A Kind Mention on ...

Ivan Terestchenko's blog, which is one of my absolute favorites. Can't get enough of it.

Check it out HERE.

James Turrell Jumbles My Brain

I guess I just have minimalists on the brain these days. A few weeks ago I saw this image in a collection of drawings ...

...and thought immediately of James Turrell.

So, in a quest to prove the comparison, I searched online for images and found an article on an irritatingly remote museum dedicated to his work (get to Buenos Aires, fly another 2.5 hours and drive 5.5 on unpaved mountain roads to a vineyard and this museum). But look:


Donald Judd Invented It

I've always loved the work of artist Donald Judd, and coveted his minimal-to-the-point-of-nothing interiors. These are images of his home in Soho at 101 Spring Street (the river's head of all residential loft living); it's preserved as a museum, but unfortunately closed to the public for restoration. It is said to open again sometime this year, and I will be the first in line if I have to sleep on the sidewalk overnight.

I mean, look at this:

Those walls! The texture, the complete lack of woodwork.

An extraordinary dining table, which solves the age old problem of who to put at the head:

And the daybed I would kill for, or maybe pay 65K:

Facsimile of said daybed, which rocked the auction world with its 65K price tag. I'd pay it -- seriously, isn't that just the price of some stupid mid-range flashy car? This definitely has more staying power:

He had the floor surrounding the stair's ascent cut away, to better expose and glorify its form. Smart move. These grease stains, seeping through from the building's past life of industry, drove Donald Judd mad, but I find them perversely lovely:

It kills me with desire:

Images collected here and here.


Balthus, in Lovely Lurid Color

We have a surplus of vaguely boring art world bad boys running around these days, but how many genuine degenerates do we have? I mean, real perverts?

I'm always fascinated by people whose consummate skill manages to nix out any (or most) questions of dangerous character. Though controversy followed Balthus throughout his long career, we kept looking and marveling at his skills of composition and color, jarred, annoyed and disturbed by his choice of adolescent-girl models ... but still, we looked.

He is both easy and hard to love, but unquestionably interesting to look at. These photos of Balthus were taken at his home, the Chateau de Chassy, in 1956:

(Note the claws.) And with his niece, Frederique Tison:

"When Balthus was 38, he took as his mistress the 16-year-old Laurence Bataille; at 48, he chose his stepniece, Frederique Tison, also 16; at 59, he married Setsuko Ideta, age 25. Weber reports all this and more, even Balthus's seduction of his sons' teenage girlfriends and his crude contention that at 13, a girl was 'an old camel,' past her prime."

Yes, it can't be denied; old lech he was.

No defense of his character is possible. It seems inappropriate to say anything about Balthus without acknowledging this.

His taste was particular to the point of crystallization, and he had strong feelings about his surroundings. I searched in vain for images of his renovation of the Villa Medici, undertaken when he was director of the French Academy in Rome; he stripped the rooms to nothing, leaving a barren expanse that resembled the inside of an abandoned seashell. These photos were taken before the Roman years.

At Chateau de Chassy:

"It was often thought that Balthus liked very big houses because he hankered after ostentatious living. But this was not the case. What he liked was very big houses in which he could live almost alone and see no one. If the house was isolated, his happiness was complete."

Like so many things, my first exposure to Balthus' work was through the Art Institute of Chicago. Patience, of 1943:

Those stripes! And the way they terminate at the rail is sublime, almost minimal. I love the painting as a whole, but have found this detail enthralling since the age of six. Ditto the wallcovering in Nude Before a Mirror of 1955, in the Metropolitan.

I also like Nude Before a Mirror because it seems to capture a moment of self-recognition more than a moment of voyeurism. In person its surface is matte, even chalky, and seems to glow from within, like alabaster or live flesh. She is effervescent, aging and evaporating before our eyes.

I don't think Damian Hirst is quite there, yet.


An Afternoon Remembered, Complete with Victorian Photo-Collage

The basement of the Art Institute yields endless wonders -- firstly, they house the excellent Thorne miniature rooms, and tucked away almost like an afterthought (as indeed they were) are the photography galleries. This Christmas I hadn't planned to be in Chicago, but crisis interceded, and allowed me to spend the afternoon wandering the museum with my oldest friend, Kyra (our parents were in Lamaze class together) and discovering these:

Constructed mostly in Great Britain during the second half of the 19th century by women of the leisure class from photographs and watercolors, these pieces illustrate entire social sets in fantastical and bizarre array:

This next one had me laughing uncontrollably, recalling Lady Bracknell's lines from The Importance of Being Ernest: "Mr. Worthing. I must confess that I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred in a handbag, whether it have handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life which reminds one of the worst excesses of the French revolution, and I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to? " --

I could imagine these suitcases being someone's parents. The accompanying text of the exhibit was fascinating, analyzing the subtext of the collages -- heads incorporated into the handles of umbrellas suggests physical contact, a gloved hand's caress on the subject ... racy stuff for Victorians. Though none of the images collected here involve spiders, webs and insects caught within them were a common theme, perhaps relating to the role of women in binding together society.

Fascination with the ideas of Charles Darwin and evolution may have led to these lady-headed ducks:

The watercolors were uneven in skill, but some were stellar -- particularly those of Princess Alexandra (there was a large album of collages lent by Queen Elizabeth).

If you're in Chicago, I regret that the show is no more. However, it has moved to the Met in NYC, and if it's anything like the exhibit in Chicago, I strongly recommend it. Up until May 9th. Find out more here.


Thonet Porn and the Chair That Grew

I'm on a bit of a Thonet kick right now. I don't have any of it, not that it's so terribly precious. Though once, years ago, I was interning for an interior designer who selected a pair of very, very fine early Thonet backless-benches for the foot of a bed. Guest bedroom, mind you -- as I recall, they were 9K apiece.

No matter. Pretty pictures:

Ordering slip, please?

This looks like one of the Eames for Herman Miller promo shoots:

And this table looks positively evil, like it's going to grab your leg, or prance around the room, bucking whatever you put on it onto the floor:

I understand the desire for a sinuous line. And I respect the mechanical innovation and production techniques that Thonet ushered in, but in some ways I wish they'd considered going the way of John Krubsack (discovered here):

He grew his chair entire, and after 11 years of careful pruning and manipulation, he harvested a group of saplings modeled into a chair, with joints "cemented by nature." How charming and ludicrous would this be on the scale of mass production? If the Japanese can have watermelons grown into cubes, I want to know why we can't have trees shaped into chairs. Or tables, or beds. Thonet, I think you are the clear choice for this innovation.

There are people working in this medium today, albeit on a small scale:

What I find interesting about this is that it's clear this chair is never meant to be harvested -- I like to imagine it in a few hundred years, fat and even weirder than it is now.


I'm Part Old Fuddy-Duddy

... which may come as no surprise. My fudd-duddery extends to out-of-date magazines, botany and the most disgusting case of anglophilia (I can hardly be blamed for this condition; Brideshead Revisited played on Chicago PBS in a loop for most of the late 80s. Scarred for life.).

So it's with great pleasure that I reveal something that tickles all three of these fancies:

Lovely, isn't it?

It's Georgian, late 18th cen., a watercolor of Crocus Vernus, most likely painted by a lady of the leisure class. I can't help wondering what drawing room in what country house it was painted in, or what the folio that originally held it was like.

My parents gave it to Steven & I for Christmas last year, though I have to admit some involvement. It blooms endlessly though the winter, and it helps us get through until Spring.

On the reverse:

Funny name, no? Spink is still in business (thank goodness. Founded in 1666, and how sad would it be if something like that closed?), though these days all they carry are coins, metal, stamps and bonds, objects I have little to no interest in. I'd never heard of the place. Then, at the last major RISD Library sale, I picked this up:

Those in the habit of reading World of Interiors (in my opinion, one of the best interiors publications) will recognize the title; Country Life cataloged many of the great English country houses as they fell into disrepair and destruction. Many of Derry Moore's photographs of interiors were first published within. For all of its influence and peerless archive of images, I had never seen an original Country Life. Blah blah, rambling Nick.


I wish I could have shopped there in 1952; unfair! I'd much rather buy Egyptian antiquities or Hogarth paintings than boring coins or stamps.


Who Likes Thonet Chairs? (And My Varda Affair Continues)

Well, I like Thonet chairs, very much indeed. And so did Howard Carter, discoverer of the tomb of King Tutankhamun:

And so did Cléo from Cléo de 5 à 7:

As long as we're there, can we please talk about this apartment? In what appears to be a celestial hayloft suspended somewhere over Paris, Cléo the troubled chanteuse lives. Light everything, yet miraculously the beautiful visual-weight of the beams remains. Remember, this room is from 1962; how fresh and utterly contemporary.

But! All of the furniture is black black black. I love the contrast: the furnishings sit in space like objects, and the room becomes a stage for the actions of its inhabitants. I could never live this way (I like having rooms that talk back, if you know what I mean, rather than recede), but it is an utterly perfect backdrop for the peripatetic Cléo. Here she is in a rare still moment:

Look at the columns on the bed! Nuts. All of the furnishings in the room are antiques (and, I suspect in 1962, on the vanguard of taste -- like buying Paul Evans in the early 90s), but are used in so fresh a way.

I'd stay there a few days, but suspect that even in that short time I'd manage to collect enough junk at the flea markets to sully its purity.


I Like Fuzzy Things

... peaches, mohair, moss and pussy willow. A couple of weeks ago we brought home what looked like a tortured branch shoved in a pot of dirt, with the promise of this:

It makes our living room look so rich and still, these soft, stamen-covered explosions, another few opening each day. I'm tempted to use a phrase Goethe coined to describe something else altogether (architecture), to describe this silent display: "like frozen music."

I really hope we can keep it alive long enough to plant it in the Spring.

When I was a child, we had a pussy willow in our little city backyard in Chicago. It grew next to our garage, which was about a century old. When cars got much longer in the 50s, they just tacked a half-story sort of carbuncle on the back of the garage. How we loved that carbuncle! My neighbor Sophia (who now has a drool-worthy blog) and I used to climb it, and then the low branches of the pussy willow, to sit on the steep roof of the garage. I still remember how warm the roof was in the summer, and the spectacular display of the tree each Spring.

And now in my living room.


My Funny Valentine

The object of my affection, in his prized bespoke Anderson & Sheppard jacket (thank you very much, Connecticut Salvation Army):

Doesn't Steven look charming in our messy living room? Sometimes I think I'm weak in the gift giving department, but I'm pleased with this year's Valentine's offering:

A pair of cast iron heart candy presses, found in factory my friend Paul lives in; I'll keep one on my desk, and Steven can take the other to work. I love how impractical and heavy they are -- if you handle them without care you could get tetanus. Sweet & volatile hearts.


Transient Comforts: Lifted From the Life of Ivan Terestchenko

A recent and amazing discovery in the blog of Ivan Terestchenko has yielded great jealousy, and I proffer these images as proof.

Mr. Terestchenko was traveling in India, and stayed at the Neemrana Fort Palace. Rooftop view:

They offered to let him sleep anywhere, and he asked if he could sleep on the rooftop; they obliged, and raised an exquisite tent:

It was once used by the Maharaja who lived in the palace when he went shooting:

Seriously, who lives like this? Extraordinary blog.


Anna Lynett: Free To Pursue Other Things

Lovely Anna has done quite well on this season of Project Runway, I think we can all agree.

I've gotten many requests for a place to buy Anna's wares, and the best thing is to contact her directly through her website.

She's created so much since the show. Here are a few things:

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