Potemkin Quoins of the Suburban Realm

February 1, 2013


I see a lot of this sort of architectural gimcrackery around my neighborhood.  It’s all EPS, expanded polystyrene foam.  The illustration below isn’t all that different from sales materials of 19th century Victorian gingerbread builders, but they used factory-cut wooden ornament. (Sometimes wood posed as structural stone.)


I am especially taken with quoins; I have always liked them, the massive, protectors of the corners of buildings.



Adolf Loos knew it all, and denounced it with his characteristic verve in this essay from Ver Sacrum (1898), Potemkin Village.  He was attacking the new Ringstrasse of Vienna, with its neo (pseudo) baroque splendor.

Yes, literally nail on! For these Renaissance and Baroque palaces are not actu­ally made out of the material of which they seem. Some pretend that they are made of stone, like the Roman and Tuscan palaces; others of stucco, like the buildings of the Viennese Baroque. But they are neither. Their ornamental details, their corbels, festoons, cartouches, and denticulation, are nailed-on poured cement. Of course, this technique too, which comes into use for the first time in this century, is perfectly legitimate. But it does not do to use it with forms whose origin is intimately bound up with a specific material simply because no technical difficulties stand in the way. It would have been the artist’s task to find a new formal language for new materials. Everything else is imitation.

Ver Sacrum, 1903

December 30, 2012

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…


That fabulous face…

October 10, 2010


The only exception I know is the case,
when I’m out on a quiet spree,
fighting vainly the old ennui
and I suddenly turn and see,
your fabulous face.

I Get a Kick Out of You – Cole Porter


An exhibit at The Neue Galerie, that is dedicated to German and Austrian early 20th century art and design branches out from the usual program to bring together the marvelous heads by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, 1736-1783.  A strange fellow – he went mad, it seems.  Certainly, these heads he created were not the stuff of court and bourgeois portraiture of his day.  Ahead of his time?

I have seen pictures and examples of his heads off and on over the years – it was a treat to see so many close up all at once.  The Wiener Werkstatte postcards were nice too.

Harlem Jugendstil

August 2, 2010

Strolling down upper Broadway today, I was struck by the look of this buildings entrance.  The sculpted faces, the gilded ornament, and the intricate art nouveau style ornament which adorns the top portions of the towers at either end of the building – sorry, I couldn’t find pictures of that.

Designed by Emery Roth, a major NYC architect, but in the early part of his career, c. 1910.  Turns out from a web-search that J.D. Salinger lived the first nine years or so of his life here, if you’re a fan.

[Late Note:  NYTimes archived piece on the edifice.  Thanks to this blogger of Ephemeral New York!]

This image is of the Secession Movement’s pavilion in Vienna, c. 1898 I think.


January 5, 2009


I learned of Alfred Kubin from,  where else? Phillipe Julien’s Dreamers of Decadence. There is an exhibit of his work at the Neue Gallery now.  You can see more of his weird images at the gallery site and this review in the NYTimes.  He is not well known in America, and there is hardly anything on him in English I think.  I was surprised to find that he had written a novel as well.  I don’t know how he managed to survive the Nazi regime – how could he not be on their list as decadents to be expunged?