Paul Goldberger, Photo by James Callanan
It’s rare to find someone willing to pay for opinions these days, and rarer still to be known for them. Yet, Paul Goldberger has crafted a career by objectively navigating the subjective. As an arbiter of quality in architecture and design for nearly four decades, he spends a few moments with me to reminisce about the “short break” he took from journalism that led to, among many accolades, the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and, more recently, the Scully Prize.
Andrew Caruso: You’re being recognized this year by the National Building Museum with the Vincent Scully prize. Given your relationship with Scully began when you were a student at Yale, this must be a very meaningful award.
Paul Goldberger: Scully was very much a teacher and mentor to me. Actually my first exposure to him was a high school visit to Yale. I observed one of his classes and was blown away. He was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Yale in the first place and I was lucky to work with him through college and as my thesis adviser.
AC: Do you remember what his class was about that first time you saw him?
PG: I think it was about Lou Kahn, but I’m not completely sure. I must have attended several hundred Scully lectures, so they can blur a little bit. And, I’m afraid high school was a few years ago (Laughs). Architecture had an almost holy aura in that lecture hall. That aura I remember very clearly, even if I’m not completely sure it was about Kahn.
AC: Was writing a passion for you during college?
PG: Yes, writing has always been a passion of mine. I was one of those kids who was the editor of the junior high school newspaper, and so on. For a while I thought I’d pursue a career in journalism, and then I spent a summer in Europe just looking at buildings. I realized that’s what I should be doing. But then I began my career as a journalist and it was only when I realized how much I missed architecture that I began writing about it. Gradually, it was all I was doing.
We talk, endlessly, it seems, about the impact of technology on our lives, our relationships, our work, and workspaces and we worry about what it’s doing to our physiologies. Now the inimitable writer, Diane Ackerman offers, in her blog in The New York Times, a characteristically elegant and pointed commentary on this topic; it’s been on my mind ever since I read it. (The volume of comments from readers suggests that others found resonance there, too.)
Diane Ackerman is a poet and naturalist, and author of many books, including A Natural History of the Senses, one of her best known works, and One Hundred Names for Love, her most recent (and a Pulitzer finalist). In her essay last week, she asked: “Are we living in sensory overload or sensory poverty?” While bemoaning the “myopic daze” in which so many people seem to wander around these days is not new, she takes a hard look (in the spirit of Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature) at what it might be costing us. Here’s an excerpt—
As a species, we’ve somehow survived large and small ice ages, genetic bottlenecks, plagues, world wars and all manner of natural disasters, but I sometimes wonder if we’ll survive our own ingenuity. At first glance, it seems as if we may be living in sensory overload. The new technology, for all its boons, also bedevils us with alluring distractors, cyberbullies, thought-nabbers, calm-frayers, and a spiky wad of miscellaneous news. Some days it feels like we’re drowning in a twittering bog of information.
Michael Kimmelman seems to have entered his new post as the architectural critic at The New York Times with the same wonderment-flecked eyes you can spot on first-year students climbing Rudolph Hall’s steps each fall. As a musician, trained art historian, and cultural journalist embarking on an architectural education, his position is not so far removed from the mixed bag of students he addressed at the Yale School of Architecture recently. (He was speaking to the first professional degree students from backgrounds as diverse as biochemistry and anthropology.) Like the students whose very diversity is that which makes them valuable contributors to collegiate conversation, Kimmelman will have to hold on to his unique position even as he navigates a new field. And like the critic confesses, perhaps students should “hope to ask some stupid questions.”
From Susan B. Komen to Kony, public discourse is the art “Happening,” taking to the streets and Twitter to affect global change and re-invention. Fortified with OWS, riots, performances, street art and viral social media campaigns, our public policy as well as our public lives are shaped by this expanding discourse. Art for social exchange and change is vital to this discourse. With spring madness upon us, I continue my interest in how art can be shared by the community as part of the envisioning and evolution of the species. Too much to ask for?
Art that lights a sudden, crackling fire in the haze, skews one’s head so it hurts a bit and awakens and puzzles unexpectedly in the night. Yes?
It’s been 99 years since the fiery and radical 1913 debut of the Armory Show in New York, where modern masters such as Marcel Duchamp’s’ nude descended a staircase and blasted open Victorian attitudes and created dialogue. Honoring that legacy in name, New York’s Armory fine art trade show traditionally opens the spring season. Thinking ahead to the 100th anniversary next year of that seminal show, I visited the fair, the satellite shows around it, and three noteworthy art events of the season considering them my Petri dish, my crystal ball to see just where the art world is expressing and integrating community…can an Art Fair still rankle jaded New Yorkers’ perspective? The answer is Yes.
Signs of what I like to call “art off the cave walls” were present. This goes beyond the hallowed old model “art” made solely by artists in studios, or even art manufacturing teams in warehouses overseen by commodity traders such as Koons or Hirsch’s and sold to be quietly tucked away in a collector’s home or museum storage for investment. Instead there is art by modern-day shamans, for the intended purpose of public ritual experience and transcendence. Today, millions of the general public are directly engaged with “art,” scrapbooking away on Pinterest, or sharing Angelina Jolie memes on Facebook, fed with a steady fast food image diet streaming from YouTube and flat screens. Clearly 15 minutes of fame via 2D image bombardment alone does not change the world, albeit engagement with “art” has become a new kind of populist tool.
That’s the beauty of temporal art, from 15-minute fame viral art memes online to environment friendly performance art, anyone, not just the “1%,” can have direct experience of “being there,” in the midst of history as an art-maker and documenter. If one says there is a “there” there, there is. Art establishment stalwarts, Christies’ storage experts at their Armory booth space, spoke cheerfully on the “storage of” temporal art, wherein for valuing and the posterity, only the paperwork, the documentation, must be preserved. However, the truth is that paper’s own temporality cannot trump the art, craft, and validity of online documentation, now sourced from multiple media generators themselves, aka the general public, through Twitter and cell phone cameras. This determines newer distinguishing value factors and the question of art “ownership” now begins to be redefined—a very different model of society. The future we are building is here and it’s coming.
So how did the art world itself bring this change on? Did they build it this spring, and did the people come?
The “There” at an Art Fair
Ken Johnson of The New York Times has called the Armory Show a “maze of art shops” and this year the fair, in order to further personally engage its 60,000 visitors, actually cited a focus on “urban restoration,” via both the commissioned artist for the whole show, urban architect, performance artist, and art-world golden boy of the moment, Theaster Gates, to a re-design of the show floor by architects, Jane Stageberg, AIA, LEED AP of Bade Stageberg Cox.
Images from MoMA exhibition site: http://www.moma.org/foreclosed
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