Pop property

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 9.05.45 AM A firehouse with many lives—including an illustrious turn as Andy Warhol’s first NYC studio—hit the market this week for a cool $9.975 million. According to the listing, the 5,000-square-foot space entices developer buyers as a “a blank canvas to create boutique condominiums, mixed use rental, luxury townhouse, or community facility/medical use.” A very different blank canvas than the one Warhol envisioned when he stepped foot inside the brick space, then without heat or running water.

The building sat a few blocks away from the 89th Street townhouse where Warhol had been living with his mother for three years. To remedy the overcrowding of Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans, he jumped at the discovery of the vacant firehouse, most recently occupied by a hook and ladder company. Warhol wrote a letter to the city and offered to pay $100 (the lease he signed sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $13,750).

Concurrent to the move, Warhol decided he didn’t need to fabricate his own work anymore and hired an assistant, Gerard Malanga, to aid his exploration of the macabre in media. “I remember when Kennedy was shot,” Malanga told New York magazine in 1987. “We went back to the firehouse and made a silk screen of Dracula biting a girl’s neck.” Many such “Disaster” paintings began in the firehouse.

In the real estate mode, Warhol simultaneously scouted for spaces in midtown to base his first iteration of The Factory. A crumbling former hat factory on East 47th Street caught his fancy; he covered the walls with silver foil and metallic paint, and opened the Silver Factory in 1964.

The Factory and the firehouse attest to Warhol’s singular spatial aesthetic. “Andy was attracted to the space because it didn’t appear to be your typical artist’s studio, with wood floors and big windows looking out on a grand urban vista,” Malanga said. “It didn’t have that artsy aura. It had, more or less, an anonymous feel to it. You walked into it and you weren’t quite sure what it was or what had gone on there previous.”

Hopefully people now prospecting the firehouse will know what it is and some of what has gone on there.

Bold as brass

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.50.12 AM.jpg The world mourns the untimely passing of Dame Zaha Hadid, the iconic architect whose designs live on in all corners of the globe. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before diving into architecture in London. Through her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, she left her imprint on 44 countries through 950 projects. Far more than her many firsts (first woman and first Muslim to win the Pritzker Prize), she set a non-normative, uncompromising course for modern creativity.

“I don’t really feel I’m part of the establishment. I’m not outside, I’m on the kind of edge, I’m dangling there. I quite like it,” she said last month on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs (for which she opened with Bryan Ferry, These Foolish Things). “I’m not against the establishment per se. I just do what I do and that’s it.”

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And what she did was revolutionary: At the February ceremony naming Hadid as the first woman to win the prestigious British Architects’ 2016 royal gold medal, architect Sir Peter Cook applauded his colleague’s iconic individualism.

For three decades now she has ventured where few would dare… Such self confidence is easily accepted in film-makers and football managers, but causes some architects to feel uncomfortable, maybe they’re secretly jealous of her unquestionable talent. Let’s face it, we might have awarded the medal to a worthy comfortable character. We didn’t. We awarded it to Zaha: larger than life, bold as brass and certainly on the case.

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300 game

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 5.32.55 AM A few years ago, Vince Kadlubek applied for a marketing job at the Jean Cocteau Cinema, an indie movie theater in downtown Sante Fe resuscitated by “Game of Thrones” creator George R.R. Martin (a Santa Fean since 1979). Shockingly, the interview involved sitting down with Martin himself. A foot in the door and then a pitch: Would Martin be interested in helping back his art collective Meow Wolf’s purchase of an old bowling alley? Instead, the fantasy kingpin offered to buy the building and rent it back to Meow Wolf (with another $3 million to pump construction). A scheme cemented.

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On March 17, Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation, House of Eternal Return, opened atop the sprawling lanes. Imaginations (young and old) are welcome to run wild in the 20,000 house, built upon a non-linear narrative of the fictional Selig family, the former occupants who mysteriously up and left leaving food in the fridge and flowers in bloom. Free to roam at will (as Bugs does), visitors stitch together what happened from hypercolor clues, a fantastical romp fueled by snooping.

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The exhibit is one part of Meow Wolf’s reinvention of the site as a community hub. Other elements include a makerspace, educational studios, galleries and a performance venue. A triumph of constructive creativity spawned by page-turning fantasy. Bowling 300 all around.

Park it

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 10.07.25 AM.jpg In the mode of summer scheming, a conversation last night introduced the reality that the national parks will likely be teeming with visitors in honor of their 100th anniversary. Surely a birthday to celebrate but also take heed of; ever the more reason to adventure early. In this special steed: Airstream has paired up with Pendleton—long-time loyalist to the national parks with its so-themed blanket series—on the 2016 Pendleton National Park Travel Trailer (getting cutesy with the centennial, only 100 of these limited-edition trailers have been produced).

Many Pendleton accoutrements accompany the cabin-chic design of the 28-foot trailer, from the custom Pendleton-designed embroidery on the leather banquettes to the Pendleton awning package (army green with primary stripes) and the stash of blankets (and pet bed). An ultra wide hatch makes the back feel almost like a convertible (lunchtime picnics, starlight dinners). Next to the stainless steel cooktop, a map of Yellowstone—the first national park, in my backyard, inviting personal annotation (bison jam here, hot springs hopping there). Too bad the price tag is so formidable (though $1,000 does go to the National Park Foundation). To enable adventuring, I may settle for this spritely towel poncho instead.

Cubano curiosity

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.40.44 PM.jpg As I live vicariously through the First Family, I imagine stopping by one of my favorite art sites in the world: Taller Experimental de Gráfica, a print shop and gallery in Habana Vieja that has been nurturing graphic artists for more than half a century. The workshop was founded in 1962 by mural artist Orlando Suarez with the support of Che Guevara, then minister of industry. The two times I’ve visited the Taller, the expansive space felt electric in its creativity, galvanized even as artists tinkered with antique presses and stacks of prints invited thumbing through, each work on paper more interesting than the next. As I wandered around, my curiosity was mirrored by the artists’ warm welcome. Who are you? Where are you from? What art do you like? Back and forth, sparkly conversation shared in a patchwork of Spanish and English.

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We all stand to benefit from greater exchange with Cuba and the Cuban people, as President Obama underscored in a joint press conference with President Raúl Castro earlier today. “I bring with me the greetings and friendship of the American people. We have a half-a-century of work to catch up on,” Obama said. “Our growing engagement with Cuba is guided by one over-arching goal: Advancing the mutual interests of our two countries including improving the lives of our people, both Cubans and Americans. That’s why I am here.”

Saddle up

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 11.43.28 AM.jpg If you build it, they will come. Two years ago, Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks did just that: They created a cool space for a cool community to stay overnight—not a particularly novel B&B concept, but perhaps for the location: an unassuming block in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Designed with a city loft-meets-hunting lodge-meets-stoop party style and “run by a dream-team of creative bastards,” Urban Cowboy Brooklyn welcomes artsy wanderlust with its communal kitchen and living room, bounty of Pendleton blankets, and even a cabin out back. The shingle-sheathed row house is now a Billyburg staple.

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And it’s bound to fill the same niche in East Nashville: Several weeks ago, Porter and Banks opened Urban Cowboy Nashville in a Victorian mansion they found within two hours of their first scouting trip to the Music City.

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The pair announced the soft opening on Instagram, introducing the concept as: “The design came out of an urge to try something new. To create a magical place, where big ideas come to grow and life-long friends are made. And so it begins…” So we shall see (and stay).

Sea the light

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.05.55 PM Well done, SeaWorld. A necessary sea change. No longer black(fish)listed from my FL itinerary.

Without a critical mass of informed and energized people, humanity will never make the difficult decisions that are necessary to halt and reverse the exploitation of wild places and the extinction of wild species.

Joel Manby, President and CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment

Kick start

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.56.02 AM.jpg The hotel that Kickstarter (re)built. Owner Greg Hennes crowdfunded $107,000 to revive a rundown 1910 landmark at the base of the snowcapped Wallowa Mountains. Now, the Jennings Hotel boasts three design-rich rooms (and counting), like Room Two, a serene space suffused by loft light, downtown views and chic finds, inspired by the Danish concept of hygge (loosely, coziness), the work of Ashley Tackett (not to mention the whole situation sits across the hall from the stylish sauna). Despite the interior allure, the Jennings' proximity to the natural playground of this remote patch of the Pacific Northwest is its primary draw (i.e. pack gear).

Ever the hermit though, I imagine kickstarting a book in Room Two, bundled up in this warm number by PNW darling Bridge & Burn, to the boombox soundtrack of cassette tapes pulled from the supplied collection. Consider me applied for the residency...

Ashes to dust

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 7.01.29 PM.jpg Date stamp: 1977. The Cold War raged on. Nuclear war felt like a real possibility. Unemployment was skyrocketing. The planet seemed to be dying. Amid the gloom, British sculptor David Nash offered a gesture toward a brighter 21st century: He planted a ring of 22 ash trees close to his home in Wales and sculpted their growth through fletching (a technique of bending, staking, slicing V-cuts). He made the commitment to stay with the sculpture over time, over 36 years and counting.

Some urbanites balk at Nash’s treatment of nature, abiding by the "Don't touch!" principal of environmental sensibility. But he sees his "site-appropriate" art within the practice of rural agriculture, of people working the earth. "Part of the point was that nature actually gets on very well when a human being is caring for it and lives with it," Nash said in a 2001 Sculpture Magazine interview.

And that care comes through: Nash likes to think of people who know nothing of his work stumbling upon his sculptures. "I hope they will get a sense of the light touch, that there is something here that serves as a stepping stone for the mind into the continuum of that particular place," he said. "To varying degrees, we spiritualize material by our work with it. Unconsciously we are creating a language that another human being can pick up on. We connect to the spirit quality that has been put into it."

An act of connection, an act of faith: Nash and his wife welcomed the millennium within the halo of Ash Dome.

Twist turn

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 2.10.33 PM.jpg A rusty loop draped across a hillside outside Rotterdam, designed by Dutch firm NEXT Architects. The stairway climbs toward an unhindered view of the horizon and skyline, and then descends upon the tram track taken by commuters. Designed to defy, the installation emulates the Möbius strip, a continuous surface with no top or bottom.

“When used as a path, it suggests a continuity, but crossing that path is—at least physically—an impossibility,” the architects told Arch Daily. “It’s that kind of ambiguity that we recognized in the inhabitants of this suburb: mentally they still feel very much connected to their mother town Rotterdam, but in daily life they are definitively disconnected. With the Möbius strip stair, we offer them a glimpse towards the Rotterdam skyline, but to continue their trip, they have to turn backwards, facing the context of their everyday life, Carnisselande."

Ergo the title, “The Elastic Perspective,” and the notion of an elastic self visually linked yet stretched from the city. An urban identity so close yet so far away. A rubber sense of belonging.

Rain bow

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 4.56.00 PM A brave recital today: 24-year-old Syrian refugee Nour Alkhzam played a grand piano in a muddy field at the Idomeni refugee camp. She performed for 20 minutes in the pouring rain, under a plastic sheet, held up by the concert’s coordinator Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Ai brought the white piano to the Greek-Macedonian border camp as a brief beacon of artistic opportunity amid the dismal conditions facing the 12,000 refugees stuck at Idomeni.

It was the first time Alkhzam had touched a piano in three years.

“It tells the world that art will overcome the war,” Ai said.

Bright façade

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 4.02.43 PM Impossible to ignore: 14,000 life vests, collected from refuges fleeing from Turkey, wrapped the columns at the Konzerthaus concert hall in Berlin. Ai Weiwei created the temporary installation last month for the Cinema for Peace gala, for which he served as the honorary jury president.

A bright memorial of a dark plight: this year alone, more than 400 refugees have died while attempting the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. Ai collected the life vests from the northern shore of Lesbos, a tragic stockpile he documented on his personal Instagram account during his first visit last December. He has since opened a studio on the Greek island.

"What a waste. To put life in this jacket," he said. "It's not necessary. We can provide a better, safe passage for those people."

“As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles. I never separate these situations from my art.”

Ruin redux

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 2.45.02 PM A tower rising from detritus. Urban unison restored?

A former station in Lille, France has become the latest depot for Detroit-based artist Scott Hocking. “Babel,” his site-specific installation for the Lille 3000: Renaissance festival earlier this year, explores the cycle of ruin within cities—without judgment.

“Why do we look at some ruins with reverence, and see others as failures?,” Hocking has said. “Why can’t we realize that we’ve been creating things since the dawn of time, making structures and objects with our hands, and at some point they decay, at some point the civilization that made it fails, at some point the city in which it was made disappears? It’s not the end—there’s never an ending. So maybe there’s a certain countering to the idea that this is the end of something, that this is a failed city, or a failed industrial age. I just see it as a constant cycle that we’re in the middle of. I just try to find the beauty in all the stages.”

A profound platform. All aboard.

Auto did act

Scott Hocking  "Ziggurat, East" by Scott Hocking (Summer 2008), a mixed media installation and photo project, paired with Hervé Léger’s Nichola cropped jacket. Abandoned sites are canvases for Detroit-based Scott Hocking. Vacant for 20 years, Fisher Body Plant 21 felt more like a cave than a former car factory with stalactites falling from the ceiling from years of leaks and neglect. Stripped clean by scrappers, the factory offered Hocking only one sculptural medium (beyond space): Millions of wooden floor blocks, rebuilt as a monument to buckled ambition.

"In Detroit, going into an abandoned auto factory is my walk in the woods," Hocking has said. "It’s the closest I can get to the top of a mountain peak—the top of a building. This is where I get my sense of wildness—my satisfaction in nature." Roads diverged.

Of a feather

"The common SENSE (the animals)" by Ann Hamilton at SITE Sante Fe paired with Dsquared2 feather top.             



A favorite stop in 2015: Ann Hamilton's installation at SITE Sante Fe. Extinction in action: A room populated by ghostly animals, already memories. Coveting encouraged, images copied on newsprint pads, inviting rippage, each tear pushing the printed species closer to erasure. Timid at first, we got greedy (despite the glares of other gallery-goers) and tore off a zoo that now lies in piles, waiting for domestication on my wall. The guilt lingers, as it should.

Rapt sight

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Ellsworth Kelly, a solitary visionary of 20th century abstract art, died on Sunday at the age of 92. Here, his installation for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which NY Times art critic Holland Cotter described as “one of his most moving installations, though,..one of his quietest.” All white, “Memorial” centers on a fan-shaped form facing a triptych of rectangular panels – a dynamic suggesting a dove rising above closed windows. A perfectly concise visual memorial to so many lives lost – and now his.

We are left with his wonders – including the yet-to-be-built Austin structure – and his words. “I think what we all want from art is a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living,” he told The Times in 1996. “This is an illusion, of course. What I’ve tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep art an open, incomplete situation, to get at the rapture of seeing.” The rapture of seeing through his eyes will live on in his art.


Starry night

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 6.43.27 PM  A star is born in mainland Penang, Malaysia. Steel cables – aglow in more than 500 meters of LED lights – pierce through a four-story cement building, a celestial jax in an urban nocturne. “The Star” is the “low-tech materials meets high-tech application” work of Malaysian artist Jun Hao Oan for the 2015 Urban Xchange public art festival in Penang. With stars twinkling from treetops this time of year, this colossal intervention feels like a welcome expansion to the luminary lexicon.