Azure clouds hover above the southeast entrance of Central Park. No, this is not a meteorological phenomenon, but rather a public art installation, a playful inversion of blue sky, white clouds. The plump aluminum panels, perched atop 35-foot-tall steel ladders, are the doing of artist Olaf Breuning in conjunction with the Public Art Fund. Installed in March, Clouds initially offered a color infusion as winter dragged on, and now, as trees bud nearby, the sculpture inspires wisps of wonder and humor. Clouds is based on a photograph Breuning staged in 2008 in Italy. Using cherry pickers and cardboard cutouts, he created a quick installation and documented it on film (for me to borrow, six years later). Keen to reconceive the image, he designed a new cumulus outcropping minus the climb-able cranes. Why clouds? In conversation with Vogue, Breuning suggested, why not? Everybody likes clouds. “There are those moments on a summer day when you’re lying on the grass and you look up and there are clouds,” he said. “I didn’t really think about the clouds; I could have prepared a lot of things to say, but I just now that clouds are recognizable and each person has their own thoughts about them.” Clouds invite the mind to wander, aloft, untethered. And by painting them blue, he channeled an age-old abstraction, the childhood instinct to scribble blue clouds against white skies. “See, my work is as simple as possible,” he said. “When you are a kid, you draw a cloud, and you make it blue. I don’t know why. I think it’s a design thing, and after I made it, I realized, Oh shit, clouds aren’t really blue. But it looks nice, the different colors.” The color puffs on this dress look nice too, camouflaged to a leisurely stroll past public art (before Clouds closes August 24).
I’m feeling the ceiling today. Of place. Of profession. Of person. Coming across Richard Wentworth’s “False Ceiling,” a site-specific installation at the Istanbul Modern in Turkey, gives me hope that I can decide my ceiling's texture. His is one of cultural and intellectual commentary: the books, sourced from Eastern and Western cultures, rest just beyond reach, removed from their purpose as portals to knowledge, removed from the act of reading. His barrier of distance nullifies any of the information printed on their pages. These are books closed to learning, eroded of authority. No longer tomes of truth, they become merely material, forming a permeable, symbolic surface. This Love Moschino dress seems like an exuberant complement to Wentworth: Channeling the pop pows of Roy Lichtenstein, the words stand less for meaning, more for pattern and visual exclamation. Maybe these Wows will inspire you too.
Trees remain on my mind, although technically, this forest outside Kyoto, Japan is not striped by trees, but rather grasses, bamboo. Pathways cut through the swaying stalks, inviting people to stroll or cycle, and discover the small Nonomiya Shrine nestled within. Now is the time to visit: the cherry blossoms pop in April, making for a flora fantasia in Arashiyama. If like a spirit animal, I could have a spirit material, it would be bamboo, and my spirit pattern would be stripes.
Earth Day calls for an eco-minded pairing. No place better fits the bill than Treehotel, an enchanted forest of five treehouses suspended in the conifers of northern Sweden. Inspired by the documentary “The Tree Lover,” Treehotel assuages the modern disconnect from nature by returning guests to their childhood roots of climbing trees and playing in treehouses. Nature, ecology and contemporary design meld in this otherworldly refuge, grounded by a spa, 50s-style pensione and green utilities like hydroelectric power and combustion toilets. Each pod, designed by an acclaimed Swedish architect, offers a unique aesthetic experience: the Mirrorcube epitomizes the minimal environmental footprint of the entire project by being camouflaged in mirrors (an infrared film keeps birds from careening into the walls). I would spend my stay taking in the panoramic views of the Lulu River valley and the cubist kaleidoscope slicing through the treetops, the latter reminiscent of this Helmut Lang sheath.
Sans kids, the festive nature of Easter has lost some of its luster. Hoping to reclaim a bit of that wonder, I looked for places with unique Easter celebrations. In the central highlands of Guatemala, Antigua – a UNESCO World Heritage city founded in the 16th century with the Italian Renaissance in mind – expresses Easter in an entirely different palate – vivid and vivacious (like this Mara Hoffman mini). The sensory spectacle begins by carpeting the streets in color; residents spend hours funneling dyed sawdust, flowers, pine needles, fruits and vegetables into alfombras, which serve as route markers for religious processions. Every Lenten Sunday, the faithful traipse through the city, razing the rainbow in a riotous parade of floats, costumes and brass music. Ephemeral, elaborate, extraordinary: an indelible Easter experience.
His was a voice at once, “classical and familiar, opalescent and pure, able to praise and curse, laugh and cry, fabulate and sing and when called upon, take off and soar…” This is how Thomas Pynchon described Gabriel Garcia Márquez in his 1988 review of “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Márquez died yesterday at 87.
Born on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the eldest of 12 children, Márquez spent his early childhood living in his grandparents’ ramshackle house, a rambling expanse the imaginative boy populated with the ghosts who starred in his grandmother’s stories. Later in life, on the occasion of accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 for his epic “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Márquez described magical realism with humility at humanity: “Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination. For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”
Unbridled believability: the man, his words, his manner. Channeling his fastidious fashion sense – he liked wearing all white from his linen suit to his shoes and watchband – I picture Fermina Daza of “Cholera” wearing this bone shift by Billy Reid in the Aquabar at the Tcherassi Hotel in Cartagena, Colombia. Imagining her in this magical setting evokes a moment from “Cholera,” a sentiment suited to the passing of the person who wrote it. “The Captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintry frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.”
Log cabins and cowboy hats are part of the visual vernacular in Wyoming, my interest in them diluted by their ubiquity. This Joshua Tree installation arrests my ambivalence: Phillip K. Smith III modified a 70-year-old cabin with mirrors and LED lighting to create the illusion of transparency, particularly profound in the arid expanse of scrub brush and desert sand (a profundity referenced in the installation’s name, Lucid Stead). This organza frock channels the installation’s colorful translucence and calm amid extremes. Even though Lucid Stead is no longer open to the public, Smith is busy working on other ambitious artworks: this Friday at Coachella, he unveils Reflection Field, a more elaborate light installation involving five massive, mirrored volumes of light. Computerized color progressions will make the sculptures disappear into their dramatic surrounds. Lucky Coachellians.
A beach and more books than I could ever read: sounds like an ideal Saturday (as my thermometer stubbornly sticks below zero). The serene scene at The Library boutique hotel in Koh Samui, Thailand pairs the lapping sounds of waves with literary-styled amenities: the communal Library stacks tomes alongside DVDs, the beachside pool is dyed as red as the Scarlett Letter, rooms are delineated by page numbers and alabaster sculptures of figures reading pepper the property. If today I woke up in Thailand, I would pad down to the Library in this tunic by Lemlem (a feel-good brand made by traditional weavers in Ethiopia) and spend the day reading, inside the cool confines or outside in sand and sun.
Alchemy is at work in New Orleans in the form of a community arts project called Dithyrambalina. Part sonic playground, part performance venue, part conceptual laboratory, Dithyrambalina nurtures musical architecture in NoLa. What is musical architecture? When community arts org New Orleans Airlift first explored the concept through The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory, the Smithsonian Magazine offered a defining description: “Rigged by a team of musicians, artists, inventors and tinkers to coax novel sounds from salvaged building materials – musical architecture.” The Music Box embedded instruments within the splintered walls of shacks; imagine playing loose planks like organ keys. The magical miniature village, built by more than 25 artists, electrified the neighborhood: 70-plus world-class musicians played the architectural orchestra, for an audience of more than 15,000 visitors. Critics sung its praises: “A breathtaking feat of DIY engineering, a living, breathing, sound-making member of the neighborhood” (ArtNet); and “Bravo to all of the brilliant builders, musicians and visionaries. The Music Box is many dreams come true” (New Orleans Times –Picayune).
The Music Box has since closed, but this year will see its resurrection in Dithyrambalina, a roving village made up of five playable houses set to visit neighborhoods around the Big Easy and beyond (the ultimate goal: to find a permanent site). The first new house is slated to open by late April, hopefully in time for my first-ever trip to New Orleans. I’m packing this Kaarem dress, a piece channeling the alchemic nature of musical architecture.
In college, I wrote my senior thesis – a collection of interrelated short stories – on self-taught/outsider/naïve artists (all those slashes attest to this spectral category of creativity). Such artists share an irrepressible drive to visually express themselves, an instinct epitomized by Leonard Knight. A Vermont native, Knight had been a welder, handyman, auto body mechanic, guitar teacher and painter before he decamped to Slab City, a squatters’ colony on a former military base several hours east of LA. In this lawless land, he built a three-story monolith to his faith, Salvation Mountain – a terraced rainbow made of adobe, straw and umpteen gallons of paint, cloaked in Bible verses and crowned with a cross. He shared his creation with others; visitors summit Salvation by following a golden path. Knight died last month at age 82. Without him, his mountain may languish; the site requires constant maintenance to combat the harsh conditions of the Colorado Desert. Can words help save Salvation Mountain? In 2002, California Senator Barbara Boxer described it as “a unique and visionary sculpture… a national treasure... profoundly strange and beautifully accessible.” I want to go (in this omniscient dress) and add my voice to its preservation.
With pillows of fresh snow outside, I’m dreaming of the desert – the light, the heat, the sand, the expanse. For years, Marfa, Texas has topped my travel list, but I have yet to go. Familiar with the rustic edges of ranching, I want to see a world where working the land lives in harmony with land-based artists. El Cosmico seems like the perfect place to site my daydreaming with its hammock grove, outdoor bathing and porches aplenty. Choosing between trailers, tepees or tents sounds like a fun breed of free will to me (made all the more fun in this Free People frock).