Three woodcuts from the Secession art magazine, Ver Sacrum, 1903. You can page through the entire year’s issues here. This endless Vienna Werkstatte design fest in The Nibelungen better not last much longer, or I will be tempted to run through the available stock on ebay…
It’s been there for four years, but yesterday was the first time I’d seen it: the Wisteria Room, created by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer. According to the info plaques, wisteria flowers are associated with welcoming. The room was created for a French engineer, a connoisseur of art nouveau. The lighting in the installation is not this bright, and it is difficult to get a sense of the wonderful color of the murals. Fantastic, nevertheless!
Nothing political here: The POUM is long gone. Just me doing pilgrimage to some architectural sites/sights that I’ve been waiting to see for a very long time. Visiting the Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí was top of the list.
This pretty girl is wearing a dress that seems to fade into the reptilian roof structure on top of the house. Inside the attic story, where the servants lived and worked, we see the narrow parabolic arches that show up in so much of Gaudi’s work. It’s hard to see, but on the sides there are vents that allow light and air in no matter what the weather.
The center of he tall and narrow house is an air and light shaft with a small elevator, all tiled in glorious color. The curvy window frames are equipped with triple louvers below that can be opened to regulate the air circulation.
The house was innovative for its time in having piped water and electric lights. In this picture, you can see that he wasn’t going to simply substitute electric bulbs for the old fashioned gas burners. No, he slits the ceiling as though it were of fabric (or skin?) and nestles the lights within.
Barcelona has a lot of interesting things, including a vacuum system for whisking away trash. You drop your separated trash into one of two fixtures, and it is sucked into underground pipes and to its final disposal site. No noisy and dangerous garbage trucks rolling down crooked narrow lanes in the medieval core of the city which is a huge tourist zone.
Other architectural styles are present besides the medieval and Catalan modernismo: here we see a building that is heavily indebted to Otto Wagner, a contemporary in Vienna.
Modern stuff too: a skyscraper that looks like a…cucumber? The architect thinks it evokes a geyser of water. And a needle by Calatrava who designed the monument to NJ commuters that is being built in the World Trade Center site.
A quick subway trip uptown to indulge my preoccupation with shoes and whatnot (I’m heading out for a ten-day vacation abroad, and I want my feet, the man-earth interface, properly shod) and I find myself debouching from the R-Train right on Lower Broadway, across from one of my favorite NYC buildings! It’s called the Little Singer Building to distinguish it from the skyscraper, for a while, the world’s highest, that is no longer with us. A blast from the past of consumer culture, right out of Paris: the curving Art Nouveau ironwork brings to mind Galeries Lafayette, the great 19th century department store. (More on the buildings here and here.)
Walking around the area puts one in the center of the tourist, chi-chi, consumer maelström, and it can be overwhelming, but I soldier on. As I put on my own consumer hat, I chuckle at the thought of my current reading, a fabulous study of the origins and nature of consumer culture. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism is a rich and complex analysis that takes off from Weber and ends up at the mall. The author disposes of the simplistic explanations of consumerism – instinct, manipulation by élite conspiracy, or variations on Veblenesque emulation – and locates the origins of our culture in the latter 18th century (Not much controversy there, think Josiah Wedgewood and his factory, embodying Adam Smith’s dicta on the division of labor. The two were friends, and Darwin later married into the family. So many cultural cross-currents at that point in time and space!) and links the ‘spirit’ of our consumerist age to the mutations of protestant theology and the cult of sentimentality. His argument is brilliant – not sure if I’m convinced yet, but his approach to the questions is the best I have ever come across.
The book is not for casual reading as it is assumes a wide knowledge of 18th century European, especially British, culture, and it makes a very involved and dense argument about religion and culture. I will try to post a summary of it once I have finished it and digested it somewhat. Meanwhile, I consume, calm in the knowledge that I must be of my Age, even if I repudiate its values in many ways. “I shop, therefore I am,” may not apply to me, but shop I must.