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Archives: November 2008

Backlash Against ‘Counter-Terrorism Design Competition’ Blows Up, Gets Big


We could tell that the UK government’s launch of the Counter-Terrorism Design Competition was going to create some complaints, so much so that we included some of the early dissent when we reported on it last week. And once again, our crystal ball was correct, as architect Piers Gough has come out against the “design out terrorism” contest publicly, bringing with him name designers and architects from places like Cambridge and the Glasgow School of Art. In their opinions, the contest does nothing more than foster a “culture of fear” and would pass the buck to citizens should some act of terrorism actually happen (essentially “You designed it, so don’t blame we government types for everything that went wrong!”). Here’s a bit:

“This creates an atmosphere of complete authoritarianism,” said Donald. “It can only have a negative effect both for designers, who find themselves subsumed by yet more regulations… and for society at large, which is increasingly forced to accommodate the culture of fear.

“Counterterrorism is being normalised as part of the design process. When you start fort-ifying public space like this, you wave goodbye to a free and open society.”

With Rich Collectors Buying Less, Damien Hirst Lays Off Most of His Staff


Okay, here’s one “the economy is bad” story we doubt anyone was expecting, particularly us. Thanks to ArtInfo, we were pointed to the news that Damien Hirst has decided to lay off almost all of his staff, surprising the lot of them, despite a representative saying this was all pre-planned. What seems bizarre about all of this, of course, is that Hirst has lately been on a selling streak, handing off work as if he were trading in bricks of gold for cash. So maybe it is just coincidental timing, but the Guardian did manage to squeeze this bit out from him:

Last week, Hirst admitted that art had probably become too expensive in recent years and said he welcomed the prospect of selling his work at cheaper rates in the present climate of recession.

United Nations HQ to Undergo $2 Billion Renovation

UN HQ.jpgWe admit to watching The Interpreter on mute to better scrutinize the threadbare Modernist zeal of the United Nations headquarters, situated on 18 acres worth of Manhattan. Now comes word that—like many an aging star after a close-up—the 56-year-old UN HQ is gearing up for a face lift. Slated to begin early next year, the five-year, $2 billion renovation will “strip the the [39-floor Secretariat] building down to the pure, flat surfaces that made it innovative when it opened, while replacing the outdated innards like air-conditioning, lighting, wiring, and plumbing,” notes The New York Times. And so it’s out with the asbestos and in with the photovoltaic cell-studded glass, but what about all that art?

Large items affixed to the walls of the Secretariat will be encased in their own structures with heating and air-conditioning while the rest of the interior is exposed to the elements. These include…two large murals by the Cubist artist Fernand Léger, who was eventually barred from the United States for his association with the Communist Party. President Truman, on first spotting the murals, is said to have commented that one looked like a bunny coming out of a hat, and another a fried egg.

Happy Wayne Thiebaud New Yorker Cover Week!

TNY thiebaud.jpgWe’re known more for our voracious appetite for books and periodicals than for, say, braised baby octopus with black trumpet-truffle purée and herb de provence-infused red wine-ink sauce; nonetheless, we await with delicious anticipation The New Yorker‘s annual food issue—not simply to savor tales of Calvin Trillin‘s intrepid culinary quests, but for the prospect of a mouth-watering cover painting by artist Wayne Thiebaud. This year’s food issue (dated November 24) doesn’t disappoint. With his distinctive frosting-like brushwork, Theibaud whipped up “Harvest Display,” an autumnal farmers’ market spread that includes a squad of well-executed watermelons and tenderly rendered gourds. Meanwhile, inside the issue, Todd Oppenheimer profiles chef-turned-Master Bladesmith and knife designer Bob Kramer. Why did he decide to leave the kitchen? “I decided I wanted to make something that lasted longer than a meal.”

Philippe Starck Downsizes Louis Ghost Chair

ghost family2.jpgFinally, some downsizing we can get behind: Philippe Starck has created a version of his iconic Louis Ghost chair that is fit for Napoloen—or, you know, children. Known as the Lou Lou Ghost (pictured at right and below, en famille), the new baby version of the Kartell classic stands just under 25 inches tall and is crafted of the same transparent or smooth batch-dyed polycarbonate that you loved in the original (and the cherry hue known as “Kartell red” is perfect for the holidays!). Notes Kartell’s website, “Lou Lou Ghost has inherited its progenitor’s classic design, material, indestructibility, and ergonomics, teaching children to use small-sized chairs but with adult forms.” And at about $130 each, Lou Lou’s a bargain compared to Vitra’s my-first-Eames-lounge, a limited-edition moulded plywood chair that retails for just under $600.

ghost family.jpg

Don’t Get MAD at MoMA, Get Even

(Thomas Loof).jpg“Oh, no she didn’t!” Rare is the magazine story about a museum that elicits this response, but the new Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) is known for heightening emotions, and well, we couldn’t help ourselves. Toward the end of the feature on MAD in the December issue of Travel & Leisure (complete with incredibly beautiful photos by Thomas Loof), writer Leslie Kamhi highlights the focus on process that sets MAD apart. And then talk turns to toasters. “We probably wouldn’t have a basic toaster in our collection,” explains MAD director Holly Hotchner. “But if we did, we’d have the prototypes and the drawings, and perhaps a film of the artist talking about how it came to be and what forces at the time moved the piece in that direction—whereas MoMA’s design department would put it on a pedestal and declare, ‘this is an important toaster.’” Oh, snap!

Designer Marc Jacobs Pays $1 Million to Get Out of Bribery Charges


Off of museums now and onto fashion where designer Marc Jacobs will soon have one million less dollars after he and his company have agreed to pay a fine to the city of New York stemming from his connection to bribery charges in securing a regular spot at the 26th Street Armory for his fashion shows. This, of course, is punishment for agreeing to pay the bribes to James Jackson, the manager of the city-owned space, who demanded additional money from anyone interested in using it to host an event, something he’s now looking at a possible 15 years in prison for. Here’s a bit:

The $1m payment in settlement of the legal action will go to New York state. In addition, the company has agreed to allow its operations to be monitored for two years by an outside firm.

New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, said that tough action had been taken to protect the reputation of the fashion industry. “New York City is a global epicentre for fashion and cultural events, and we will not allow corruption and greed to tarnish one of our most lucrative industries.”

More Options for Don Fisher’s Presidio Museum


And finally on this Monday morning museum news round-up that we’ve somehow found ourselves writing, here’s a little more to follow-up on our report last Thursday about Don Fisher‘s battle with the Presidio Trust over building his museum. The San Francisco Chronicle was on the scene at last Wednesday’s meeting where it was decided that Fisher’s museum must be broken up into smaller pieces if he wants it built at all (and even then things might not happen, but that was the first message the Trust wanted to establish). The paper reports that, in addition to possibly doing this breaking up, another option has popped up, involving a move from the current spot Fisher would like the museum to exist in to another, just off the main focus of the Presidio’s parkland, which might allow for the whole thing to be kept in one piece. This, currently, seems like the option that most of the Trust would be willing to talk about further (as well as the opinion of the Chronicle):

This is the location that all along has felt right — in the Main Post but slightly to the side, showing deference to what exists. There’s more space to work with, allowing room for a range of designs that can play off the terrace’s bowl-like setting against low ridgelines.

Two possible layouts shown at the hearing conform to national standards for new buildings in historic settings. One placed most of the museum in a barlike rectangle perpendicular to Moraga; the other broke it into a set of structures connected by breezeways or tunnels.

Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Hits Rock Bottom, Eli Broad Steps In to Help Save the Day


On the other side of the country, another museum wasn’t losing a director but was also having a very busy, scrambling weekend. First, Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art announced that most of their endowments had all but dried up, leaving them with hardly any operating budget and many concerns over what to do next to keep the museum afloat. Later, California’s attorney general, Edmund Brown Jr., decided that this sudden loss of finances was something worth investigating. Why, we’re not entirely sure, but we’re guessing that it’s because this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. And last, just yesterday, Eli Broad popped up, fresh off his announcement of wanting to open his very own public museum, and said in an op-ed for the LA Times that he’d be happy to donate $30 million, as long as everyone else usually involved with giving the museum a few bucks here and there also pitched in. What will happen in the long run is anybody’s guess, given the financial crisis affecting every other possible business, but with Broad on board, it seems like a better than average fighting chance. Here’s a bit from his plea:

MOCA is one of our city’s cultural treasures, and it would be tragic both for the cultural health and civic reputation of Los Angeles if this institution ceased to exist. Not since the creation of Disney Hall has a civic issue arisen requiring the bold leadership and collective support of Los Angeles.

We came together to save Disney Hall. We can do it again.

Revolving Door: Cooper-Hewitt Director Paul Warwick Thompson Turns in Resignation


Big news afoot at the Cooper-Hewitt. It was announced late Friday that the museum’s director, Paul Warwick Thompson, has decided to resign and will be leaving in August of next year to become the president of the Royal College of Art in the UK. Having been in his current role since 2001 and overseeing a lot of the building boom surrounding one of the few Smithsonian institutions that has grown rapidly over the years and hasn’t suffered from things like its leads getting busted for improper spending, the Cooper-Hewitt is now starting up a search for who to replace Thompson. Here’s a bit:

“Under Paul’s leadership, the museum has made great strides with respect to exhibition programming, collection access and educational outreach,” said board chairman Paul Herzan. “Moreover, he developed a solid strategic plan for Cooper-Hewitt, including an ambitious and much-needed expansion, which positions the museum for more positive growth.”

“An extremely dedicated, strong and inspiring leader, Paul infused new talent and energy into the museum and brought the institution wholly into the 21st century,” said trustee John Maeda. “As a trustee, it has been especially gratifying to work with Paul in positioning Cooper-Hewitt on a national stage and I look forward to continuing to build on the solid foundation he has laid for the museum.”