Archive for June, 2012

Central plaza at Lincoln Center, from left to right, New York State Theater, Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall. (Photo: listenmissy )


Thirteen years ago Lincoln Center considered its campus (New Yorker). As New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff puts it the choice was between “Reconstructive surgery or just a little nip and tuck?” Lincoln Center went for the nip-tuck treatment.

Yesterday I visited Lincoln Center for the first time in some time and found the changes neat, but not magnificent. One of the ideas under consideration just over a decade ago, enclosing the courtyard between Avery Fisher Hall, the New York State Theater, and the Metropolitan Opera House – reportedly including the construction of a dome similar to that of the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court at the British Museum. Lincoln Center’s dome would have been designed by Frank Gehry.


Queen Elizabeth II Great Courtat the Brtish Museum (via Wikipedia)


At the British Museum, Foster + Partners’ design deservedly possesses the name Great Court. The seams between old and new at the museum are apparent, but that feature is a strength. Functionally it forms a link between parts of the museum, but as a public space it becomes more than the sum of its parts: architecture, sculpture, function. A space worthy of a visit even minus the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles.

Hypar Pavilion viewed from northwest. Clockwise from foreground, the Illumination Lawn, Avery Fisher Hall, a glimpse of the New York State Theater, the Metropolitan Opera House with Barclays Capital Grove in front, and the roof of the Lincoln Center Theater (Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times)

Hypar Pavillion viewed from south. (Iwan Baan)

Which is not to say that Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s plan for Lincoln Center fails, far from it. The Hypar Pavillion cleverly integrates Lincoln Center more fully into the neighborhood, inviting people to use the space.

The additions to the plaza serve as an answer to Jane Jacobs’ eloquent j’accuse,

Promenades that go from no place to nowhere and have no promenaders.

Hypar Pavillion creates at least two destinations, the Baraclays Capital Grove and the Illumination Lawn.


Barclays Capital Grove (Photo: Jon Roemer)

Prior to the redesign, Lincoln Center’s north plaza wasn’t really a destination in itself, it served more as a transit point. A footbridge linking Julliard over 65th street, a reflecting pool, and the entrances to the Lincoln Center Theater and New York Public Library. A space to pass through, not necessarily to linger. In contrast, on a sunny June day the north plaza was in use.

The competition.

To be fair, there happened to be a craft fair in the north and south plazas at Lincoln Center yesterday, so quite a bit more activity than usual – booths with vendors selling art, jewelry, and furniture. Even granted that addition, the Grove and Illumination Lawn are bound to attract people onto the campus. So the Diller Scofidio + Renfro plan counts as a success.

But magnificence requires an anchor. An enclosure of the central plaza provides an opportunity for creating that focal point. The failure to construct an enclosure could be a result of lack of funds, a more ambitious plan for the Lincoln Center campus, including an enclosure, could cost upwards of $1.5 billion. The design that was delivered cost about $500 million. The Great Court at the British Museum cost £100 million.

Magnificence does not come cheap.


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Must art be beautiful?

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent (1885-86)

Where there is no beauty, there is no art.” or “beautiful or not beautiful is not important“? Two contrasting visions of art, each overlooking a feature in the other.

“Where there is no beauty, there is no art,” misses a whole field of expression that isn’t about beauty. The statement narrows the artistic space as to leave out a great deal of what matters in conceptual art and abstract expressionism. To focus on the question “Is it beautiful?” ignores a whole series of additional questions that Abramović highlgihts: Is it distrubing, does it make a prediction about the future, does it pose questions? Focusing so closely on beauty leaves no room for all these other dimensions of art.

“[B]eautiful or not beautiful is not important,” admittedly just a snippet from the larger Abramović quote, but I still think she puts it too strongly here. Beautiful or not beautiful can be important. Yes, there is the potential for becoming so consumed by beauty to the point where one is blind to all else – so a focus on the painting fitting the carpet in the living room devoid of any thought about meanings troubles me. But beauty is not a dimension without a substance of its own as well. Craftsmanship, skill, and technical mastery all deserve thought too. While it is a mistake to focus on them unmoved by all else, it is also a mistake to set them outside consideration altogether.

Altogether I favor a “both/and” proposition here rather than the “either/or” proposition offered by polar aesthetics that either center the artistic universe on beauty or dismiss beauty as undeserving of attention. I’ll conclude by saying up until two years ago I had a sense a great deal of contemporary art was artists, curators, critics, and collectors talking amongst themselves in a language that leaves everyone else, including me, out. The jargon of the art world can be intimidating, it can be a barrier, it can be just too much work when you’re in the mood to relax and maybe look at something pretty. And I’d say being told so-and-so is a Very Important Artist, or Art History Has Decided X, is a lot less convincing than going to the Whitney, or MoMA, or the Tate Modern and particular works evoking (or provoking) feelings and emotions themselves.

For me the gap was bridged on a visit to the Tate Modern, Room 7 to be specific. I have to credit the curators because it was the combination of these three artworks that made me see each of the three artists in a different light. The artists, Monet, Rothko, and Pollock. I was aware of them before, but they did not mean the same thing to me before Room 7. The works are Monet’s Water Lillies (after 1916), Rothko’s Untitled (1952), and Pollock’s Summertime: Number 9A (1948). To say the photos don’t do the works justice is an understatement.

It is one thing to be told about Monet’s link to abstract expressionism and another to see it for yourself. Being there, it was like discovering Rothko. As for Pollock, I’d repeatedly just skipped him at the Met Museum in New York. Of course I’d been told by Very Serious People what to think about him, but I didn’t really think it for myself. After Room 7 I understood more of the whys and wherefores of a kind of rupture with realism that I didn’t really appreciate before. A rupture and yet a bridge explaining how an aesthetic can comfortably contain both John Singer Sargent and Jackson Pollock. A link I feel I’d be poorer without – especially because, for me, it was through that linkage that the conceptual works follow. In a comment at the LoOG I wrote, “I suppose this is how religious people feel when they tell atheists they’re missing something by not having faith.” and having written several hundred more words on the topic I still have that feeling.

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), Jackson Pollock (1950)

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