Friday, May 8, 2015

Have we Met?

How tiresome! The front stairs are all closed off and the fifth avenue facade looks like a construction zone with tent poles. Must be some stuffy little socialite affair. Actually, turns out it was a set-up for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art 2015 Gala , ho hum. No, I was not invited.  And I hadn’t planned another trip to see still more FLW ,(please see last blog post),but, oh well, since I’m in might as well. BTW I’m about half way through Frank Lloyd Wright: a biography by Meryle Secrest. Read about the axe murders and fire just before going to sleep last night. Actually, no, I didn’t sleep, well hardly.

So let us get into some really dreamy imagery. That would include most everything in the Sultans of India, 1500-1700 Opulence and Fantasy. Although, does shooting a disembodied head with a bow arrow count as a dream? Whatever, I couldn’t help staring at this odd little cosmos. Then I’ll take you over to the other end of the building, the American wing, for some Louis Sullivan and his offspring FLW. Let’s stop in a wee cozy gallery to see a charming collection of Robert Motherwell prints and circle back around to gaze upon an awesome Japanese room and end up contemplating Cleopatra’s Needle in the springtime. Done and done.

Detail of Sullivan staircase. Gorgeous, no?
Comfy. I think I could be very happy here.

Is there anything more beautiful in the whole museum than this?

Oh, there’s more of course. I went to the Met two days in a row, filled up a memory card, but that wasn’t even the reason for my trip. It was spring. Isn’t that enough of a reason? No? I’m teasing. Actually the point was nutmeg, I mean the Nutmeg State.

Motherwell, champion of the Abstract Expressionist.

A long way form Egypt.

Springtime in New York. Someone should write a song about it.

We’ll get there. We’ll get there.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wright This Way

Drove to Chicago, all things know, all things know.

But wait. Let’s back up. We’ll start in Los Angeles at Barnsdall Park where the recently renovated Hollyhock House pulled an all-nighter free-for-all; literally, it was open all night and free to get in.  I couldn't resist that plus there’s been a lot of anticipation because the place has been closed for years. It’s Frank Lloyd Wright in his Mayan revival, although, I think that’s a bit superficial. I mean, definitely, you can see the Mayan Temple on the outside but I think the genius of Wright is on the inside.  The interior volumes are thrilling. Maybe that’s just me but I find really thoughtful architecture thrilling. That quality does not translate into photos, I don’t think, but anyway, here you are:

You're welcome!
This is the west facade and those are the living room windows.
This court yard is 180° from the above. 
Inside, at last. The living room with a view of the city on one side and courtyard on the other.

Night view of the courtyard and the eponymous hollyhocks.

Closer and closest.

Dining room and kitchen beyond.

Little did I know, because it wasn't planned at the time, but a short while after seeing Hollyhock House I would see where it all began for Wright in Oak Park, IL.  And just like Sufjan Stevens I really did drive to Chicago (from South Bend, Indiana –a story for another post).  I love to visit Chicago but always in the past have stayed close to The Loop, which is all I knew until now. Of course I knew about Oak Park but thought, oh that’s so far away. It’s really not, although when Wright first moved there all his windows facing north looked to open prairie. That’s hard to picture today. What you can see in his home and his studio is a relentlessly creative mind germinating one idea after another and it continues around the corner and down the street. 

A shot only possible in the winter, though winter is long in Oak Park.

Front and side of FLW Oak Park. The side view highlights the evolution of his thinking and  expanded practice.

Here's the master bedroom and flanking murals. No doubt the Native Am. figures were inspired by the prairie view.

The playroom from both sides. Wouldn't you love to?
Detail of the playroom mural.
I know the broad strokes of Wright’s life but seeing so much of his work all at once really whetted my appetite for more. Actually my interest goes back to my teenage years since I considered the possibility of enrolling at Taliesin. I wish I still had the application materials. My recollection is that the packet was beautifully designed and printed on fine stock. I was a little shocked and intrigued by some of the requirements. There were specific instructions about what to bring to wear, how to dress for dinner, and there was the requirement that each student design and build his own habitation. Actually, I saw some of those little “forts” scattered about the property at Taliesin West in Scottsdale when I visited years ago. 

The studio with it's low overhead drawing boards and soaring central atrium.

The walking tour just around the corner.

Long story short I became a painter rather than an architect but as readers of this blog know I have often combined my painting with architecture. It was gratifying to hear from the tour guide at the Wright home that FLW really preferred art be a part of the architecture rather than a framed pictures hung on the wall. I think architects who feel that way may be as rare as Wright. I don’t understand that but I think that’s pretty true. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Meanwhile Back At The Ranch

Book for sale in the visitor's center. I love the angle of this photo and look: cattle.
It really is a ranch. Fyi you can buy the beef.

Yes,meanwhile back at the ranch…

That’s what they call it, “the ranch”, well, among other things.  I first visited in the 60s, (the 6os! but I was a child,) and I've been back more times than I can remember. But it’s worth it. There’s a lot to see, too much really. Since it’s so well documented in books, online, and elsewhere I've tried to cull an idiosyncratic selection from more than 300 photos taken on this recent trip. Had an excellent tour guide of the upstairs, knowledgeable without being a "know-it-all" and able to speak extemporaneously on every question asked. Oh, and she first visited in 1963 so she has me beat by a few years.

Neighbors? Hearst thought of that and bought all the land you see.
That's La Casa Grande in the center dwarfed by the estate.

So this 10 year old boy takes an 18 month trip through Europe with his mother, a school teacher, remembers everything he saw and at age 60 builds a house recreating that experience. Poster for the movie depicting Hearst and Julia Morgan at work designing and designing.

It's really quite simple. You sell a few magazine and you take some of profit and build a weekend place in the country. Oh, but make that a few million magazines, newspapers, and such and start with an inherited fortune.

Left, an image from the internet and right my snapshot of Hearst' personal bookplate framed and hanging in his bedroom. He really was bookish, read several languages. His mother had been a teacher, remember.

 The sequence above shows what I imagine is the nerve center for William Randolph Hearst because this is the room where he reads his newspapers, probably every other newspaper as well. So he controls his empire from this room. Now notice, we start with a wide shot and finally land on details of the buttress painting. That's contemporary painting, contemporary for the time the house was built I mean. The rest of the ceiling is period Renaissance but when you zoom in on this detail it's a little amateurish don't you think? Oh well, the overall effect is right, the palette is right. Still, I wonder was this a cost cutting measure? Julia's decision or Hearst's? Certainly they could have found better painters. 

This is just a small corner of the library. Yes, a room for the newspapers and this, the library. Interestingly that priceless marble urn front and center fell in the last earthquake and smashed to pieces. A year's worth of restoration and cracks are visible only by looking down inside it.

Above, random shots. I mean really. They're careful to tell you: if you think to photograph it, do, because you won't be coming back the way you came so I'm snapping shots pretty madly. There's hardly time to think and be present in the moment but you do what you can.

Ok, this is kind of interesting. The deco clock and the shoes are in Marion Davies' bedroom. Conveniently located steps from Hearst's room she was his mistress don't you know. Unlike the untalented character portrayed in Citizen Kane Marion Davies not only was a self supporting established actress when she met Hearst but she also paid some of his bills when he was down on his luck late in life. Is that gold statue her? I'll say yes. It's discreetly located off the the side in the back where the building was left unfinished at the time of Hearst's death.

Now, just think of the upkeep. Actually, don't bother; you've got your own problems. The only problem our tour guide had was remembering the term "scaffold" and how to get past it to take us on a tour. So she asked around as we waited a bit and -we're in (!) and looking out to see views like the shot directly above. Swaying palms, the ocean, perfect weather. It's California you know.

I leave you with the famous pools that all visitors want to accidentally fall into and be forced to swim around in circles, leisurely, until being thrown off the property presumably. Unexpectedly and undoubtedly a rare site the Roman pool was drained for maintenance. We learned in the visitor center movie: "Hearst Castle - Building the Dream" that the Roman pool started as a hot tub, was ripped out and replaced with a small above ground pool, then finally they dug this really big hole and got serious, or something like that. The indoor Neptune Pool had this brilliant patch on sunlight reflecting off the gold tiles. And that's how the tour ends. You exit through the pool house. Not a bad way to go.

See the movie if you can. The DVD is cheap and the movie is schmaltzy but not intolerable and it's a start. The whole Hearst Castle business is a growth industry. I feel certain there's more to come, more movies, more products, more kinds of tours. There's even a group called Friends of the Castle determined to, well I'm not exactly sure what they're determined to do but take a look at their site. They've got a slew of interesting pictures of parties they've had at the property, bad plein air paintings, and typical website boiler plate nonsense.

Will you share with me your very own Hearst Castle stories in the comments? 

Thank you!

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