Film festivals are sneak previews of what to look for throughout the year, both on the big screen and through streaming services like Netflix. There are a surprising number of films circulating that are informed by architecture and design, including standouts like Twelve Years and Slave and Spike Jonze’s Her. In Stray Dogs (NYFF), a girl asks her mother why the walls of their apartment are so mottled. Her mother says houses are like people, with wrinkles on their face; their walls are so scarred because during a heavy rain the house cried tears. Not all tales are so sad, but It’s always a wonderful surprise when the physical space plays such a prominent role. Here is a selection you should be sure to catch that were previewed at the recent Toronto and New York Film Festivals (TIFF and NYFF).
At the National Design Awards Ceremony at the White House on September 20, Michelle Obama confessed that Barack really wanted to be an architect—but he wasn’t talented enough. This was recounted by Henk Ovink, senior advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, at the 4th Municipal Art Society (MAS) Summit, held October 17-18 in New York City. During the event, the themes of Innovation and Leadership heralded the upcoming New York mayoral election and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.
The Summit is a testing ground for MAS’s current and future work, and there couldn’t be a clearer indication that this institution has moved beyond the shadow of its most historic achievement—the saving of Grand Central Terminal—decades ago. MAS’s commitment to New York as a livable, globally-competitive city that is socially, economically, and environmentally resilient—note that last watchword—is a hallmark of President Vin Cipolla’s leadership. In more than 40 sessions over 2 days, here are some of the highlights of the Summit.
2013 Architecture & Design Film Festival
54 Varick Street
“Erecting a building is like making a movie….both processes involve blending light and movement into space and time. A model is like a script: at best it’s a promise and at worst it’s a safeguard. And, as with a script, a moment comes when you have to test your model against reality. You must start shooting the film, start erecting the building.”
—The Interior Passage
We can see these starts when the two art forms come together in the 4th annual Architecture & Design Film Festival at the Tribeca Cinemas where 25 films will be screened through October 20. This year, the trend is toward process films that chronicle movements and initiatives (planning, education, preservation), portraits of buildings more than individuals, and Modernism referenced even when it’s not the direct subject.
Walking along the farthest block of West 34th Street, navigating past queues waiting for MegaBuses going to Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities, is a small white tent behind a chain-link fence. There begins another journey to a world that will exist only until next May. It is the High Line at the Rail Yards, the last stretch of the beloved park between West 30 and 34th streets, still raw before it joins the two completed sections running to Gansevoort Street.
You are first greeted by a dense, green self-seeded landscape, including a tree ripe with green apples. As you gingerly step over battered wooden rail ties and metal tracks, the vista opens up to the portion called the Spur, which runs parallel to the Hudson River with only the West Side Highway in between. Ships pass by, helicopters land, the Javits Center, the Starrett Lehigh Building, and the new Hudson Yards construction site surround you—and then you encounter the first of seven sculptures by Carol Bove sited along the tracks. Read More
Highrise buildings are the most commonly built form of the last century. So says A Short History of the Highrise, an interactive documentary that is a co-production of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and the New York Times Op-Docs which has its premiere at the 2013 New York Film Festival and will launch on the website on October 5. It explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living in four short films: Mud, Concrete, and Glass, which draws on the Times photo archives. The fourth, Home, is comprised of images submitted by the public. The films can be stopped at any time by swiping, pinching, pulling and tapping to dig deeper into the stories, see the backs of photos, and play games. Questions like who gets to live on the top floor and why (in Roman times, upper floors were the least desirable) are asked in rhyme: “Were these vertical experiments there for elites? Or to warehouse the poor away from the streets?” We climb the Tower of Babel, the Hakka round houses of Fujian province, and medieval Yemenese Manhattan-like mud towers before arriving at New York’s luxury-serviced Osborne, London Terrace, and Dakota built simultaneously to the multi-story tenements of the Lower East Side. All are shown in still images cleverly animated: buildings grow up, skaters glide, women wink, lights turn on, and the text is read by well-known Canadian musicians Feist and Cold Specks, as well as the series director, writer and editor Katerina Cizek. The result is a delightful, visually stunning exploration that is seemingly simple, but actually stretches both the conventional documentary form and how we depict space. Read More
For 2 weeks, two exhibitions in NY about Corbusier overlapped. In addition to the MoMA retrospective that closed on September 23, Amie Siegel’s Provenance at the Simon Preston Gallery on the LES (through October 6) examines a rather different slice: from the point of view of the furniture created for Chandigarh, the Indian planned city of the 1950s.
The film that forms the core of this installation travels in reverse, de- and re-contexualizing the objects. It starts with Chandigarh chairs, settees, and tables in their new homes in the West from apartments to lofts to townhouses and even yachts seen in slow tracking shots and lockoffs by cinematographer Christine A. Maier. These are perfectly crafted interiors that are pristine, light, airy, signaling the curated good life as seen in Architectural Digest. Peeking out are the inventory numbers, like a Holocaust tattoo or cattle branding. Does it give the furniture a limited-edition cache? The pieces are like adopted children who have been lucky enough to be given a new life, but they are out of their native culture and are isolated from their tribe. Even in their new surroundings with other treasures, one can always pick out the Corbusier piece, with the sharply angled forms—triangles are a distinct feature—and geometric planes, even in their new clothes of reupholstered checks, squares and luxury leather. Questions about preservation, neglect, restoration, reinterpretation, and fetishism arise.
On Friday night at Riverfront Studios, motion-picture soundstages on 3 acres of East River waterfront between the Williamsburg Bridge and the Navy Yard, the newest art project by Doug Aitken called Station to Station was launched. Aitken did the “destruction” of Gallery 303 last year, Creative Time’s Broken Screen Happening at the Essex Street Market and Sleepwalkers projected on the wall of MoMA’s Sculpture Garden.
On the site of the former Schaefer Brewery, spotted in the crowd was Agnes Gund, Klaus Biesenbach, Chrissie Iles, Roxana Marcoci, Linda Yablonsky, Lisa Phillips and other art world luminaries. This event marked the inaugural nomadic “Happening” that moves in an Aitken-designed train from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Coast stopping at nine different locations each time for a one-night-only live event in September. The scene was set for live performances that included a colorful site-specific smoke bomb installation by Olaf Breuning; food happening created by artist Rirkrit Tiravanija; and an original performance choreographed by Jonah Bokaer inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican (1963) on the occasion of work’s 50th anniversary and more.
On View> Museum of Arts and Design Presents “Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft, and Design” Through September 15
You may think you know wood, but this exhibition stretches the material beyond convention into the 21st century, and has a distinct sense of humor. Artists and designers play with the form, starting with artist Martin Puryear, who inspired curator Lowery Sims to explore trends that destabilize conventional methods. His specially commissioned piece for this show is a puffy, tufted wing-back chair that looks so soft you could sink into it, but it is actually solid pine. Its title, A Skeuomorphic Wing Chair, 2012, refers to the ersatz, an object made to resemble another material to make the new look comfortably old and familiar, like a digital notebook app that mimics yellow lined paper. Weight is conveyed differently in Yuya Ushida’s Sofa_XXXX, 2010, a delicate lattice comprised of 8,000 recycled bamboo chopsticks, that can be expanded or contracted; or Mark Moskovitz’s Facecord, 2012, which looks like a stockpiled cord of logs, but is actually a chest of drawers.
A yardstick is a straightedge with markings at regular intervals used to physically measure lengths in imperial units of up to a yard (three feet). It is also a standard for making a critical judgment. This measuring device was placed in once-forbidden zones of the World and Cold Wars that have since been abandoned, by Jane and Louise Wilson, the British fraternal twin artist duo who have a show on view at 303 Gallery.
A woman sits alone and thinks to herself.
A painting converses with a room. The room talks back.
So says Barbara Bloom, whose installation of selections from the Jewish Museum’s collection, create a dialogue with architect C.P.H. Gilbert’s French Renaissance Warburg mansion—the building that houses the museum—real and imagined visitors, and the objects themselves. Architect Ken Saylor, who worked closely with Bloom on the spatialization and design of the exhibition, said, “we tried to ask ourselves ‘What does it mean to inhabit an exhibition?’ where things are simultaneously absent and present, masked and revealed, teased and assaulted, subject and context, museum and house.”
Inspired by the design of the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, where the original text is framed by annotated scholarly debates across generations, the exhibition is entitled As it were…So to speak. That suggests “what you are about to hear … Is not exactly what it appears to be.” The exhibition is a narrative but without beginning, middle, and end, which harmoniously surfs the practices of art, architecture, and design.