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S K Y L I N E | House Hopping in the Hamptons
Plus the Armory Show, a floating Brooklyn opera, and a choir breaks out of Storefront
After a brief hiatus, NYRA’s regular helping of news and views is back—and in a slightly tweaked format. First up, a series of “diary”-style entries look at a handful of art and architecture events in and around New York. Next are dispatches from panel talks, followed by a few capsule reviews of a building sale, a museum installation, and … sidewalks. Some news clippings and a robust events list round out the contents. Enjoy.
OUT & ABOUT
Dog Days of Summer
The climate-conditioned glass box known as the Javits Center was a welcome respite from the sweltering conditions outside. The last time I was here was for the International Auto Show. This time it was for the Armory Show. Neither were helping the climate.
My press pass blinked green as I tapped an oversize entry terminal. My neighbors blinked blue. “Different types of tickets,” I was told by the usher. Art fairs are all about access. They are, maybe, about art.
By the entrance was a large-mirrored Robert Indiana sculpture that spelled out “love in Hebrew,” according to the bored-looking gallerist, a derivative of the pop artist’s Love in English sculpture, according to a bored-sounding me.
In the oblong “platform” area anchoring the fair, I stopped by the Pommery Champagne Lounge, where a friend who works for the fair had popped a bottle of champagne for “sponsors,” only for them to leave and drink none of it. I stepped in to help. Asked “what the vibe was,” another employee of the fair offered, “I feel like art fairs have been doing so bad but this one is going well.” I wasn’t totally convinced.
In the VIP lounge I told the attendant at the Editions de Parfums Frédéric Mallé activation that I wanted a crisp masculine scent. “French Lover,” he responded as he searched through a disorganized array of bottles. “Can you believe all of these used to be in a line?”
Lost in a champagne sea of figurative flotsam and abstract jetsam, I finally stumbled upon art that affirmed my own taste, which we’ll call a mix of “Adbusters” and “institutional critique.” In the easy-to-miss Not-for-Profit section of the fair, Stephen Morrison’s Dog Show #2: Odds of Continuation at The Invisible Dog booth, seemed to be the only art to have used the fair itself as inspiration.
Uncanny Madame Tussauds–style effigies of a suit-clad exhibitor (complete with an Armory exhibitor pass), two art handlers installing one of Morrison’s own paintings, and a pair of posh collectors, blended in with the fair patrons surrounding them. The twist? They were all dogs. Anthropomorphic dogs. “I was here for thirteen hours,” said Morrison, unusual for featured artists at the fair, who often don’t attend. Asked about sales, he suggested I talk to his gallerist, but offered “I pre-sold the two big paintings” and “I hear people mainly like big things.” And dogs. People like dogs.
The Water Isn’t Fine
“You are all good people, aren’t you?” asks Citizen Scientist #1 of her audience in Newtown Odyssey. The new opera, a collaboration between artist Marie Lorenz, composer Kurt Rohde, and writer Dana Spiotta, is designed to take place on the shores of Newtown Creek, the heavily polluted estuary separating Brooklyn from Queens. Last Friday’s dress rehearsal, however, was held at Amant, an arts organization located in an industrial stretch of East Williamsburg. Stylish European jetsetters in town for Armory rubbed shoulders with local artists, including Priscilla Stadler, whose zine, Tales from the Creek: The Adventures of Mollusca (Call Me "Mo") Mussel, narrates Newtown’s remediation by way of a sentient, chatty bivalve. Earlier in the afternoon, members of the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) facilitated a “learnshop” about the history of the area (in the early twentieth century, the creek saw more cargo traffic than the entire Mississippi River) and the programs they’ve developed in support of its revitalization: rain gardens, native plant cultivation, educational tours, and political advocacy.
Set alongside the learnshop and Adventures of Mollusca, Newtown Odyssey seems ambivalent about the future of human occupation along Newtown Creek. At times, the show turns acerbic, as when Citizen Scientist #1 interrupts a monologue consisting of data read at random from an iPad to chide operagoers for parachuting into the creek where she herself is an interloper. Still, other eminences implore the crowd to stay: a pair of real estate developers hypes the kombucha (“bio-fermented, right from the creek / Organic, unfiltered!”) served by the faux-post-industrial bar at their new luxury development (“Rich people need housing too!”). Spiotta’s libretto pulls language from community board meetings, developer decks, and research on toxins in urban soils distributed by the NCA. More than reportage, the opera is an unsettling meditation on desiring connection to a noxious site. “Give me ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shore’,” entreats an animistic “Creek Being,” coyly citing Emma Lazarus’s poem for the Statue of Liberty. But that wretched refuse is no longer “your tired, your poor,” etc., but “bristle worms, mussels, and cormorants.”
Running just under ninety minutes, Newtown Odyssey is a short for an opera, but dense with repeated phrases and crosstalk that accumulate like the fifteen feet of sludge that sits atop the estuary’s base. During the learnshop, Patricia Hernández, who oversees Amant’s public programming, noted that she felt keenly aware of the layer of particulate on her skin following a boat trip up the creek. Days after attending the rehearsal, I felt similarly marked by the opera’s thickly sedimented opening refrains: “Don’t be scared / Don’t touch the water / Don’t get in the water / Don’t drink the water.” —Ben Barsotti Scott
“You’re not allowed to ask about cost!” said Charles Renfro. The architect, splendid in white linen suit and floral shirt, was speaking to critical eminence Paul Goldberger in the outdoor amphitheater at East Hampton’s Guild Hall in late August; at least implicitly, he was also addressing the audience, some fifty-odd culture vultures and design minds who had descended on the venue to hear the pair discuss Goldberger’s new book, Blue Dream and the Legacy of Modernism in the Hamptons. Its subject—the price point of which was not to be discussed—is in fact a house, recently completed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro on nearby Two Mile Hollow Beach for businessman Robert “Bobcat” Taubman and his wife of four months, Caroline Summer. A dunelike earth form topped partially by low-density composite (“like a surfboard,” as various members of the Taubmanian retinue repeatedly pointed out), the building was partially inspired by the work of Eero Saarinen, whom Taubman had identified as a favorite at the project’s inception more than five years ago (a timeline that prompted another running gag referring to DS+R’s famous conceptual design “Slow House”). Following the live conversation, the speakers and select guests repaired to the titular azure fantasy, enjoying a charming poolside dinner followed by a personal tour by Renfro, showing off the fairly dizzying warren of egg-like chambers and concealed staircases, as well as custom towels bearing the words “Blue Dream” in a trippy neon typeface that may (or may not!) have reflected the name’s narcotic associations. Only once did Renfro appear to stumble on a tricky bit of interior balcony. “It’s like a prison,” he said. “A really pretty prison.” —Ian Volner
Last month, Hamptons 20th Century Modern, a nonprofit “promoting greater awareness and conservancy of residences designed in the modern American vernacular on Long Island, New York,” invited locals and tourists alike to join the cause in person, on a tour of four homes plus a synagogue. Exactly why these modern homes were in such dire need of awareness and conservancy became clear as we marched with valor through the works of Andrew Geller, Norman Jaffe, and Harry Bates: they’re simply too small for the Hamptons of now.
“I think people are sort of overdoing their vacation houses,” the architect Forrest Frazier told me, referring to the mega-mansions cropping up in the area. We were standing inside Andrew Geller’s whimsical Antler House, which Frazier’s office restored in 2019, going back to the original 1968 drawings to recover funky details like the owl’s eye windows. It’s on the market for $2.7 million. In the eyes of prospective buyers, the land is more valuable than the architecture. For the house to be preserved, Frazier mused, it would have to be moved to the side of the property, making way for something grander. Thus, what was once a main house becomes a guest house, a pool house, some idiosyncratic addition to a much larger plainer estate.
It would be a fitting fate. The Antler House seems like a treehouse already, packing three stories into a very narrow footprint. There’s even a spacious alcove above the stairs perfect for making blanket forts, which is what the current owners’ children were up to when we strolled through. Without the children present, the alcove’s purpose would be a puzzle the average visitor, and this ambiguity delighted me. The joy of Geller’s homes is their interest in what isn’t obvious. They pose questions: How many rooms can you stack on top of each other? How many corners can you trick into one wall? How much life can you get out of a space?
But this curiosity isn’t something obscene wealth is interested in; in fact, it seems almost bored by it, its stresses and fears so alleviated that all joys are more expected than discovered. To build for the extremely rich, it turns out, is mostly to demolish, to flatten a charming oddity and set up a fortress in its place, or what would be a fortress if it weren’t so transparent. Curiosity, or really joy, can’t survive when everything is already on display. The dullness of the present-day Hamptons architecture stuns in its excess.
There are no false pretenses of lesser wealth in the restorations Hamptons 20th Century Modern is keen to promote, though. If anything, the campaigners merely celebrate those for whom having a house is a hobby. Houses built with hidden staircases and tucked-away beds and rooms that turn into other rooms are defiantly unfit for aging, temporary by design. Should you die in a playhouse, it probably won’t be on purpose.
The restoration of an East Hampton Harry Bates–designed home seemed most aware of this paradox of philosophy versus experience. Robert Dean, the architect who came into possession of the property, renovated it for his daughter, adding a second wing everyone seemed committed to saying was the sort of thing Bates would have wanted, had he built a larger house. That he had not built a larger house didn’t seem to matter one bit to the current inhabitants.
This is the problem with taking things from the past and trying to live seamlessly in them: many people simply don’t want to. Instead, they jam together a renovation of ideas you theoretically agree with but practically reject. This is most clear in the owner's cars. The modest parking deck Frazier tacked onto the rear of the Antler House serves as decorative storage for kayaks and fishing props; the SUVs parked next to it are simply too big to fit inside. The Bates house, in fact, had been built with no garage. The architect-dad set one up by the entryway in his new design. Curiously, there was a window in which to peek through, something I’ve never seen or even imagined in a garage. Inside sat a Porsche. The purpose of the detail, like everything else in the Hamptons, was obvious. —Lily Puckett
NOTES & QUOTES
Back to Front
WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK — Can we reverse our way into repair? A recent conversation marking the conclusion of a small exhibit at NYU Steinhardt’s 80WSE Gallery suggested we might. Ricky Ruihong Li and Isabelle A. Tan, founding members of the Workshop for Environmental Technik, or WET, reflected on the “counter-archival” impulse that led them to parse and reproduce details from the archives of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. With Keller Easterling drafted in the position of moderator, Li and Tan described how various documents, reports, and images bespeak the agency’s Sisyphean attempts to control water and extend its technical domain. Taking apart these infrastructures at both the diagrammatic and syntactical level is, of course, a very Easterling move, despite the scholar adding little to the discussion. But the procedure comes across as a little too mannered; blinkers on and backing out of the driveway seems a curious way—counterintuitive to the point of cuteness—to address the mammoth questions produced by US military-environmental technologies. Even so, an attunement to the fine grain of the bureaucratic, environmental, and constructive techniques surely can’t hurt. —Harris Chowdhary
Raw But Precise
ZOOM — Tall, phallic buildings fronted by empty plazas and larger-than-life Calder sculptures are back! Or so a viewing of Barbie would suggest. I thought about the summer blockbuster’s (fictional) depiction of the Mattel HQ as curator and author Vladimir Belogolovsky flashed slides of Sydney’s Australia Square during his recent talk for the Skyscraper Museum. When it opened in 1967, the Harry Seidler–designed cylindrical office tower was feted for its innovative use of concrete, putting it in line with other cementitious skyclimbers like the CBS Building in New York and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s DeWitt-Chestnut Apartments in Chicago. (Both were the subjects of presentations hosted by the Skyscraper Museum earlier in the summer.) Belogolovsky, who published a monograph on Seidler nearly a decade ago, discussed the architect’s penchant for concrete, as evidenced by his many Australian projects, as well as a Kuala Lumpur tower. In the post-lecture discussion, Thomas Leslie, an architect and a writer of a book on Pier Luigi Nervi, expanded on the Italian engineer’s influence on the design of Australia Square, which went far beyond his trademark waffle slabs. “The work that Nervi and Seidler accomplished as collaborators can be considered, as Vincent Scully called it, Precisionism. The idea that concrete can both be very raw and precise,” Leslie said. Seidler’s fifty-story tribute to the material doesn’t strike me as raw so much as precise. Of the phallic preoccupations, the two speakers were silent. —Emily Kwok
LAGUARDIA PLACE — “NY kinda sucks these days” was the subtext of AIANY’s 2023 Recipe for a Room, a competition to sketch out spaces that could theoretically alleviate contemporary problems—namely, the continuing mental health crisis and housing problems in the wake of the pandemic. The event, which was sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and hosted at the Center for Architecture, saw twelve architecture students piece together tiny scale models with great care, despite the time limit. Each 8"X 8"X 8" model was a work of art in its own right: a cracked egg, a bird’s nest, a spreading tree, a gender-neutral bathhouse complete with mini hexagonal pool, a cozy nap room with a gossamer cover that could be untied and spread out in the grass. The winner, as selected by a jury of three panelists, was Haochuan (Eric) Feng, a student at Pratt Institute, who was mentored by architect Eric Gering. Eric the younger’s design utilized repurposed cardboard, abandoned fishing nets, and other common waste products to build shelters for the unhoused in the city’s parks. It wasn’t the loveliest of the models, but definitely the most imminently practical, capable of serving New Yorkers most sorely in need of a respite. —Lyta Gold
Cut to the Chorus
KENMARE STREET — Another one of those sudden New York rainfalls briefly threatened to bring down the concluding act of the Storefront for Art and Architecture’s Direct Action exhibition. Back in June, I attended the rousing kick-off event, which highlighted the vocal talents of Francisca Benítez and Rev. Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir. That rainbow ensemble returned to the ’front Saturday evening, only this time dressed in somber prisonlike attire. Just as before, gospel music worked to generate a collective emotional response among attendees, who spilled out into the street when the rain abated. Reverend Billy, of the Lower East Side institution Earth Church, called for a change in the way we describe climate events, howling that “the word disaster…is dead” and compelling the audience “to look for a [replacement] word that is alive.” His backing choir belted out verses like “a tree is the opposite of a cop!” and “I am a snake, I am a lake.” (In addition to organizing the Direct Action series, Benítez served as an alto in the choral.) The spirited musical offering turned the environmental crisis on its head: rather than be steered by top-down solutions tuned to financial markets, the fight for the Earth would stem from an empathetic recognition of every living thing’s “need to breathe.” After an hour, the performers themselves stepped out onto the sidewalk and began parading to an unknown location, marking the closing of the exhibition, but the beginning of a movement. That’s how it felt in the moment, anyway. —Layna Chen
FAST & LOOSE
Going Once, Going Twice
Sold! For a reported $100 million—rather under estimate—to the Sotheby’s auction house: the former home of the Whitney Museum. That building is the so modest yet so grand, and thus so urbane, 1966 Brutalist masterpiece by Marcel Breuer that was also the greatest artifact—due respect to Edward Hopper—in the museum’s collection. After the Whitney decamped to its current dog’s breakfast of a building in the Meatpacking District in 2015, the Breuer was borrowed, and sensitively and expensively refurbished, by the Metropolitan Museum during the rehabilitation of its own aging contemporary art galleries, then used similarly since 2021 by the Frick Museum during its similar renovations. No doubt it’s a finer fate than the place becoming an Apple Store. Sotheby’s, while not an art museum is at least art-worldly; and in 2025 will poetically return from the Siberia of York Avenue to just opposite its original home on Madison, now a flagship Gagosian gallery, and adjacent to an actual Apple Store. Read more.
Ancient Egypt, so strange yet familiar, is a projection screen for every age. A culture wars skirmish was recently fought over the “race” of the Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra. Because the ancient Mediterranean knew no such concept, we may as well ask whether Cleopatra was a Hufflepuff. From Shakespeare to Netflix, we map contemporary anxieties and aspirations onto the shores of the Nile. Flanked by sphinxes and columns topped with Nemescapped faces, Lauren Halsey’s Met rooftop commission bares an ornamental similarity to the museum’s Temple of Dendur, whose Egyptian-looking bas reliefs actually depict the Roman Caesar Augustus. Read more.
It’s easy to mistake them for beautiful, or melancholy. But in truth, they’re more like schoolchildren going about their business as instructed, understanding that that task equals importance, periodically erupting into seemingly impossible angles for reasons more to do with their construction than their constitution. I am using the one outside of my house in Edgewater, Chicago, as my example. The impulse to romanticize sidewalks grows as a counterforce to their seeming mundaneness. They are incidental, necessary, in their way deeply personal, simultaneously public and private, host to what the French writer Henri Lefebvre called “secret rhythms.” Read more.
Come celebrate our new issue tonight in Williamsburg! nyra.nyc/rsvp
What a Ham
The lily is finally gilt to the hilt: the Perelman Performing Arts Center opened near Ground Zero Wednesday morning. It’s a marble box with a purportedly reconfigurable interior (sixty-two different layouts are possible, or so the architects claim). Eric Adams, no stranger to a ribbon-cutting ceremony—not even a “ribbon-connecting one”—was on hand to inaugurate the $500 million complex. The mayor spoke of the affirming virtues of art, offered platitudes about the breaking down of barriers, and enthused about the accomplishments of “the greatest race alive—and that’s the human race.” The jokes write themselves, so we won’t do it for them.
Meanwhile, Adams continues handing out gifts to his friends: owners of large buildings won’t face fines for at least two years after Local Law 97 goes into effect.
In the continued swaggification of New York City, our workaday green mesh trash cans will be replaced with something sleeker and more rat-repellent. They are gray, they are smooth, their perforations start a few inches off the ground so that rodents have a harder time getting into them. Flying rats: coming to an intersection near you sometime in 2025.
Yesterday, Sage and Coombe became the second architecture firm in the United States (and in New York City) whose workers have unionized. A memo posted on the office’s Instagram account suggests firm ownership is skeptical at best—“we are uncertain of the impact of this process on an architectural office of our size and history.” Like the precedent-setters at Bernheimer Architecture, Sage and Coombe partners willingly recognized the union of their workers before they had to take the decision to an NLRB vote. Negotiations to come will reveal the depths of their skepticism. Until then, the firm promises to stay mum.
The fortnight ahead…
Embodied Climates Conference with Pablo Perez-Ramos, Mohamed Ismail, Dana McKinney White, et al.
10:00 a.m. ET | Harvard GSD
At the Edge: New York City's Waterfront with Michael Marrella
12:20 p.m. ET | Cornell AAP
Why the Museum Matters: A Conversation with Dan H. Weiss
6:30 p.m. ET | National Arts Club
Affirmations 2: Material Ecologies with Mireia Luzárraga, Fuminori Nousaku, and Mio Tsuneyama
6:30 p.m. ET | Columbia GSAPP
Culinary Racism and the Small Spaces of Empire with Swati Chattopadhyay
6:30 p.m. ET | Yale School of Architecture
That’s an Interesting Question with Thom Mayne
6:00 p.m. PT | SCI-Arc
Material Valence Symposium with Lola Ben-Alon, Kaeli Alika Streets, and Ronald Rael
9:30 a.m. ET | Columbia GSAPP
A Queen in Bucks County with Kay Gabriel
6:30 p.m. ET | School of Visual Arts
Occupy the University: A Movement Dialogue with Marisa Holmes & Conor Tomás Reed
6:30 p.m. ET | CUNY Center for Place, Culture and Politics
Gallery Talk: The Turned Room with Michael Young
6:30 p.m. ET | The Cooper Union
From Field to Form: Building Materials and the Climate: Constructing a New Future Report Launch with Mae-ling Lokko and Anna Dyson
6:30 p.m. ET | The Architectural League of New York
Existing Conditions: Pawn Shops, Dunkin Donuts, Sweater Factories, and the Bicknell’s Thrush with Trattie Davies
1 p.m. ET | Yale School of Architecture
Buildings, People, Plants with Amale Andraos
6:00 p.m. | MIT Architecture
The Flattening: Why Everything Looks Like Everything Else (And What To Do About It)
with Mark Lamster 6:30 p.m. ET | Yale School of Architecture
The Built Environment, Sustainability and Labor
6:30 p.m. ET | The People’s Forum
Speaking of Oil: What Is Use-Value? with Reinhold Martin
7:00 p.m. ET | e-flux
Future State: Designing the Equitable City with Ya-Ting Liu et al.
9 a.m. ET | AIANY Center for Architecture
Pamphlet Architecture 37 Launch with Catty Dan Zhang
6:00 p.m. ET | a83
Black in Design 2023: The Black Home Opening Night
6:30 p.m. ET | Harvard GSD
Black in Design 2023: The Black Home, Day 2
9:00 a.m. ET | Harvard GSD
The New York Architecture + Design Book Club with Alexa Griffith Winton, Susan Brown, and Juan Jofre Lora
3 p.m. ET | Head-Hi & Untapped
Crisis, What Crisis?! On the Uncertain Future of Art Criticism with Jörg Heiser
5 p.m. ET | e-flux
Black in Design 2023: The Black Home, Day 3
9:00 a.m. ET | Harvard GSD
The AT&T Building: Philip Johnson and The Postmodern Skyscraper with Alan Ritchie and Scott Johnson
6:00 pm ET | The Skyscraper Museum
Bookmaking with Irma Boom and Rem Koolhaas
6:30 ET | Harvard GSD
Questions We Should Be Asking about the Sixers’ Stadium with Inga Saffron
10:00 a.m. ET | Design Advocacy Group
Gender, Space, and National Belonging: The Women’s Mosque of America with Tazeen M. Ali
5:30 p.m. ET | City College Spitzer School of Architecture
Our listings are constantly being updated. Check the events page regularly for up-to-date listings and submit events through this link.
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New York Review of Architecture reviews architecture in New York. Our editor is Samuel Medina, our deputy editor is Marianela D’Aprile, and our publisher is Nicolas Kemper.
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