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Architect Jeanne Gang (Photo: Chicago Tribune)

Paul Goldberger wrote about architect Jeanne Gang and her new shimmery addition to the Chicago skyline (a tower named Aqua, which is quite evocative isn’t it?) in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Goldberger is particularly impressed with the distinctive 82-story apartment building, citing its remarkable blend of the practical and a graceful design.

Goldberger’s description of the functional aspects of the design is intriguing. Every element serves a purpose, and yet both form and function come together so beautifully.

For all its visual power, Aqua is mostly free of conceit. In an age in which so much architectural form—even, sometimes the best architectural form—has no real rationale beyond the fact that it is what the architect felt like doing, there is something admirable about the tower’s lack of arbitrariness. It reclaims the notion that thrilling and beautiful form can still emerge out of the realm of the practical.

Of course Gang is compared with the most famous female architect, Zaha Hadid. (This is an “of course” because it is inevitable that women architects become their own subclass, particularly in a field as male dominated as architecture is and has been.) Goldberger highlights the differences between Gang and Hadid: “Hadid is a brilliant shaper of form, but her buildings are nothing if not arbitrary, and the combination of her fame and her flamboyant designs has insidiously led people to assume that female architects tend to favor shape-making over problem-solving.”

Other female starichtects like Deborah Berke, Marianne McKenna, Cathy Simon and Denise Scott Brown have also built very successful careers by using a balance of reason, sensitivity and form. “Female architects like these share a high interest in modern design combined with a low interest in ideology. They approach design less as an opportunity to demonstrate a set of ideas than as a way of answering a series of questions about the nature of a place, a client, or a function.”

Some might want to probe the gender issues implied by this discussion. That is less interesting to me, having spent way too much time in my life chasing down that rabbit hole (which is a frustrating “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” to quote Churchill’s famous description of Russia). I am more excited by yet another gifted and visionary artist/architect, and one who presents herself in such an unassuming way. It’s the Meryl Streep school of Celebritism, a willingness to step back from all the glitter and exhibit that rare quality of self-effacement. In an interview with Gang in a Chicago publication, she spent her time praising the dedication and expertise of the construction workers who built the structure.

Wow. Now that’s rare.


The undulating (and seductively beautiful) surface of Aqua, in Chicago

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Back from California, visiting with both the Northern and Southern tribes. As always, the eye gets fed, and sometimes the finds are a surprise and unexpected.

San Francisco

Richard Diebenkorn: A gallery show at Paul Thiebaud Gallery consists of works that belongs to the late artist’s son Christopher. (In strange symmetry: Paul Thiebaud is artist Wayne Thiebaud’s son.) Fabulous range of paintings and works on paper. I was particularly enchanted by the small works (at the top, below) on cigar box lids.

Helen Frankenthaler: John Berggruen Gallery, one of San Francisco’s largest and most prestigious contemporary art galleries, is showing two floors of paintings by Frankenthaler. Her work played an important part in my development as a young artist (as did Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series in particular) so my interest in her work tends more towards sentimental homage. The best Frankenthaler I’ve seen in a long time is actually hanging at LACMA (see below.)

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Los Angeles

The Culver City galleries are full of lively, spunky, compelling work. Here’s a random sampling:

LACMA has great hours (open til 8pm, with “pay what you will” starting at 5), and is open on Monday. Unlike New York City where museums stagger their closed days, most of LA’s museums are closed on Mondays.

It’s a sprawling campus—becoming more so with each massive building addition—and the experience doesn’t lend itself to just wandering organically from pavilion to pavilion. But treasure abound nonetheless. There’s green space nearby when you need some nature for counterbalance, and the play of light throughout the day makes the space enchanting in its own eclectic, aggregated way.

Looking west over the soon to be open Resnick Pavilion; late day light on the whiteness of the Bing; The Resnick at sunset



Calligraphy from the Japanese Pavilion; Cambodian statue; Koran calligraphy

Big discovery for me was the work of Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968). Trained as a musician and fascinated by the concept of synesthesia that was very popular in artistic circles at the end of the 19th century, Wilfred created devices that could merge light, music and visual form. On display is one of only 18 existing Lumia devices (lent by Carol and Eugene Epstein) that plays a stream of moving images. Wilfred’s work was included at the 1952 show at the Museum of Modern Art that also featured Pollock, Still and Rothko. Intriguing and seductive, I sat through the full cycle of few times, felt my vibrational level drop into meditative ease.



Still image from Wilfred’s Luccata, Opus 162 (1967-68)

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