe which began as princely collections, art collections in America have been generated by entrepreneurial fortunes, the art acting as a filter of sorts, masking the dirty business of factory & office, as well as conferring social distinction. The social histories of these collections can read like Edith Wharton or Henry James, but their industrial histories are more out of Marx & Engels. Also I think there are psychic forces as well involved which lead to the varieties and excesses of collections amassed, which take us beyond taste & class: that a Charles Foster Kane is related to the Collyer Brothers, as were - whomever, does it matter whom?

Visiting the Clark with J., she commented that the collection, mostly 19th century French art, was distinctively "sexy." Such an off-the-cuff comment highlights what is indeed notable about the Clark. The excess of Renoirs, for example, & academic painters such as Alfred Stevens, Bougereau, Gerome, Boldini. Pretty & Sexy as oppposed to Solemn or Serious, although there are some remarkable Renaissance paintings such as the Piero della Francesca. Also, at least on its website, I can see that the Clark is now collecting a beautiful collection of 19th century photography.

At the Metropolitan this summer is a show about the collections of both Sterling Clark and his brother Stephen C. Clark, who endowed the Metropolitan & Yale which I have seen a few times. Heirs to a fortune made initially with Singer Sewing Machines, they had deep pockets as well as strong drives to acquire art, along with the everyday luxuries of their lives. For students of New York City, in general, their grandfather was also the builder of the Dakota, on Central Park West. Also, Stephen Clark's townhouse at 46 E. 70 St., is now the headquarters for The Explorers Club, which is also filled with curious collections: elephant tusks, a stuffed polar bear, a whale phallus, statues of pygmies, an edition of the Napoleonic Description de l'Egypte - for those who ever get to enter it's a curious hoard of colonialist booty. Initially I felt antipathetic towards the show. 19th century French art is the mainstay of most US art museums: it is publicized & marketed enough to warrant contrary reactions to its merits. But beyond the brave new world of Monet waterlily umbrellas & such, I try to look beyond the commercialization as well as my own knee-jerk reactions. In a sense, as well, studying collections becomes more a study of individual egos, not necessarily of the art involved. Still, examining the Met's Clark show does foreground the collecting habits which have built our museum collections & while self-referential to itself as an institution, it does reveal some of the structure of collecting & we are able to at least partially historicize tastes. The show very tastefully avoids the hubris of the collectors, which in the Nicholas Fox Weber book overwhelms the narrative. As I've told others, it's quite a page-turner. The show emphasizes similarities over differences: both brothers owned Degas self-portraits, for instance. Or similar Corots. Or the similarities between still-lifes by Cezanne & Renoir. Also the show shows only Impressionist & Post-Impressionist paintings, w/ a gallery of American art: Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Frederick Remington. In the book one realizes their tastes diverged perhaps more frequently than not. Sterling Clark's tastes excluded any modernist works made after Impressionism; Stephen Clark's collection included great works by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Seurat, Matisse.

Published this year, The Clarks of Cooperstown, by Nicholas Fox Weber, is a much more engrossing take on the collecting habits, rivalries & weirdnesses of Sterling & Stephen Clark. While focusing on the brothers' collecting habits, it also brings up an excess of family intrigues & genuine scandals. Sterling Clark, for example, appears to have funded what would have been a military coup that would topple the government of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, along the lines of Mussolini's empowerment in Italy. While not written with the rancor of Matthew Josephson's The Robber Barons, reading more like an extended Vanity Fair profile, it is still elegantly and intelligently written enough to give the reader a remarkable sense of criticality in contemplating what would otherwise be spectacular art collections: such an amassing of art is ultimately not a neutral activity, but a plastic exercise of funds, ego and skulduggery. There are humorous stories in it: another non-art collecting brother seems to have spent spent his life drinking & riding horses. He was known to drink a magnum of champagne at breakfast & then go riding - he was also known for his numerous accidents! As enchanting as it can be to wander in our museums, it is beneficial to be equally disenchanted as well with the machinations which have framed our lovely paintings & sculpture & our sense of what high culture is supposed to have been -

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Oliver Herring, Nathan; 50,000 Beds

Last Sunday I attended the opening at the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT, of "50,000 Beds" a project by Chris Doyle, of videos produced in hotel rooms in Connecticut, with exhibition venues at the Aldrich, Artspace in New Haven, and Real Art Ways in Hartford. The shows are comprised of videos made specifically for the project, all of which involve use of a hotel room somewhere in Connecticut. Curiously, the catalogue for the show includes a listing of participating hotels with contact information, which indicates a kind of touristic agenda, although the videos could hardly be seen as infomercials for scenic CT. Or one could consider them the kinds of infomercials one could at least hope for.

Oliver Herring's video "Nathan" is of "Nathan" dancing in a strenuous balletic manner in a tiny crowded & otherwise undistinguished hotel room. Nathan is tall & in a suit. The suit has an artificial aspect: it does not seem to fit the boy. Or it does not fit his movements which are extremely athletic & both graceful & rough. Tumbles accompany leaps & pirouettes. Stretches collide with the furniture. & one can hear huffing, puffing & the thuds of Nathan's body hitting walls & floor. As I understand it, the video was done with a certain amount of spontaneity, without a defined choreography, the exertions of the eponymous Nathan and chance forming the perimeters of the medium. Oliver Herring's camera work is hand-held & as improvised as the movements of the boy Nathan. The video reminded me of silent film comedy & also the "New American Cinema" of downtown NYC in the 1960s. Quizzed about his working methods, the filmmaker Ron Rice once answered, "Turn the camera on." Oliver Herring's video reminds me of the intense beauty that can be found in everyday delirium - incantatory, full of longing, parodic, witty. It is just fun to watch. What is truly distinctive about the work is an exultation of energy, which I would attribute to both the hard-working model & the very alert videographer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Los Angeles Is Detroit With Palm Trees" --Elmore Leonard (from The Wit of the Staircase blog of Theresa Duncan - RIP)

Detroit and Los Angeles may currently be neck and neck for the contest of most reviled American city, recently replacing the New York City of the nineteen seventies as Middle America's impressively enduring idea of Hell. Having lived in both the rust belt necropolis and the Pacific pomopolis, I can attest that Los Angeles is Detroit through the looking glass, or in a phrase that went through my mind continually as I drove under endless ugly sodium lamps from freeway to freeway on first moving here, it's "Detroit with palm trees."

Now that New York has become a suburb of the suburbs (a line stolen from my dear paramour Jeremy Blake) it is left to Detroit and Los Angeles to battle it out for the honor of embodying America's fevered unconscious. Detroit and L.A. are each industry towns where citizens not involved in the main product are an afterthought, viewed primarily as seat warmers for the new Chevys or the latest giant Loews Cineplex, respectively. Culture is an afterthought in both towns, both are known for a subgenre of noir fiction, and both are emblems of sprawling urban nowheresvilles where no one can hear you scream.

And yet I find both places indescribably glamorous, inchoate and mysterious, endlessly strange and iterative, as if the street behind you is being covered over with some new fantasy by scene painters as you drive on. I'd go on to parse out the differences between the towns, but as I said, I suspect they are actually the same place, two sides of a coin palmed in the alternately icy and desert-hot hand of America, a future currency whose buying power is for strange new fast-moving forms and fantasies that are as yet undreamt of in the rest of the West...

A pro-Detroit city guide from the 70s as recently blogged at detroitblog, below:

America's ugliest city Detroit runs East St. Louis a close second. As America's unfriendliest city, Detroit has no peer. One reason for this is that no one in Detroit is outside for any length of time. They are always inside: inside a home, an office, a car. If you don't know people to start with and are not willing to put out the extra effort it takes to make friends in Detroit, chances are you still won't know people when you finally decide this is not the town for you. It is easier to meet Detroiters anywhere other than in Detroit. There's one standing in line next to you in every American Express office in the world. They drive past you on the San Jose Freeway, grinning, honking and pointing at their license plates. Why, Detroiters are some of the friendliest folks in the world. Unless you're stuck in Detroit.

I hate (my) MoMA

Every time I visit the Museum of Modern Art I must remind myself that there are still probably more decent reasons for visiting the museum than not, although the perpetual excess of crowds, the smells of food wafting through the loud echoing galleries, the odious little children allowed to scream & run unchecked, all tend to make me regret the decision to enter 11 W. 53rd St.

I must remind myself that when I lived in Podunk, USA (i.e. Michigan), that my casual visits to what is now a vortex of buzzing throngs were dreams not-yet-come-true.

& also my gripes are not specific to MoMA, although the new architecture does seem to amplify the sounds. In contrast to dour MI, where interest in any art is assumed to be a sign of morbidity if not outright perversity, in NYC the arts are more a spectator sport (& treated as such as well). One wonders about the experience of looking at art in crowds akin to that in a transportation hub or shopping mall. I think of the "loss of aura" as described by Walter Benjamin, as a result of technology, of mechanical reproducibility of images. For Benjamin such a loss erodes the heirarchies of imagery as a conduit of power, the physical tangibility of art becomes a moot point in lieu of its technological circulation. Our new museums with their emphasis on screaming bumping crowds reify a different experience of art, as possession, as thing, as object, & yet make it senseless, stupid, indifferent - by exalting it in such a manner it becomes next to nothing beyond a tool of class difference, a brief tabloid moment of culture.

The crowds at the Met are probably larger, however the Met at least has galleries that are either too out-of-the-way or are just downright unpopular, in which one can find some peace & quiet. MoMA is designed to be always crowded, everywhere. Alas.

Alas & I realize I either have to endure it or not go. How much pleasanter art is looking at it in a book, though . . .

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The author and the Austen plot that exposed publishers' pride and prejudice

· Rejection slips for slightly amended literary classics
· Most failed to identify novelist's celebrated work

Steven Morris
Thursday July 19, 2007

Her work has endured for two centuries, sold in its millions and inspired countless film and television adaptations. But would Jane Austen be able to find a publisher and an agent today? A cheeky experiment by an Austen enthusiast suggests not.

David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath decided to find out what sort of reception the writer might get if she approached publishers and agents in the age of Harry Potter and the airport blockbuster.

After making only minor changes, he sent off opening chapters and plot synopses to 18 of the UK's biggest publishers and agents. He was amazed when they all sent the manuscripts back with polite but firm "no-thank-you's" and almost all failed to spot that he was ripping off one of the world's most famous literary figures.

Mr Lassman said: "I was staggered. Here is one of the greatest writers that has lived, with her oeuvre securely fixed in the English canon and yet only one recipient recognised them as Austen's work."

Mr Lassman admits that personal disappointment as well as academic interest prompted his experiment. A little like Austen, who initially struggled to find a publisher, he has been unable to find someone to champion his book, a thriller called Freedom's Temple, a modern take on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. "I know it isn't a masterpiece but I think it is publishable. Yet nobody wanted it. I was talking with some friends and we wondered if Jane would find a publisher or agent if she were around today."

So, styling himself Alison Laydee - a play on Austen's nom de plume A Lady - he typed up chapters from three of her most famous books. First he sent off Northanger Abbey, calling it "Susan" - a title Austen had used for an early draft - and changing the name of the heroine from Catherine Morland to Susan Maldorn.

Mr Lassman expected to be branded a fraud. But he was surprised when publishers and agents failed to spot they had been sent the work of Austen. Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter books, for instance, suggested the chapters had been read "with interest" but were not "suited to our list".

Still, Northanger Abbey is not seen as one of Austen's great books, so next he sent off Persuasion, under the title The Watsons. Again the letters of rejection flooded in. JK Rowling's agents, Christopher Little, were among those who turned it down, saying they were "not confident" of being able to place it.

Then he played his trump card, sending off Pride and Prejudice, calling it First Impressions, again an early title Austen had used for it. The names of the main characters and places were changed, but with no great guile.

Mr Bennet became Mr Barnett while the estate Netherfield becomes Weatherfield, the fictional setting for the TV soap Coronation Street.

And he did not change the opening line, one of the most famous in world literature: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Still the deception was not spotted and the rejection letters thudded on to Mr Lassman's doormat, most notably one from Penguin. Its letter read: "Thank you for your recent letter and chapters from your book First Impressions. It seems like a really original and interesting read."

Only one person appeared to have spotted the deception, Alex Bowler, of Jonathan Cape. His reply read: "Thank-you for sending us the first two chapters of First Impressions; my first impression on reading these were ones of disbelief and mild annoyance, along, of course, with a moment's laughter.

"I suggest you reach for your copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I'd guess lives in close proximity to your typewriter, and make sure that your opening pages don't too closely mimic that book's opening."

David Baldock, director of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, said he was amused and disheartened by the experiment. He added: "It's interesting that there are these filters that stop work getting through. Clearly clerks and office staff are rejecting these manuscripts offhand."

Publishers and agents yesterday tried to explain what had gone wrong. A spokesman for Christopher Little said: "Our letter was a polite note declining representation and provided a standard response. Our internal notes did recognise similarities with existing published works and indeed there were even discussions about possible plagiarism."

A spokeswoman for Penguin pointed out that its letter had said only that it "seemed" original and interesting. "It would not have been read," she insisted.

Spot the difference

First Impressions Alison Laydee

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr Barnett," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Weatherfield Manor is let at last?"

Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"

Friday, July 13, 2007

Catapulted to new heights

The Felix Chevrolet dealership's neon cat sign in Los Angeles gets a historic-cultural monument designation.

By Bob Pool
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles' favorite cat seems to have nine lives.

The three-sided "Felix" automobile dealership sign near downtown that has survived earthquakes, fires, riots and recession escaped another close call Thursday as the city's Cultural Heritage Commission voted to declare it a historic-cultural monument.

Commissioners rejected recommendations by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and downtown-area City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who favor redevelopment of the South Figueroa Street corner where the cartoon cat figure has loomed large for half a century.

"It is literally a modern totem pole," said sign preservation advocate Jim Childs. "It really explains the evolution of the automobile and Los Angeles."

The Felix character was borrowed from the popular 1920s cartoon "Felix the Cat" by pioneering L.A. automobile dealer Winslow Felix, who opened Felix Chevrolet in 1922 at 12th Street and Grand Avenue. Felix was a friend of filmmaker Pat Sullivan, whose animation studio created the mischievous feline character.

The large neon sign depicting a Chevrolet logo crowned by the grinning cat was erected at Figueroa and Jefferson Boulevard when new dealership owner Nick Shammas relocated the Chevrolet franchise there in 1958.

These days the dealership sells Cadillacs as well as Chevrolets, although the glowing Felix Chevrolet sign commands the view of motorists on the nearby Harbor Freeway.

The surrounding Figueroa corridor, meanwhile, is undergoing a transformation as new loft and condo developments go up between USC and the Staples Center area.

Villaraigosa and Perry have supported Figueroa's upgrading and both urged Cultural Heritage commissioners to reject monument status for the sign and the showroom beneath it.

"This site offers a tremendous opportunity for the growth of the Figueroa corridor," mayoral aide Krista Williams-Phipps told panel members. She said dealership operator Darryl Holter has offered to donate the Felix sign to a museum.

Greg Fischer, a deputy to Perry, said the councilwoman feared that the landmark designation would stymie Holter if GM requires him to remodel the showroom and "possibly inhibit the further development of auto row" in the corridor.

Holter, son-in-law of Shammas, who died in 2003, said that there are no plans to demolish the showroom, which was built in 1920 and has been remodeled numerous times over the years. But he stressed that the dealership may face changes when Shammas' elderly widow dies.

"GM can force dealers to build a new building when the old owner dies," he explained. "They tell you what paint to use and where to buy it. You have to follow what they say to keep the franchise."

Felix's fans urged that the sign and showroom be left intact. They noted that landmark status does not permanently block removal of a historic structure but does force property owners, developers and city officials to carefully study the effects of demolition.

"Felix Chevrolet is a landmark in every sense of the word," said Mitzi March Mogul, a historic preservation consultant.

L.A. Conservancy representative Jay Platt told commissioners he is among millions "who loved the Felix the Cat sign as a kid."

Laura Meyers, a member of the North University Park Community Assn., suggested that a preserved Felix showroom could eventually be converted into something else, even "a retail store carrying cat things," if cars are no longer sold there.

"We're looking at an icon in California history, a true definition of L.A.'s love affair with the automobile," added Charles Fisher, who teamed up with Childs to nominate the sign and showroom as a landmark. Both are members of the Adams Dockweiler Heritage Organizing Committee.

Commissioners voted 4 to 1 in favor of the landmark designation.

"That sign has to be kept in its context. It's synonymous with that corner," said commission President Mary Klaus-Martin.

"It's an icon of L.A. It's value is there, not in a museum on Wilshire Boulevard," agreed panel member Glen Dake.

So in a town that cherishes commercial characters such as Bob's Big Boy, the Western Exterminator man and Chicken Boy, Felix the Cat continues to live up to his name — which is Latin for "lucky."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New York Plans Surveillance Veil for Downtown

July 9, 2007

By Cara Buckley, New York Times

By the end of this year, police officials say, more than 100 cameras will have begun monitoring cars moving through Lower Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system that would be the first in the United States.

The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, as the plan is called, will resemble London’s so-called Ring of Steel, an extensive web of cameras and roadblocks designed to detect, track and deter terrorists. British officials said images captured by the cameras helped track suspects after the London subway bombings in 2005 and the car bomb plots last month.

If the program is fully financed, it will include not only license plate readers but also 3,000 public and private security cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police and private security officers, and movable roadblocks.

“This area is very critical to the economic lifeblood of this nation,” New York City’s police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, said in an interview last week. “We want to make it less vulnerable.”

But critics question the plan’s efficacy and cost, as well as the implications of having such heavy surveillance over such a broad swath of the city.

For a while, it appeared that New York could not even afford such a system. Last summer, Mr. Kelly said that the program was in peril after the city’s share of Homeland Security urban grant money was cut by nearly 40 percent.

But Mr. Kelly said last week that the department had since obtained $25 million toward the estimated $90 million cost of the plan. Fifteen million dollars came from Homeland Security grants, he said, while another $10 million came from the city, more than enough to install 116 license plate readers in fixed and mobile locations, including cars and helicopters, in the coming months.

The readers have been ordered, and Mr. Kelly said he hoped the rest of the money would come from additional federal grants.

The license plate readers would check the plates’ numbers and send out alerts if suspect vehicles were detected. The city is already seeking state approval to charge drivers a fee to enter Manhattan below 86th Street, which would require the use of license plate readers. If the plan is approved, the police will most likely collect information from those readers too, Mr. Kelly said.

But the downtown security plan involves much more than keeping track of license plates. Three thousand surveillance cameras would be installed below Canal Street by the end of 2008, about two-thirds of them owned by downtown companies. Some of those are already in place. Pivoting gates would be installed at critical intersections; they would swing out to block traffic or a suspect car at the push of a button.

Unlike the 250 or so cameras the police have already placed in high-crime areas throughout the city, which capture moving images that have to be downloaded, the security initiative cameras would transmit live information instantly.

The operation will cost an estimated $8 million to run the first year, Mr. Kelly said. Its headquarters will be in Lower Manhattan, he said, though the police were still negotiating where exactly it will be. The police and corporate security agents will work together in the center, said Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the police. The plan does not need City Council approval, he said.

The Police Department is still considering whether to use face-recognition technology, an inexact science that matches images against those in an electronic database, or biohazard detectors in its Lower Manhattan network, Mr. Browne said.

The entire operation is forecast to be in place and running by 2010, in time for the projected completion of several new buildings in the financial district, including the new Goldman Sachs world headquarters.

Civil liberties advocates said they were worried about misuse of technology that tracks the movement of thousands of cars and people,

Would this mean that every Wall Street broker, every tourist munching a hot dog near the United States Court House and every sightseer at ground zero would constantly be under surveillance?

“This program marks a whole new level of police monitoring of New Yorkers and is being done without any public input, outside oversight, or privacy protections for the hundreds of thousands of people who will end up in N.Y.P.D. computers," Christopher Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, wrote in an e-mail message.

He said he worried about what would happen to the images once they were archived, how they would be used by the police and who else would have access to them.

Already, according to a report last year by the civil liberties group, there are nearly 4,200 public and private surveillance cameras below 14th Street, a fivefold increase since 1998, with virtually no oversight over what becomes of the recordings.

Mr. Browne said that the Police Department would have control over how the material is used. He said that the cameras would be recording in “areas where there’s no expectation of privacy” and that law-abiding citizens had nothing to fear.

“It would be used to intercept a threat coming our way, but not to collect data indiscriminately on individuals,” he said.

Mr. Browne said software tracking the cameras’ images would be designed to pick up suspicious behavior. If, for example, a bag is left unattended for a certain length of time, or a suspicious car is detected repeatedly circling the same block, the system will send out an alert, he said.

Still, there are questions about whether such surveillance devices indeed serve their purpose.

There is little evidence to suggest that security cameras deter crime or terrorists, said James J. Carafano, a senior fellow for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group in Washington.

For all its comprehensiveness, London’s Ring of Steel, which was built in the early 1990s to deter Irish Republican Army attacks, did not prevent the July 7, 2005, subway bombings or the attempted car bombings in London last month. But the British authorities said the cameras did prove useful in retracing the paths of the suspects’ cars last month, leading to several arrests.

While having 3,000 cameras whirring at the same time means loads of information will be captured, it also means there will be a lot of useless data to sift through.

“The more hay you have, the harder it is to find the needle,” said Mr. Carafano.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Their designs within reach

The archives of Ray Kappe and John Lautner are going to the Getty, where they can be accessed by the public

WOOD-BLOCK models, drawings and notes for 200 Modern buildings and projects completed over half a century have taken over four rooms of Ray Kappe's Pacific Palisades house. But in a few weeks, moving vans will transport the architect's life's work a few miles away to its permanent new home: the antiquities-rich Getty Center.

Kappe, well known for his timeless wood, concrete and steel structures that embody the California Modern ideal, will be the latest architect to have his files housed at the center's research institute. Also on its way to the Getty are the complete works of the late John Lautner, who engineered the spaceship-like Chemosphere house to sit on a single column above a canyon in the Hollywood Hills.

Eventually, these archives, as well as the late Pierre Koenig's, will be available to scholars and enthusiasts interested in the study of 20th century California architecture. The archive of Koenig, whose Case Study House No. 22 best defines the midcentury experimental project, arrived at the Getty in December and is being cataloged.

Because architectural records are becoming more scarce, safeguarding and making them accessible for research has become exceedingly important, says Cindy Olnick of the Los Angeles Conservancy. Homeowners, neighborhood preservation groups, designers, builders and historians looking for accurate information need materials beyond what's on file at the city building department, she says.

"If you want a clear picture of the original vision, you can't get better than the architect's files," she says. "These documents are also a great window into the social and cultural time of the project." The R.M. Schindler archive at the UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, she notes, contains "correspondence that gives insight into the relationship between the architect, clients and contractors."

The Getty's growing post-World War II architectural holdings are dwarfed by those at UC Santa Barbara, which started collecting plans from designers in the 1960s and has more than 850,000 pieces. "In comparison, the Getty is small," says Wim de Wit, an architectural historian who is head of the Getty Research Institute's special collections. "But we have some important materials that can stand up to anything they have."

The centerpiece of the Getty's Modernist collection arrived in 2005: photographer Julius Shulman's archive consisting of 260,000 contact prints, negatives, transparencies and other images of more than 7,000 projects by Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Schindler, Charles Eames, Koenig and Lautner.

"Once Shulman arrived, people contacted us and we contacted them," says De Wit, who added that complete archives allow scholars to study how a career developed and can also contain telling personal items. Buried in the Koenig archive, for example, were his high school drawings of airplanes. "It's touching to see these drawings."

Lautner's 9,000 working drawings and other files were being managed by the John Lautner Foundation since his death in 1994. "It's complicated to handle requests," says the architect's daughter, Karol Lautner Peterson, who approached the Getty and worked with De Wit to make the donation. "My father's wish was to have his archive available to architectural writers, students and homeowners."

Koenig's widow, Gloria, says she was approached by several museums, including the Pompidou in Paris and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, but decided to send the architect's 3,000 documents from her Brentwood home to the Getty after taking a tour of its light- and climate-controlled facilities.

Competition to acquire architectural documents has been heating up and complete archives are rare, say curators. The work of Frank Lloyd Wright is preserved by his foundation. Some architects have neglected or accidentally lost their files — most of Eric Lloyd Wright's drawings burned in the 1993 Malibu fire. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas turned down $1.3 million last year from the Netherlands Architecture Institute to wait for a better offer. And star architects such as Zaha Hadid have sold individual drawings on the art market as if they were by David Hockney.

Storage space also limits what an institution can collect. "You have to think strategically," says De Wit, who called Kappe last year to ask for his archive.

"It's flattering to be asked," says Kappe, who turns 80 in August.

The architect, one of the founders and directors of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, believed that the Los Angeles school couldn't manage his papers as well as the Getty, so he invited De Wit to his house to talk. Then Kappe and his wife Shelly met with De Wit at the research institute's library, which occupies three floors and has 100 employees to preserve and catalog original material, create electronic versions for viewing by the public and license its use to publishers and broadcasters.

"They showed me the way they handled the drawings, rolling them in a very special, careful way," Kappe says. A less-experienced group, he says, might have kept his drawings "in my tubes, just piled up until someone could sort through them. At the Getty, they care for each sheet."

The Getty, he says, wants his work from 1953 to 2000 as it is. The staff, skilled at handling ancient manuscripts, will repair his broken models and inventory his estimated 2,000 to 3,000 drawings, reports, correspondence and visual media. Eventually, the documents will be cataloged on the Getty website. They will be available to be viewed and purchased at the library or ordered online.

De Wit says the Kappe archive will round out the Getty's other works from the last century. But there is more to it than that: "Ray Kappe is incredibly important and his importance will grow," De Wit says. "He designs beautifully detailed wood structures, and he was one of the earliest to use sustainable materials and to understand that we can live in an environment without damaging it."

Kappe, who is now working on single and multilevel, prefabricated modular houses, was creating custom homes using recycled redwood and energy- and water-saving systems in the early 1970s. His own 1965 home — an L.A. historic monument — levitates on six concrete towers over a stream, touching ground on 600 square feet and having minimal effect on the land.

The architect says he's not sentimental about losing possession of the work. "I guess I'm not an emotional person. It's fun to look back and think about projects and problems and sometimes see the beauty, the good parts and bad," the soft-spoken Kappe says. "But if I didn't look back, that would be OK too. It will just be nice to have it organized, cared for by the Getty and in one place."

House detectives in search of architectural records will find archives at many Southern California institutions. Digital copies are available by permission.

Cal Poly: Cal Poly Pomona's collection includes the papers of architects Richard J. Neutra, Donald Wexler, Raphael Soriano and Craig Ellwood. (909) 869-6837. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, with special emphasis on California's coastal and central valley, has the papers of Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan. (805) 756-1111; .

Getty Research Institute: The library's special collections has Julius Shulman and Pierre Koenig's archives, Lucien Hervé's photography of Le Corbusier's architecture and microfilms of Frank Lloyd Wright's drawings and letters(310) 440-7390; .

Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens: USC faculty members asked the Huntington in the 1970s to preserve pre-WWII architectural records. The collection includes the papers of Wallace Neff and James E. Dolena, as well as architectural photography. (626) 405-2100;

UCLA: Charles E. Young Research Library has the archives of Neutra, Lloyd Wright, S. Charles Lee and A. Quincy Jones. (310) 825-4988. The four collections are available through the Online Archive of California at .

UC Santa Barbara Art Museum: It has more than 100 designers' archives, including R.M. Schindler, Cliff May and Irving Gill. (805) 893-2724; .

Friday, July 6, 2007

Les Demi Dieux

I would like to thank Jim Kempster and Bob Loncar of for their generosity in sharing their photo collection. They have sustained histories that might otherwise be overlooked or forgotten.

Male physique photography exists on a periphery of other histories. Figure studies date from the early period of photography, such as images by Eugene Durieu made for the painter Eugene Delacroix. Popular mass produced images of the bodybuilder Eugene Sandow circulated widely at the end of the 19th century, and bodybuilding magazines were published as photolithography facilitated the circulation of picture magazines. Such magazines also were part of an expanding economy of consumption, a consumption presented as ideas of self-improvement. Charles Atlas reformed the 98 Pound Weakling in the back of comic books. Jack Lalanne exercised zestfully on TV with his large dog, proselytizing the benefits of strength & fitness: the media has been our mirror(s) of the ideal, the possibility of transformations. What would we look like if there were no standards set as such?

Looking beyond the expensive & lurid advertisements of Muscle & Fitness, there existed in this realm of men looking at men, a cottage industry of images circulated after WWII, through the 1970s, which although seemingly simply extolling the All-American Boy, were meant for a specifically gay audience, or to use a term Gore Vidal coined, "homosexualist." This was a pre-Stonewall gay audience. There were contant threats of prosecution for obscenity, which facilitated a very elaborate set of visual codes which could be within the letter of the law & yet in a way proclaim an outrageous level of fetishism and truly curious visual strategies. For example, Bob Mizer, the photographer & publisher of Physique Pictorial, which was produced in his mother's house in Los Angeles, would bring an array of his pets including a monkey & a goat into images, he would clothe the models as motorcyclists, prisoners, mechanics, sailors, Indians - his imagination was quite fertile & those who would be looking for "those types" of images would see "it" loud and clear. & I would point out a brilliant bit of DIY set-building of Mizer's: projecting lights through his mother's cut glass bowls to create artistic backdrops for his models.

There were physique studios across the US: The Athletic Model Guild (Bob Mizer's studio), Bruce of Los Angeles, Lon of New York, Douglas of Detroit, David of Cleveland. I am only including studios with place names, but is there any full account of such activities? Beyond small magazines and mail order images, this is a decentralized world - it belonged everywhere and nowhere. Some models became entrepreneurs of their images as well, such as Bob Delmonteque. & in a publication like Physique Pictorial, Bob Mizer inserted small typed commentaries which would offer observations of the models - the trials & tribulations of the work behind the scenes, which could include tart evaluations as well as sharp characterizations. Who stole. Who went to jail. & so on. In our much duller world of psychological readings this could be read as "co-dependent."

The modern gay liberation movement & perhaps more importantly the relaxation of obscenity laws changed the reception of modern physique photography. A Grecian column was no longer necessary for legal protection. The modern "artistic nude" could replace scenarios of wrestlers & boys soaping in showers with a higher level of taste & more explicit body parts. In school in Ann Arbor in the late 70s there was a magazine shop/5&10 near campus in which stacks of gay porn could be perused in the back. These magazines were hardcore - legally portraying "penetration" & "exchange of bodily fluids." There were still copies of Physique Pictorial available as well - later issues included full frontal nudity but still had a kitsch prurience which seemed anachronistic by that time, although a bit more street than a mainstream magazine - a lot of the models had homemade tattoos, & there were a series of symbols placed by the models which would make allusions to the models' sexual versatility, their status as sex workers, as well as notations of character & trustworthiness. If anything, one could say that there's been an expanding professionalism in the pornography industry. If one were to compare the magazines found in the back of the Blue Door on S. State St. in 1977 with a Jeff Burton mural print on display this summer at Casey Kaplan titled, simply, "At Herb Ritts" for example.

I have been very fortunate to see a portion of a very sizeable collection of photos put together by Jim Kempster and Bob Loncar, which includes work dating from the 19th century as well as what seems an encyclopediac collection of physique work - AMG, Bruce, Kris, Lon, Douglas, et al. Their devotion & their excess of hundreds of images shames me with my own dilletantism regarding the subject. Also they showed me a set of work by a very obscure photographer who worked in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, whose moniker was Les Demi Dieux (sic). At present it does not seem like the real name of Les Demi Dieux is known. His images were published in Young Physique & The Demi-Gods but are not included in any histories such as F. Valentine Hooven's book Beefcake which was published by Benedikt Taschen, or the academic book by Thomas Waugh, Hard to Imagine. The images of Les Demi Dieux are remarkable for being a precursor of later "artistic nuded" but still having a distinct "trade" look. Unlike most such work, the darkroom skills of Les Demi Dieux are very strong, & there is more attention to overall composition. Les Demi Dieux worked with well-known physique models such as Richard Bennett, as well as a lot of local Brooklyn boys with greaser haircuts. As a point of curiosity, the few images which are signed, are signed by the models rather than the elusive Les Demi Dieux. & he had no blindstamp either, as far as I can tell. The most remarkable images are of shirtless or nearly shirtless boys on the streets of Brooklyn - the Brooklyn in these photos is an empty city. Unlike classic physique images which catalogue gym work - measurements, body mass, in conventionalized poses, the Brooklyn boys look like dreamers in an abandoned city - there is a palpable romanticism. David Armstrong (whose portraits have some similarity to Les Demi Dieux) used to joke that he wanted to teach a class about male photography called "Buns and Baskets." It is a recurring idea for me, but I can't help but wonder that there are many more collections out there like Les Demi Dieux. Perhaps another salient point is such images still do not circulate in a public way, or at least in a very limited public way. They have little currency as art or culture, and yet there is still a healthy audience for the work.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

films about photographers - Model Shop

One of the most exquisite "bad" films I can think of is Jacques Demy's Model Shop, which was made in Los Angeles in 1968. Other than the unearthly Anouk Aimee, the other actors are turgid & uninteresting - the plot & dialogue are uninteresting. I would be adverse to recommend it to some as it could all too readily be perceived as an extremely boring film, and yet . . .

& yet the camera work, the settings, the mood all keep me sufficiently enthralled. The story is simple: a college age boy lives with his girlfriend by the ocean. Neither are particularly appealing. The boy seems selfish & cold, the girl whines & cries. The boy is also expecting to be drafted into the military, which happens. By chance the boy sees the exotic glamorous Anouk Aimee, looking as she did in La Dolce Vita - a paragon of extreme beauty. Anouk Aimee drives an elegant little sports car, at which point the boy begins to follow her. The camera follows her in a long tracking shot through the streets of Los Angeles. What had seemed very mundane becomes mysterious and erotic. The wide commercial streets pass like a dream, resembling the Ed Ruscha book Every Building Along Sunset Strip. The conflation of erotic intrigue with a more Pop American generic strip turns the streets into a labyrinth of desires.

The protagonist, the boy, is a type that was fairly conventional in movies of this period (late 1960s, early 1970s): alienated, anti-heroic, drifting - a grown up Holden Caufield, literally on the road, following a figure of impossible sophistication and beauty. Anouk Aimee leads to a storefront called Model Shop. It is a business in which men pay for a photo session with a model. There are backdrops & lights - it's not pornographic but the scenarios are all sexualized. The clients can choose a set, such as a brass bed, & they are handed a Rolleiflex, loaded with black-&-white film, the aperture & shutter speed set. The Model Shop then processes and prints the film.

Besides the rapturous tracking shots of the streets of Los Angeles, this is where my curiosity is piqued - my main question being did such businesses exist? A do-it-yourself boudoir scenario. Was the a fantasy of a French New Wave director confronting American laissez-faire economy? Is this a coded way of stating "brothel" or "prostitute"? Or were there actual such prosaic dingy storefronts to be visited? I have asked various people who might have some knowledge of the peepshow culture of that time, but none have had an answer either way. I thought of the work of Irving and Paula Klaw, working with Bettie Page and other models in old hotels on E. 14th St. But what about the DIY aspect so strange & compelling in Model Shop? If there were such businesses where are the photos?

The boy hires Anouk Aimee for his 12-frame moment, which initiates their relationship. The film is not realistic: Anouk Aimee dresses expensively, she drives an expensive car, & yet she works at a sub-peep show. Anouk Aimee's character is the same she played in Jacques Demy's earlier film Lola. Anouk/Lola is now quite disillusioned, melancholy, and intending to return to France. Demy's films are often about the pursuit of romantic dreams, but there is also a bittersweet aspect, which in Model Shop leaves all the characters isolated and alone. The pathetic roll of film illuminates loss and disappointment. The Algerian war is mentioned. The conflict in Vietnam is the immediate future.