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Stripped-down Decor

Mad Men Bought Playboy for the ... Chairs

Diane Hunter as Playboy's Miss November, 1954, sitting in a classic of modern design.

The Daily Pic: Scholar Beatriz Colomina bills Playboy as nakedly favoring modern design.

Today’s image, appropriately, shows “Miss November, 1954”, who starred in a recent lecture at the Artist’s Institute by the great architectural historian Beatriz Colomina. Colomina presented research by her team at Princeton showing how, throughout the 1950s and 60s, Playboy magazine was a crucial promoter of modern design. It published features on cutting-edge architects and designers and often posed playmates in their classic pieces – as here, where model Diane Hunter sits in a butterfly chair by Jorge Ferrari Hardoy.

Colomina didn’t mention it, but it seems to me there’s some kind of equation, both social and formal, between the pared-down chairs and the girls perched on them – something about men’s ownership of biomorphic (and biological) modernity. (Interesting that the bodies now look vintage but the chairs haven’t dated at all.) Colomina did show how Playboy, with its circulation of seven million, would have had vastly more reach and influence than any design magazine. Any architect featured in Playboy – Mies and Wright and Bucky Fuller, but also the radicals at Ant Farm and Yale’s dean of architecture  – “becomes a model poised at the very heart of the Playboy dream,” said Colomina.

Strangely, from his very first editorial Heffner felt a need to apologize for keeping his readers inside the well-designed home, and away from the woods and wilds found in other men’s magazines. Colomina argues that this is because home decor was traditionally women’s territory, and a  manly man wouldn’t go there.

Rather than pretending to buy the mag for the writing and really ogling the girls, which was the classic Playboy-reader excuse, many playboys were pretending to buy for the babes, while actually hunting for decorator tips. “Architecture turned out to be much more seductive than the Playmates,” Colomina said.


Dollhouses Made by Architects


Thomas Butler

World-famous architects build highly creative miniature homes to benefit a children’s charity.

Tucked away in the attic of our minds, we all have an image of our perfect home, be it a duplex on Fifth Avenue or a cozy cottage in the country.

Now, UK-based property developers may not have made our dreams come true—good luck squeezing through the door of one of these pint-size properties—but they’ve come pretty darn close.

Earlier this year, the Cathedral Group commissioned 20 of the world’s top architects and designers (in collaboration with high-profile artists) to build dollhouses to raise money for KIDS, a British charity that supports disabled children. The project was inspired by the dollhouse British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens designed for The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1922. A gift for Queen Mary, Lutyens’ dollhouse is a mini stately home. Imagine Downton Abbey cut down to size.

The dwellings that A Dolls’ House project has inspired are just a tad wackier. The one design requirement for the project: each house includes at least one feature that makes life easier for a child with a disability. From there, the world was the architect’s oyster (or King Crab, in one notable instance). Each practice was given a miniscule plot of land—a 750mm square plinth—on which to build a property, an excuse for a bunch of top-flight modern architects and designers to strut their stuff.

Better Out Than In

Banksy's Charitable Moment


John Moore/Getty

The artist has "vandalized" a landscape—which will be sold to fight homelessness and AIDS.

UPDATE: The final sale of the painting was $615k.

On Thursday, Banksy’s month-long New York City “residency,” Better Out Than In, came to an end. The whirlwind of a month left fans trying to locate the works and attempting to catch the artist in the act—even the NYPD made it a priority to catch the “vandal.” Through graffiti, mobile installations, performances, and pop-up exhibitions, the still-unidentified Banksy left the Big Apple with one memorable month, over fifteen new pieces of public artwork, and soon, a lot of money to donate to charity.

The painting that appeared in the window of Housing Work Thrift Shop’s 23rd Street location on October 29 is now up for grabs. The two-day pop-up auction, which concludes Thursday evening, has the price for the "vandalized" oil painting at over $310,000.

Banksy purchased the original artwork, a traditional landscape oil-painting, from the Housing Works and added his own mark—a Nazi soldier sitting on a river-side bench, gazing into the distance. The image was re-titled The Banality of the Banality of Evil, signed by Banksy, and donated back to the thrift store. 

Art of the Chew

Gum, Glorious Gum

One of 20 "Photosculptures" shot in 1971 by Alina Szapocznikow.

(Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, NY)

The Daily Pic: In turning gum into art, Alina Szapocznikow showed that it didn't need to be art to be good.

One photo from a series of 20 called “Photosculptures”, made by the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow in 1971 and now on view in a group show at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York. Szapocznikow said they came about when she needed a break from the laborious polishing of her marble renditions of Rolls Royces, and they are clearly meant to be a humble counterpoise to those deluxe objects. They are also in complex tension with the biomorphic monuments of heroic male artists such as Henry Moore: They buy Moore’s notion of beauty in the everyday, but resist the idea that such beauty needs elevation to count. Bubble gum itself comes chock full of aesthetics, and doesn’t need to be enlarged or cast in bronze. Of course, the aesthetics on view here are all about comedy, and irony and poking fun and paradox. Szapocznikow knows that elevation inevitably happens as soon as chewed gum gets presented as art, or used as the subject of elegant photos.  

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Woodsy Scenes

A Veneer of Charm, With Depth

"Optimist's Ennui" by Alison Elizabeth Taylor

(Courtesy Alison Elizabeth Taylor and James Cohan Gallery, NY)

The Daily Pic: Alison Elizabeth Taylor's marquetry is about more than just its amazing craft.

Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s “Optimist’s Ennui”, from her current solo at James Cohan Gallery in New York, is almost entirely made of inlaid woods. As always with Taylor, her art runs the risk of being too much about the clever marquetry that makes it, but in this piece that craft seems an especially tight fit with its subject. That’s because Taylor’s wood represents the wood that would normally be underneath the surface of a fine picture, but literally exposes it – and also pierces it to reveal a lumber-filled scene beyond. The always-vexed relationship between pictorial surface and depth here gets an extra note of complexity thanks to Taylor’s technique. (The fact that her show is called “Surface Tension” makes clear that she understands and intends this reference.) It also doesn’t hurt that Taylor’s using the finest hardwood veneers to represent crude plywood, thereby revisiting the everpresent tension between a picture as a deluxe object, and a picture as just a bunch of crude materials in a particular configuration.

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Photo Art

A Collage in a Single Shot

"Charleston Street", 1952, by Robert Rauschenberg

(© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York)

The Daily Pic: Before Robert Rauschenberg learned to recombine the leavings of American culture, his photos had already seen it as fractured.

This shot, titled “Charleston Street”, was taken in 1952 by Robert Rauschenberg and is on view for a view more days in a show of his photos at Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York. There’s something about the way shapes crawl across the surface of this single image that reminds me of how Rauschenberg composed his composite works. Also, because the walking figures are a bit blurred by their motion, the details of their clothing get evened out into areas of more uniform tone – again, like some of the printmaking artifacts that Rauschenberg went on to play with. And of course this photo gives us a preview of Rauschenberg’s lifelong commitment to demotic American life: Note the man drinking inside the bar, and the fact that the dive is called Dixie.

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Cross-cultural Cloth

Ceviche Chow Mein, circa 1650

A Chinese export textile from the 17th century.

(Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, bequest of Catherine D. Wentworth, 1948)

The Daily Pic, Met Monday Edition: From the Metropolitan Museum, a Chinese textile that inspired weavers in Peru.

This embroidered silk panel was made in China sometime in the 17th century, apparently for export to the West. It is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum as well as in its current show called "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800". (Click on the image to zoom in.) Other than everything about how it looks, what makes this embroidery utterly peculiar – and a perfect illustration for the show's theme of "globalization before globalization" – is the fact that it or a textile  like it seems to have influenced the weavings of colonial Peru, apparently after arriving by way of  the annual trips of Spain’s Manila galleons between Lima and the Philippines.

I wonder if textiles have an easier time crossing cultures than pictures and sculptures do. They seem so evidently desirable, and precious, that I kept wanting to see the cloths in "Interwoven" in somebody's home, somewhere, rather than in the Met's galleries. (I always feel precisely the opposite about works of Western fine art.)

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Robert Capa at 100

A Walk in The Park

In Praise of Parks

A new book, City Parks, features essays from contemporary writers and luminaries—from Zadie Smith to Bill Clinton—on their favorite parks. Isabel Wilkinson talks to its editor, Catie Marron.

Everybody knows it, that feeling of entering a park: peeling off the city streets and into that nourishing sense of calm. And then, after the kids on bikes, the joggers, and the dogs playing fetch have faded, the thrill of being perfectly alone sets in.


Courtesy of HarperCollins

That feeling of calm greets you upon opening City Parks: Public Spaces, Private Thoughts, a glossy new collection of essays and photographs highlighting some of the most luscious and mysterious parks in the world. Edited by Catie Marron, Vogue contributor and former board chair of the New York Public Library, the book pairs great writers – Zadie Smith, Andre Aciman, and Pico Ayer among them – with celebrated urban parks. There’s Jonathan Alter on Lincoln and Grant Park in Chicago, Candice Bergen on Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and President Bill Clinton on Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.

“I really wanted to capture parks in their inherent mood, and not just in the summertime, when loads of people are there,” said Marron. And indeed, many of the photographs, taken by Oberto Gili, reflect the mood of each park as if it were a character with its own story.

Multiple Perspectives

Hockney’s Big California Show

A Bigger Exhibition, which opens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco this weekend, showcases an enormous amount of David Hockney’s new work, including several drawings made on the iPad.

For David Hockney, arguably Britain’s best-known living artist, thinking big has never been a problem.


Richard Schmidt

In A Bigger Exhibition, opening Saturday at San Francisco’s de Young Museum and on view through January 20, 2014, the artist used a variety of media to create his work: an iPad, iPhone, video camera, as well as watercolors and charcoal on paper. One work, Bigger Yosemite, consists of five iPad drawings of the mountains, trees, and waterfalls of Northern California’s national park. Blown up into 12-foot high prints that direct the eye upward, the piece shares gallery space with Hockney’s 30-canvas reworking of Claude Lorrain’s Sermon on the Mount, which he says fascinated him because of the unusual perspective of the mountain in the middle and the landscape off to the side.

Known for his brightly-colored Los Angeles swimming pools and palm trees in the 1960s and Seventies, Hockney has recently explored the landscapes of Yorkshire in England, near where he grew up and now spends much of the year. In a series of 25 charcoal drawings, The Arrival of Spring in 2013 (twenty thirteen), Hockney, who only started working with charcoal on paper last year, said in an e-mail to the exhibition’s organizer, Richard Benefield, that he wanted to capture “the bleakness of winter and its exciting transformation to the summer.”


Banksy Unmasked?

Has Banksy, the elusive graffiti artist, finally been captured on camera? This photograph, taken today in New York City, allegedly shows Banksy at work. *UPDATE: Now there's a video.

Has Banksy, the mysterious graffiti artist, finally been caught in the act?



For the month of October, the Bristol, England, native has been trekking all over New York City for his latest project, Better Out Than In, unveiling one graffiti art piece a day. He’s been labeled a vandal by Mayor Bloomberg, and is alleged to have bailed on his NYC project due to “police activity.”

But a Banksy fanatic allegedly captured the artist in the act earlier today on the streets of New York City. The artist is allegedly pictured spraying a wall with black paint to create a "drip effect," according to the photographer. The photograph was taken on the corner of Elizabeth and Houston streets in lower Manhattan.


Large as Life

"Group of Teachers" by Martin Honert

(Photo by Lucy Hogg)

The Daily Pic: Martin Honert turns a vintage photo into full 3D.

This is Martin Honert's "Group of Teachers", on view through Saturday in his solo show at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. Honert took an old black and white photo of the teachers at the boarding school he was sent to, then realized it life-size in resin, using sand and glass to capture the grain and tonal artifacts of the vintage shot. The sculpture only has its full effect when viewed alongside its living audience, at which point this high realist work comes to share something with Minimalist abstraction: Both are less about their own qualities as objects than how they share a space with us. They are about a social context they create for their viewing.

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Art of Destruction

A Creative Inferno

Ed Ruscha, “The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire,” 1965–1968.

(Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC)

The Daily Pic: At the Hirshhorn Museum, Ed Ruscha and others take a refined view of havoc.

Ed Ruscha’s “The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire” (1965–68), went on view today in the thematic show called “Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950”, at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, which I previewed in today’s New York Times. What I particularly like about Ruscha’s piece is that it is utterly Apollonian in its ultra-refined technique, and yet treats a Dionysian moment of disaster. That is, in its essence it pushes back against the sheer love of havoc that some other destructive art tends to channel. Even as some of this show’s artists claim to decry chaos and violence, there’s a risk that they are helping us revel in both. (Christian Marclay’s brilliant “Guitar Drag” plays on just that tension.)

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