Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Cooper’s London

March 1, 2016


Mel snapshot 19



Coming Up, In and Out of London…

For imminent highlights, don quixotemy instincts tell me that first and foremost I must get tickets to see the new adaptation of Don Quixote appearing soon at the RSC. It plays 25 February until 21 May in The Swan at Stratford-upon-Avon and has definitely raised my hopes. The novel’s adaptation will be by James Fenton, whose The Orphan of Zhao in 2012 is still one of the best and most memorable shows that the RSC has commissioned. The director is Angus Jackson, whose imaginative staging of Oppenheimer I saw in 2015 was one of the most original, intelligent and dazzling realizations of a script imaginable. Its sheer theatricality is still with me; as are several of the spot-on performances that Jackson got from his actors. Actor david threlfallDavid Threlfall is playing the mad, appealing Knight of the Woeful Countenance, the original quixotic hero. Have you seen him on TV in the UK version of Shameless? He’s a reliable and dedicated character actor whose popularity goes back to playing Smyke in the eight-hour-long RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby in the early 1980s—a performance that is still available on DVD. Add to that the fact that the novel of Don Quixote is a wonderful but ridiculously long and varied text; it will be fascinating to see which bits Fenton chooses to include. Not long ago the RSC did a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s lost play based on Don Quixote, Cardenio. I am very excited about this project, which is in rehearsal already.

Looking further ahead, I am particularly keen on two of the many major opera and music festivals that arrive every summer. Gaining repute as the new Glyndebourne, this year’s just-released programme at the Longborough Festival in rural Gloucestershire is its most ambitious yet. Several audience favorites are returning among four operas: Handel’s baroque opera Alcina will be jeremy silverconducted by the adept and youthful Jeremy Silver who is working for the third consecutive year with the same production team and with young professionals early in their careers to give them a springboard. They have already shown that they can be both cheeky and moving in this repertory; and there will even be a performance at the Greenwood Theatre near London Bridge on 4 August.

As with Glyndebourne, you want to get to the original venue if you can to experience the full pleasure of the place; they provide a show that includes time to wander around lovely grounds and have a long interval for dinner after an early start.

longboroughTannhauser should be powerful in such an intimate venue. John Treleavan and Neal Cooper are sharing the title role; the rest of the cast looks interesting, and the music director of the festival, Anthony Negus, is conducting. He has already been highly praised by the press and audiences for his previous Wagner performances at Longborough and has a solid reputation. Conductor Robert Houssard leads another established production team for a Marriage of Figaro that will star baritone Benjamin Bevan as the Count and the Australian baritone Grant Doyle (formerly a Young Artist at the Royal Opera House) in his role debut as the impertinent valet. The wonderful Norwegian soprano Beate Mordall and England’s Lucy Hall are sharing the role of Susanna. Finally, lee bissettLee Bissett, who is a huge favourite with the audiences at Longborough after taking on Isolde last year, will return to sing Janacek’s Jenufa.

The Glyndebourne Festival, that mother of all summer al fresco festivals in the UK, runs this year from 21 May to 28 August and needs very little introduction from me. Whatever you find still availableeven if you think you do not like that opera—just buy the damned tickets and go for the experience. Established in his stately home by glyndebourneJohn Christie in the 1930s to do Mozart in its original scale (in every sense of the word), many of its productions have been mythical from the very start; much of its work has been broadly influential, and many young artists have gone on from there to important international careers: Janet Baker, who started in the chorus and ended up as Orfeo in Gluck’s opera, among them. (According to legend, they nearly fired Montserrat Caballe, and Roberto Alagna scored an early success as Rodolfo.) Today’s casts are just as riveting and, in a purpose-built theatre, the productions are almost invariably innovative and thought-provoking, while maintaining the highest musical and production standards. Probably all this is due to several factors, two of which must be the long rehearsal periods and being able to work in a rural setting away from the ususal stresses of major opera houses.

For me a highlight of this summer will be more Wagner in a more intimate venue: the revival of the famous David McVicar Meistersinger von Nurnberg with Gerald Finlay as a youthful, sonorous and exceptionally moving Hans Sachs and Michael Schade as Walter. The new production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville draws me like a magnet to see danielle de nieseDaniele de Niese undertake the role of Rosina with the veteran Alessandro Corbelli as her venal guardian, Dr Bartolo. In the past, Glyndebourne has had Victoria de los Angeles and Maria Ewing as memorable Rosinas and I am confident that de Niese will be added to that list. And among the other treats I am particularly delighted to see there is to be a revival of
midsummer night's dreamPeter Hall’s magical interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare set to music by Benjamin Britten) from the 1981 festival.

There will, of course, also be the Proms in London throughout July and August and early September; and there are the interesting productions coming up at Shakespeare’s Globe and Regent’s Park, as well as opera in Holland Park. More of all that anon. But meantime, a reminder to start booking if you fancy a trip around the countryside with a little bit of culture as well. The Brits really do this kind of thing brilliantly.

Apollo’s Girl

February 23, 2016


apollo and lyre



In the Library…

The Festival of Films on Art will be performing its annual miracle in Montreal (March 10 -20, 2016), with dozens of films from dozens of fifa logocountries on every conceivable aspect of the arts.
Imagination is key here; you can expect the unexpected, the cutting edge, and the retrospective glories of yesteryear screening side-by-side for almost two weeks. This is FIFA’s 34th season under Director Rene Rozon’s 
skillful hands, pulling international bold-face names and discoveries out of his bountiful hat.

hepburnFIFA is also a movable feast: its best films tour the world when the festival ends. Right now, in New York at Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts, you can behold last year’s treasures, with selections from Katherine Hepburn to the design genius of the Vignellis; Bill Viola’s video art; dance with diaghilevDiaghilev; and finally Jonas Kaufman doing songs from 1930s Berlin. Best of all: the programs (mostly Tuesdays at 2:30 til March 1) kaufmanare free, in the Library’s Bruno Walter Auditorium.
Details at:

As of March 1st, go to for a complete rundown of the Mother Ship’s upcoming slate and related events in Montreal; many filmmakers will be there for discussions and Q & As, and—if you don’t know this already, make sure you make it part of your plan—there’s always the glory of Montreal’s restaurants and history. You can fly, of course (it’s only a little over an hour) or, if you like matchless scenery, take Amtrak’s Adirondack at 8:15 AM and arrive in time for dinner. Catch the Hudson River, the upstate forests, and Lake Champlain on your way north. It’s definitely a cool trip…

Cooper’s London

October 5, 2015


Mel snapshot 19

In London (and On the Road)

The Royal Opera House starated its new season with its first production of Gluck’s seminal Orphée et Eurydice in a long time – that is, the French version for a tenor Orpheus – not the original in Italian written for a castrato and reworked for a mezzo by Berlioz. ORPHEEetEURYDICE- bill cooper-opera-danceJuan Diego Florez was simply an ideal choice for the mellifluous hero, with Lucy Crowe as his beloved. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists were led by John Eliot Gardiner in what promised to be an “authentic” performance of the work.

luke-stylesFrom 9 September the company will be presenting a new commission in the Linbury Studios, a one-act chamber opera version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the promising Australian composer Luke Styles. This is followed on 9 October by a new opera by Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy. last hotelThe Last Hotel, that I am very curious about because I have enjoyed Enda Walsh’s plays so much in the past.

Back in the main house with the Covent Garden orchestra, there is a revival of David McVicar’s truly gripping and imaginative production of The Marriage of Figaro with a fine cast conducted by Ivor Bolton; I would also wish mattilato attend the revival of Ariadne auf Naxos if only to hear Karita Mattila sing “Es gibt ein reich”. She has the perfect voice for Strauss and is a consummate actress in every role she undertakes. She also has a superb sense of humour and can act irony! For me, the star attractions of the revival of the fine Carmen production by Francesca Zambello playing from 19 October are the conductor, Bertrand de Billy, and the heroic and tormented Don Jose of Jonas Kaufmann (okay, okay, here’s a few choice clips):

and not just the well-sung interpretation of Carmen herself by Russian mezzo Elena Maximova. This is coming in December.

Antonio Pappano is conducting a new Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci directed by Damiano Michieletto, whose Guillaume Tell last season caused a major rumpus because of its graphic rape scene. Many critics and some operagoers hated it; there were boos; there was newspaper hysteria; but it came across well on cinema screens when it was broadcast and many people actually found it very exciting, innovative and a really strong and interesting interpretation of the opera. It remains to be seen what he can do to Leoncavallo and Mascagni who were, of course, in their day, quite revolutionary and controversial themselves as they developed the verismo approach. I bet Michieletto tries to up the ante! romeo and julietteMeanwhile the Royal Ballet will be reviving Macmillan’s classic version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (built originally on Nureyev and Fonteyn) with loads of performances throughout the autumn; and I am particularly looking forward to catching up with Martha Clarke’s ballet Chéri, based on cherithe Colette novels, with Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo returning to dance the roles they created.

Meantime, over at the financially beleaguered English National Opera, which has also just lost its long term artistic director, John Berry, there are three new interesting productions for the autumn. The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich has been a huge hit for them in past years, with Josephine Barstow becoming a notable international star by playing the title role. Directed and designed by Sergei Tcherniakov, racette at ENOPatricia Racette looks likely to be as stunning a Katerina as was Barstow; and the estimable Mark Wigglesworth, the new music director of the company, should be able to conduct up a wigglesworthstorm. The musical forces for Verdi’s The Force of Destiny are impeccable; but the betting is that Calixto Bieito’s production will be even more controversial than his Masked Ball with the male chorus sitting on toilets reading newspapers and commenting on current politics or his Don Giovanni that starts out set in a garbage dump in Seville. This one has been updated to the Spanish Civil War; and for my taste Bieito’s approach has become more and more insular and self-referential since his rather convincing and powerful Carmen. That said, I live in hope; know that Wigglesworth is a terrific Verdian; and look forward to hearing this strong cast. All the other autumn shows – Jonathan Miller’s Barber of Seville and his inventive Mikado; the lovely La Bohème directed by Benedict Andrew; and a winning Magic Flute directed by reliably brilliant Simon McBurney – were all hits when they first appeared and go on being eminently revivable and well-cast. The Barber is particularly famous for the stellar turn by Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo who is, thankfully, returning to the role.

Finally, if you are willing to travel out of London, my top recommendation would
welsh national operabe the
Welsh National Opera; it has a particularly interesting season coming up focusing on madness in opera, specifically in Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece, I Puritani; Handel’s Orlando; and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. At one of the most consistent companies for fielding imaginative productions that actually illuminate the works themselves, and for its high-level musical interpretations, these works are definitely all worth considering in Cardiff or on tour.

Apollo’s Girl

October 4, 2015

Music, Video

apollo and lyre



It’s World Animal Day; just click on the links to celebrate.

JACK Quartet (Miller Theatre)/
Internet Cat Video Festival (MAD);

On September 17, Miller Theatre at Columbia University jackopened its 2014/15 calendar with a take-no-prisoners premiere of Simon Steen-Andersen’s Run Time Error, performed by the composer and the JACK Quartet. It was definitely a trip! I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and am taking the easy way out by pointing you to the NY Times‘ review of the concert by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.

Times’ review

Miller has become known for the adventurous programs devised by its director, Melissa Smey whose interests traverse the entire range of human history, whose choices require the use of the word “fearless” for every performance, and who appears to know just about everything. The real thrill is in seeing and hearing how she puts it all together.

jl adamsComing up: A triple exposure of John Luther Adams’ compositions (he won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2014) on October 7, 9, and 10. But it’s not only what’s new but, sometimes, what’s old: a screening of Carl Dreyer’s iconic silent, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), starring the equally iconic Falconetti, with 15th-passion-of-joan-of-arc-480x270century music by the Orlando Consort (October 14 and 16). There’s jazz, too. And, earlier this year (on April 1), even the launch of the Canine Composers series; surely a first, but likely to become an audience favorite:

It’s exhilarating to experience Smey’s seasons, which appear to become more innovative and appealing every year. Just get on board and stretch:

It was a triumph! The Pope had just left the pope
West Side and was on his way to Madison Square Garden. As the faithful streamed out of Central Park, another crowd surged into the Museum of Art and Design; the Internet Cat Video Festival (from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis) was about to begin, and it was standing room only. cat vidThere were very few old ladies in sneakers, but hordes of millennials wearing them mad_exteriorinstead, and applause and laughter rose from the committed like a much-needed benediction. 

The Museum has unveiled a new season of events including cinema, performance, talks, encounters and workshops. Although I can personally recommend the upcoming 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (previously enjoyed at FSLC’s Human Rights Watch Festival);, MAAD’s season looks more than promising. The cinema, in particular, is well-curated, and free! You know what to do….. 

Cooper’s London

September 27, 2015


Mel snapshot 19

This Boat Still Floats

The San Francisco Opera production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat (filmed live on the stage) has just been released on EuroArts DVD 2059688 and BluRay. The cast includes: Heidi Stober, Michael Todd Simpson, Bill Irwin, Patricia Racette, Morris Robinson, Angela Renee Simpson cap'n andyand Harriet Harris. The stage director is Francesca Zambello and the conductor is John DeMain.

Over two decades ago I was fortunate enough to see the Show Boat done by Opera North in collaboration with the RSC that docked at the Palladium and toured the UK.
It was impeccably cast; the pit band was amplified and was using the brilliant original orchestrations by
Robert Russell Bennet; it not only restored material that had not been heard since the 1928 Broadway version, it interpolated numbers from later revivals, including the novelty number “Ah Still Suits Me” robeson and mcdaninelwritten for Paul Robeson and Hattie MacDaniel to sing in the 1936 film. I have yet to see anything to equal it for justifying Show Boat’s reputation as the true grandfather of American music theatre—until now. Essentially, the new EuroArts DVD and BluRay from the San Francisco Opera production (also acclaimed in Chicago and Houston) is both iconic and also a vivid record of a greatly theatrical, entertaining and moving performance. Director zambelloFrancesca Zambello has achieved pretty nearly what Ian Judge and his team did in that legendary production from Leeds to enflame a new generation of theatregoers.

The cast is a mixture of operatically trained singers who can act and Broadway hoofers or comedians who can belt, with chorus and the dancers really pitching in. The acting is sometimes suitably tongue-in-cheek, early-20th-century “mellerdrammer”, at other times straightforward and moving. Every musical number carries the weight it should, advances the plot or our understanding of character, and appeals directly to our stober and simpsonemotions. When Heidi Stober as Magnolia and Michael Todd Simpson as Gaylord Ravenal sing “You Are Love”, you believe it with all your heart. When Morris Robinson sings “Ol’ Man River” and is joined by the chorus of men who tote those barges and heave those bales, you feel their pain, how limited their lives and opportunities are and cannot avoid thinking about the whole history of slavery and its aftermath old man riverin the United States. Those are big claims, perhaps; but it is a big, varied and allusive show and the music is so superb that one has to be careful not be so overwhelmed by it that Oscar Hammerstein II gets the credit he deserves for his strong book and lyrics.

By and large, Zambello avoids the sentimentality that often mars Show Boat revivals and goes for real feeling and serious engagement with a plot that involves addiction to gambling and alcohol, miscegenation in a racist and bigoted society, sexual harassment and bullying, and the abandonment of a wife and child. She also understands the humour, not least in the lovely number “Life Upon the Wicked Stage”. She also appreciates the sheer gut reactions demanded by the big moments and big numbers. Her approach is both superbly intelligent and responsive to all the nuances of the piece.

showboatThis Show Boat is big also in terms of production values, achieving the spectacle that perhaps only an opera company with enough resources to field two chorus and dance groups (one African-American, the other Caucasian)—can in these financially constrained days. The stories of the various couples balance and echo each other, and every opportunity for cheeky humour is grasped as firmly as all the opportunities for the music to engage and lift your emotions.

Heidi Stober manages to convey both Magnolia’s innocence and the ultimate inner strength that will enable her to bring up her child as a single mother and become a major star. Her voice is very beautiful; she always remains in character and builds her development into a strong, no longer innocent middle-aged woman with great skill. Michael Todd Simpson conveys both Gay’s charm and his character flaws and also has the vocal chops to do full justice to Jerome Kern’s music. Show-Boat_SFO_4PosterPatricia Racette’s Julie La Verne makes you see why the role made a star of Helen Morgan and was also one of the most appealing that Ava Gardner ever undertook. Angela Renée Simpson is outstanding as Queenie and has had restored to her character “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’” and “Hey, Fellah!”, both of which are important to the drama. The voice and demeanour of Morris Robinson as Joe have real gravitas (he’s excellent in his comic moments, too); and the roles of Ellie Mae Chipley and Frank Schultz sparkle convincingly with the talents of Kirsten Wyatt and John Bolton. It only remains to beirwinsaid that Bill Irwin is immensely
appealing as Cap’n Andy Hawks and that
Harriet Harris’s Parthy Ann Hawks is a treasure, offering real balance to the singing parts. Michele Lynch has created time-sensitive choreography that takes you from the vaudeville turns of 1887 to the jazzy Charleston of 1927 as the story traverses forty years of American history; the set design by Peter J. Davison and Costume Design by Paul Tazewell are just as apt and evocative.

kern-hammersteinIn sum, this is about as perfectly realized a version of the iconic Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II landmark as could be desired, and I am not even prepared to quibble about which other numbers should have been included. John DeMain has been a long-time champion of this and of Porgy and Bess for fully committed performances by opera companies, and his mastery of and sympathy with every nuance of the lyricism and wit of the score is a constant pleasure. The show has been beautifully filmed by Frank Zamacona for the screen.

In my opinion this is, therefore, a DVD that you need to have in your collection to enjoy again and again. If you love music theatre, it will confirm your addiction; and if you are not sure about this genre, this staging, this cast and this team of people on and off the stage will definitely convince you.

This Show Boat also makes a powerful case for how well top-level productions filmed from the stage not only work as entertainment but also convey the sense of occasion and preserve what otherwise would be an ephemeral event. We are very fortunate these days, I think, to see fine performances from anywhere in the world that otherwise we would only know from hearsay or still photographs.

Finally, let us all be grateful to
Edna Ferber ferberfor realizing in 1927 that the story of the showboats of the Mississippi and the transformation of American culture was one that should be preserved; and to Kern and Hammerstein for honouring the novel and its background with an interpretation that looks at the whole phenomenon of entertainment and American society with real acuity, some irony and profound empathy 
for its showboat novelcomplexities. They were pioneers.

Cooper’s London

December 14, 2014





Anselm Kiefer: The Sword
in the Stone

For those who love art, who love politics, history, and genius, the Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Royal Academy was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It ran for less than three months, drawing huge crowds and a great deal of attention. If only it could have been a permanent installation! I was able to go only at the end, knowing as soon as I submarinesentered the RA’s normally staid 17th-century courtyardto be confronted by a fleet of dented German submarines that had been rusting since World War Two—that this was going to be a life-changing experience. It was also clear that none of the images of Kiefer’s work that I’d seen could begin to prepare me for what filled almost the entire building…the work itself.

I had heard of his iconoclasm; of the kiefer 2confrontation with the Nazi and collaborationist guilt of WWII (beginning in the 1960s when no one in Germany would talk about it); and about his idiosyncratic ways of structuring his startling photos (building on them with layers and layers of paint and other materials) and installations (found objects, broken metal, wood, cement). No matter what I’d heard or seen reproduced small, I had not expected the constructions to speak to me with such immediacy, energy and utter power.

But above all, no one had prepared me for the amazing textures that surrounded me; the astounding technical audacity, the corrosive wit of what he had  painted and sculpted and hewn; or the sheer size of what he had made (with Kiefer, size matters). Or how masterfully The Royal Academy displayed all of it. Kiefer is as provocative, shocking and moving as reported. His works have multi-layered impact, and are appalling and moving simultaneously. He is quintessentially modern, and yet somehow classic, a Michaelangelo of shattered concrete, of vertiginous suggestions of ruin, and historic guilt imagery.These works embody what W. B, Yeats meant when he talked about “monuments to unaging intellect.”

kiefer 3


One of the images that haunts me the orders of the nightthe most is The Orders of the Night (1996), a huge canvas with a tactility that is astonishing and bold. Like many of his works, it’s an image that works on its own but also can evoke all the terrors and insanities of the 20th century, especially of World War II and what has followed since. It stands for all destructive and horrifying impulses that mankind is still overwhelmed by; and yet it also, somehow, excites and redeems because of the direct, staring confrontation with it all.

Anselm Kiefer retrospective - LondonKiefer’s latest works – referential of Van Gogh and his cornfields – are images just as mad and marvellous as the early works that made him famous. Ash Flower, roughly 12 feet tall by 21 feet wide, has ash scattered over its entire surface; it creates a kind of veil over the image of a building, a neoclassical construction reminiscent of the insane and grandiose architecture that Hitler loved to build for his new empire. At the bottom of the painting there is a layer of cracked earth that is actually crumbling; and from top to bottom, a single, huge, dried sunflower. Like the best metaphors, like the greatest art, it is impossible to define what it means exactly, though that meaning is terribly clear at the gut level. You have to stand in front of it, you have to see it, you have to experience it to “get” it. What was almost as overwhelming as the exhibition itself was seeing how excited, enthusiastic, and deeply affected everyone was—and what a great mix of ages they represented. Perhaps some may hate some of the works (or be frightened by what they express), or be put off by some of the philosophy that is difficult to acknowledge. But you don’t need to “understand” everything. This is viscerally engaging imagery that speaks a language of its own, best absorbed by simply experiencing it.

If far from conventionally attractive, these works are of seminal importance to art today and you need to be aware of them, to think about them. Without question, they can only be experienced properly in person. The photos and films are souvenirs, memory joggers; but are no substitute for a one-on-one confrontation.

la ribauteThe RA has done a real service with this monumental retrospective in which the development of a life’s unusual work (so far) can be grasped, reflected upon and experienced in a suitable setting. It also inspired me to visit Kiefer’s extraordinary factory/studio in Barjac, France.

kiefer 5

But above all it showed me that so much energy, raw intellect and emotion, even when producing fragmented images in unexpected materials, creates its own kind of intense and emotionally charged beauty.

The British critic, Jonathan Jones, reviewing this exhibition wrote in London’s Guardian newspaper:

“This exhibition is an exhilarating roller coaster ride of beauty and horror, deeply exciting and enriching – yet, at its heart is a knowledge of history that puts all those pleasures in question. At some level, Kiefer, who began by equating … the German romantic art of Caspar David Friedrich that he loves kiefer saluteand the evil of Nazism – wonders if he even has the right to make art.”

The most frustrating aspect of this extraordinary experience is that the show is not travelling. So you will have to buy the catalogue, or make do with the occasional Kiefer gallery show.

Philosopher, historian, iconoclast, observer of human frailty and human heroism: whatever you have heard or thought about the artist in the past, this show confirms that he is indubitably a giant of contemporary culture and art. And yes, seeing what he has made will change your life.


Page 3: Bart Teush

March 4, 2014

Architecture, Style, History (Part Two)




 3. The Nasty

The epitome of Nasty architecture, the unpleasant step-child of Brutalism, dominates the corner of 14th Street and 5th Avenue, arguably a gateway to Greenwich Village. There stands a building so outré in its refusal to fit in that I question the motives of its architect, Roger Duffy (ironically, like Gordon Bunschaft, also a partner at Skidmore Owings and Merrill partner). It strains credulity to think that this building was drawn–-figuratively speaking — on the same SOM drafting tables where Bunshaft created The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library fifty years ago. 

brutal1This wound on a major site in New York City marks fifty years since A&A and Beinecke were built, and makes a fit comparison. It, too, is an academic commission (by The New School for Social Research) and, like the Yale buildings, clearly intended to assert its own importance as a University Center.

Duffy’s 370,000 square foot Leviathan arises in the midst of a mix of post-war white brick apartment houses, masonry masterpieces from the 30’s, and a new, quite elegant low-rise building just across 13th Street that serves as a counterpoint to the University Center as a reminder of restraint, discipline and simplicity. 

Many buildings have a signature, usually a dominant design element, to which they are reduced: Johnson’s Lipstick and Chippendale buildings, Norman Foster’s Gherkin, or Saarinen’s Whale. This might be called Duffy’s Gash. 

There are actually two major design elements, which are, in a way, contradictory. First, the brass “clapboards” and ribbon windows refer politely to Joseph Urban’s original old new school1936 New School for Social Research building nearby on West 11th Street. Duffy makes a gesture to context by quoting Urban’s brick treatment but then mutilates the homage with the easy and outrageous gouge of glass streaking across the West and South façades, new school brutalrepresentingif nothing elsean outsized portion of the building’s construction budget. This grotesque stroke is meant to do what, exactly? 

Its apparent function is to expose the stairways of the building so we can watch students, faculty and administrators walk from floor to floor. Yes, walking from floor to floor is a fundamental part of academic life, but does it deserve such prominent display? Maybe. After all, it reveals the users of the building in a transition from level to level, certainly a synecdoche of the whole academic enterprise. Could that be how Roger Duffy pitched the Nasty image to his clients while they sat with open checkbooks at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill?

There’s no need to guess. SOM’s Web site pitch spills the beans:

“The University Center is intended to become the “heart” of The New School. The LEED Gold building will provide space for all aspects of a traditional campus, with 200,000 square feet of academic space on the first seven floors and 150,000 square feet for a 600-bed dormitory on the levels above. 

“Interactive spaces are dispersed vertically throughout the section to activate all levels of the building. fire stairsTying them all together are three iconic fire stairs that are unraveled to weave their way through the building, providing ample opportunities to chance encounters and unstructured conversation. This structure creates hives of activity that are traced along the façade with large glass windows. The result is an architecture whose identity is completely intertwined with the University’s identity, making the two indistinguishable.” 

Blah. Blah. Blah. Whoa: “Three iconic fire stairs”? The phrase pokes through the archi-babble like the gash itself. How and why does a stairway get bumped up to “iconic”? Iconic, after all, means “executed according to a convention or tradition” and implies an elevation to memorial or even reverential status. How do fire stairs merit such veneration? Their function as routes for emergency evacuation is something I would call to the attention of tenants and pedestrians only if I were being . . . Nasty.

And besides, with all the other spaces in the breathlessly multi-use building intended for dorms, offices, lounges, restaurantshow does a stairway become a “hive of activity?” Yes, it shows constant motion, but all the action is elsewhere.

The ultimate irony is the architect’s indisputable achievement: the building’s Gold energy efficiency rating (read environmental conscientiousness).  Ironic because there is a larger environment, which you’d think any major addition to the campus would consider.

After all, The New School is, like Greenwich Village, an environment, with an identity that arises in a quite specific history. During the 30s and 40s it was bauhausa safe haven for countless émigré academics in flight from the Nazis. These émigrés were European in their formality, rigor and clarity. Think Bauhaus, think Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss. To make Roger Duffy’s porridge of postmodernism a nominal center of the New School and its diffuse campus flies in the face of the intellectual and esthetic foundations of the school. And despite the LEED rating certifying the building as non-polluting and energy-efficient, it brazenly intrudes on the neighborhood.

night shotDuffy’s intrusion is a form of pollution. His glaring, (albeit energy-efficient) illumination is also pollution (trust me, at night you’ll expect to hear the chords of Close Encounters echoing down 14th Street). As is the uninflected size of the building, as is the Gash, which pollutes the façade and spoils the architect’s less-than-enthusiastic homage to Joseph Urban.

Perhaps that’s itthe best and most succinct definition of the Nasty: pollution; pollution of the streets–careless, self-promoting, self-satisfied pollution, making a space less appealing than it was. 

I don’t welcome the transition, cultural, political, architectural, and psychological from Brutal to Nasty. But I make the distinction to mark the New Year on the assumption that once aware of it we can begin to avoid it like the plague it already is.

(See Part One: The Brutal and the Nasty, February 14.)

Page 3: Bart Teush

February 14, 2014

Architecture, Style, History (Part One)


1. The Brutal and the Nasty

I have the distinct sense that the world has swerved in the last fifty years from brutal to nasty and that architecture both reflects and sheds light upon that shift. Therefore, let’s start the New Year comparing and contrasting three buildings: one an iconic example of the extremes of Brutalism; the second, an evolution of Brutalism so extreme it set new standards for Brutalism; and the thirdbuilt fifty years laterjust plain Nasty.

First, what do I mean by Brutal and Nasty? 

Brutal is large-mannered, assertive (to say the least), unapologeticcall it overbearingat its best exhilarating, at its worst cold, uninviting, impenetrable. Brutal confronts, engages and defines surrounding space. Nasty ignores surrounding space. Brutal dominates; Nasty diminishes. Brutal is serious. Nasty is glib, mercurial and untrustworthy. Brutal plays to win, and takes no prisoners. Nasty takes hostages. Nasty has a neurotic relationship to power, feeding upon schadenfreude, Brutal thrives on independence and self-sufficiency. 

Architectural Brutalism uses basic materials confidently in their unadorned state—concrete, stone, glass, and steel—preferably oxidized. Nasty architecture communicates no apparent love of its materials, merely their effect. It uses glass, steel, aluminum, titanium, bronze, copper; whatever, wherever. Le Corbusier is the patron saint of Brutalism, along with some brilliant acolytesPaul Rudolph, Gordon Bunschaft, Moshe Safdie, Kevin Rocheto name a few. 

Nasty? Its collective patron saints are all the deconstructivist “starchitects” who turn a blind eye to the neighborhoods, where they build whatgehry residence they will just because they can. Nasty’s acolytes are all those who regard the world as mere backdrop to their inventions without regard to scale or context or, more precisely, what on a small cleveland clinicscale may pass as a local folly (Frank Gehry’s residence in Santa Monica, right), becomes on a large scale a neighborhood bunker bomb (Frank Gehry’s Cleveland Clinic Revo Center for Brain Health, on the left).

Approaching architecture as a form of sculpture without regard to scale or context, Nastiness is capable of hair-raising originality at one extreme and jaw-dropping inappropriateness at the other. (Consider, in addition to Frank Gehry, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Zaha Hadid, to name a few.)

Yes, I realize that this Manichean taxonomy might better be applied to politics or personal pathology. But I want to identify architects in this schema because architecture is the most political of the Arts, impacting real, often public, spaces, and because its practice has consequences in the polity. Architects are subject to civic codes, beholden to local approvals, obligated to safety and environmental standards–not to mention that they and their builders employ thousands in fulfilling their plans. But far more important, a building’s public influence can last sometimes centuries, defining space, place, and the community. That’s a long half-life for Nastiness and its practitioners.

2. The Brutal 

I have lived through the entire Age of Brutalism—that is, architectural Brutalismone reaction to the aridity of Modernism, and the source of many brooding, dark and windswept corners where trash collects in American cities. I’m thinking of some near-by examples in New Haven, Connecticut, arguably a center for Brutalism. Numerous buildings come to mind including the Kevin Roche’s Knights of Columbus World Headquarters (still standing), next door knights of columbus hqto his equally Brutal New Haven Arena and Parking Structure, now merely a vacant lot in New Haven’s long-suffering downtown.

Kevin Roche, Roche Dinkeloo Associates, Knights of Columbus Headquarters (background), New Haven Coliseum and Parking Structure (foreground), New Haven, Connecticut

But the two buildings that truly define the esthetic limits of Brutalism were, coincidentally, completed in the same year (1963), and each was a commission by Yale University. One is Paul Rudolph’s intricate (if that’s a word I’m permitted to use in connection with Brutalism) Art and Architecture Building (A&A), which has survived since its opening , frequently renovated and recently restored at great expense to Yale. The other is The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library designed by Gordon Bunshaft, then of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

The Brutalism of the 114,000-square-foot south facade detailA&A  was nothing if not hard-won. The concrete was poured into wooden forms, but the finished slabs lacked the jagged textures Rudolf had envisioned: instead, a uniform ribbed surface remained. This rudolph and facadebrought a team of masons hoisting themselves over the exterior and interior walls hammering away at the concrete until the perfect texture was produced.


a  a with lighted windows


This was only the first of many setbacks that dogged A&A throughout its history; for example, in 1974 there was a costly purge of exposed asbestos, which Rudolph had used, reportedly, as much for its flaky texture (unfortunately the flakes would fall like snow) as for its thermal properties. But an even greater scandal involved the designated users of the building. 

Yale commissioned the building to house two of its professional schools. Without question, Rudolph did not hide the fact he favored the architects. The wonder is he favored them so crudely and disruptively. It was never surprising that the painters resented being squirreled away in the basement levels cut off from the natural light reserved for the architects above.

Indeed, when fire engulfed A & A in 1969 (there were few doors, and apparently no fire doors whatsoever), the painters used the fire (reported by some—probably falsely—as having been set by an Urban Planning student “in protest”) as an opportunity to demand improvements. They were never fully accomplished until 2008, when Yale completed both a renovation and an addition to A&A. But the controversy brought into sharp focus the Brutalist esthetic and psychology. 

As Mark Alden Branch wrote in the February 1998 Yale Alumni Magazine:

“To them (the painters), Rudolph’s building epitomized all that was wrong with architecture—it was arrogant, aloof, divorced from history and from the buildings around it. Robert Venturi, who, ironically, began teaching at Yale under Rudolph, made a point in lectures and in print of condemning Rudolph’s ‘heroic’ works in comparison with his own humble, ‘contextual’ buildings.”

Everybody regarded it as a tour de force, but its spirit was overbearing,” says Mark Simon, ’72MArch. “It was one man’s vision of how you were going to occupy it, a temple to architecture at the cost of function. It ignored about two-thirds of its users.”

The wonder is that the spirit of Brutalism can be stretched as far as it was in another building on the Yale campus. Completed the same year as Rudolph’s overbearing A&A buildingGordon Bunshaft’s exhilarating beinecke exteriormasterpiece of geometry and materials, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, just a five-minute walk from A&A.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Exterior

Beinecke hovers over a public plaza. Its neighbors are the neo-classic Commons (where Yale Freshmen dine); Woolsey Hall; and the offices of the President and the Corporation of the University.

Beinecke is the very opposite of A&A—an implacable rectangular solid, rendered in white travertine squares framed by grey granite, floating over a band of dark glass, set on a slim pillar at each corner; it vibrates between simplicity and complexity, monumentality and breathtaking delicacyevoking at once the scale of Brutalism and the poise of its neo-Classical neighbors.  beinicke interior panels CU


beinicke interior panels

Each of the 3/4” marble panels (which detractors, looking for trouble, have compared to television screens) is so thin that daylight shines through the stone, illuminating the interior in the caramel and ochre glow of the translucent marble; it references the marbled edges and leather bindings of the rare books shelved within a soaring clear glass cube rising as the central core of the interior. Pretty amazing.

ecke central coreBeinecke Rare Book Library Interior, central glass enclosed core containing and displaying the rare book collection

I’m mentioning Bunshaft’s and Rudolf’s buildings together not only because they represent the extremes of Brutalist estheticone dangerous, the other relatively safe—but each is a considered building which gives us an opportunity for intimate engagement with the architect.

a & a interior with orangeI am confident that Rudolph walked through every inch of his building, savoring its variations of light and texture, traversing the polished concrete floors and sinking into the plush persimmon carpeting, turning a corner from cozy alcove to expansive vista. All without benefit of computer graphics.

Notwithstanding Rudolf’s impolitic blunders, I am not surprised that the most recent transformationof (and addition to) his building by Gwathmey Siegel, have changed the critical tune.

Nicholai Ouroussoff, in his New York Times article (August 27, 2008), noted that “The result should stun those who have continued to deny Rudolph’s talent. Now seen in its full glory, his building turns out to be a masterpiece of late Modernism, one that will force many to reappraise an entire period of Modernist history and put Rudolph back on the pedestal where he belongs.”

More to the point, the Brutalist esthetic has been established as a major impulse of Modernism, embracing buildings as potently problematic as A&A and as sumptuously simple as Beinecke. Neither building is an obvious guggenheimfit in its neighborhood, but each enhances the neighborhood, sets it in motion, invigorates it, like the Guggenheim did decades ago as it spiraled up on its street corner of the Manhattan grid.

Certainly neither is modest nor shy about its size. But just as Frank Stella could not have executed his monumental steel pieces in miniature to the same effect, size matters in Brutalism; the sheer weight of the materials often flirts with gravity, seldom shy about gravitas. This is serious architecture for serious people.

But where are the massive planes of yesteryear, the heart-stopping cantilevers and heroic architectural engagement of space and material? While its eyesores remain tenacious, its glories are being overshadowed by the Just Plain Nasty, which includes all of those buildings that have appropriated the aggressive forms of Brutalism without its soaring ambition and understanding of detail. Imagine Mad Max outfitted by Tommy Hilfiger.

More in the next installment, where we discover Nasty in our midst.

Apollo’s Girl

November 19, 2013

Theatre, Film, Music, Art




Midsummer Night’s Magic

Still trying to figure out why Ben Brantley seemed to be MIDSUMMER-art-websitereviewing Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark when the assignment was actually Midsummer Night’s Dream. And, if the initial impulse was to open with remembrance of things past, why not focus on Julie Taymor’s history with Theatre for a New Audience? Dream is, in fact, her fifth collaboration with the company (not counting a 60-minute version of the play she did for TFANA in 1984). Or, another option: TFANA’s stunning new home of its own, a stone’s throw from BAM, all glass and steel, designed by H3 Hardy Collaboration, adding style and substance to Brooklyn’s tfana1new Downtown Cultural District. It’s got a park, a lobby café, and a book kiosk, and nine (count ’em) subway lines within a block or two of the building. And there are neighborhood blocks and restaurants to discover….

But I digress. This Midsummer Night’s Dream is magic, full of Taymor’s tricks and talents oberon and titaniathat reimagine Shakespeare’s potion-crazed quartet of lovers, his Shadow King and Fairy Queen, his rude mechanicals, and especially that saucy jester Puck, into creatures who exist comfortably at the turn of the 17th century but also in our own, awash with potent subtext. Hint: it’s not just about those three weddings.

Let’s take another look at Puck. When first encountered, he (don’t be too sure) appears in whiteface and bowler hat, the 19th-century attire of a London busker. He bows and smiles ingratiatingly, but soon sprawls on a bed to sleep hunteras a vast sheet extends from the mattress, carrying it and Puck to the ceiling, where bed and busker disappear into thin air. So it’s Puck’s dream that we will share.

Dressed in costumes that reference Elizabethan England (as well as Punk America), and often flying, tumbling, and leaping, the entire cast has mastered Taymor’s theatrical language as well as the playwright’s. It’s a heady combination. In particular, David Harewood’s brooding Oberon and Tina Benko’s sultry Titania are well and truly matched. Max Casella is irresistible as Nick Bottom (both with, and without his donkey’s head), and a cadre of faerie children will steal your heartespecially when they enter playing didjeridus as big as they are. There is a fair amount of airborne taymoraction, and that sheet (used in cunning and constantly imaginative ways) deserves a Tony of its own. There are also stunning projections of the natural world, including huge hi-def flowers that open and bloom in brilliant colors Mother Nature can only hope to imitate. But always, whether front and center, dangling from a cable, or whisking about the stage in an invented body language all her own, Kathryn Hunter’s Puck is an original creation that only she, and Taymor, could conjure up.

TFANA has chosen the perfect work and production to inaugurate its new home. So get thee to Brooklyn for the play and the playhouse! Dream will run until January 12; for tickets and information on the season: go to.


afterrmathThere are those who feel strongly that to fictionalize the Holocaust is to drain it of its real and terrible meaning; only documents (and documentaries) can reveal the truth. And there are those who feel equally strongly that shaping its history with the knife of artifice will reveal a more powerful truth, likely to summon emotions that will remain indelible memories.

Aftermath is a combination of both, in that its essential story of two brothers and a forgotten Polish village is actually a weaving together of several true stories shaped into a single semi-fictional narrative. Whatever your convictions on the subject, Aftermath cannot be forgotten; not for its story, not for its direction or camerawork, not for its cast, and especially not for the its lean,wrenchingly gritty (but beautifully filmed) production.

Constructed like a thriller, the film slowly reveals the long-kept secret of what happened to the Jews of the town during World War II and (with clues that challenge the audience to solve the puzzle as evidence is painstakingly uncovered by the two brothers), who was responsible for the crime. The cast is small and brilliant; the focus is tight and tighter as tension mounts. The brothers Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) and Franek (Ireneusz Cop) circle one another as they confront the villagers, who aftermath2increasingly oppose their efforts, and their own family history.

In case you feel that there’s little reason to dredge it all up again, or that you’ve seen it all before, there is, and you haven’t. To discover just how truthful Aftermath is, you have only to go on line and read some of the comments from outraged viewers (I did, out of curiosity). They are both deeply shocking and depressing, proving only that the issues are very much alive, and stillafter almost seven decades—able to generate venom. Trailer: here The film is currently in limited release. To locate theaters: see

Baden-Baden 1927

The City Opera may be gone, but the Gotham Chamber Opera is now in its 12th season of presenting challenging new and (sometimes very) baden baden 2old works, pushng the temporal envelope in both directions. This year, promising to “reimagine and reinterpret this historic performance,” it opened with a revivala legendary event from long ago and far away: July 17, 1927, in Baden-Baden.

Once a Roman spa, repeatedly forgotten and rediscovered, Baden-Baden became the site of the Festival of New Music (overflowing with a contemporary Who’s-Who of the cutting edge) that year and presented four one-act operas in one evening: Weill’s Mahagonny mahagonnySongspiel; Hindemith’s Hin und zurück; Milhaud’s L‘enlèvement d’Europe; and Toch’s Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse.

In selecting these composers and works, Gotham has continued its commitment to eclectic programming that can shock, compel, and seduce, but always provoke thought. Although Mahagonny is still familiar, the other three works are seldom performed. In particular, baden badenToch’s Princessin (better-known as The Princess and the Pea) was a real delight; Scandinavian folk-tale as reality TV. Enjoying this historic quartet reimagined (like Midsummer Night’s Dream) and freshly directed, played, and sung by a cast whose sparkle matches the paintings of Georg Baselitz and the sets and costumes of Court Watson, allows audiences to imagine 1927, and to take away some of the surprise and delight of its original impact.

Gotham has compiled a strong track record in recent years (especially for its premiere of Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters; its revival of Mozart’s Il sogno di Scipione; and Catán’s Rappaccini’s Daughter). It has been building partnerships with venues around the cityoften at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, but also at the New Victory Theatre, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The challenge of creating opera in these diverse settings is exactly what defines Gotham. But perhaps it might be time to consider settling down? If there is an heir apparent to NYCO, Gotham has earned its place at the top of the list. Let’s think about it… For now, to enjoy the remainder of the season, explore

Mahout to the Elephant in the Room

metronomesYou can hear the Refusal of Time before you can see it in its quarters at the Metropolitan Museum; the huge ticking metronomes, layered sound track, and Philip Miller’s chorus and brass band promise a new William Kentridge experience. Like most of them, it does not disappoint. Instead, as you take a seat near the back of the room, you are mesmerized refusal3twice: once by the huge breathing machine (a.k.a. The Elephant) that remains in perpetual motion, and once by the collage of images, still and filmed, current and archival, that march across five adjacent screens to the different drummer who is their ringmaster nonpareil.

In 2010, Kentridge’s took New York by storm. A retrospective of his work was mounted by MoMA; the Metropolitan Opera offered his production of Shostakovich’s The Nose (direction and design of sets and videos—it’s currently on-stage and in HD this season); and NYPL Live featured 90 minutes of the artist talking. It left you desperately wanting more.

Kentridge’s fertile imagination is driven as much by his mind and its concerns as by his exceptional technical skills, enriched by his gift for language and the pleasure he takes in explaining his work to all who will listen. For a real treat, browse YouTube for the kentridge3dozens of videos that reveal his work and his persona. He’s a consummate showman, physically agile and emotionally direct, articulate and often unabashedly funny. Yet his work is anchored by serious political and social ideas. He is to multi-media what Einstein is to simple math, towering over the narcissism that pervades so much of it and, instead, running away with a potent mixture  of humanism, history, theory, and craft that delivers his message without dumbing it  down.

refusal 3The Met has mounted a complementary exhibition nearbyIn Praise of Shadowsof Kentridge’s works on paper (reminding you of his extraordinary draftsmanship). Many artists can draw; few can give their drawings essential life in a new medium. Best viewed as a prelude to Refusal of Time, Shadows clarifies Kentridge’s process, making tangible the transformation of the drawings into elements of his multi-media, and offering clues as to the logic of their placement. On view until February 2, 2014 (Gallery 914). This is one double bill that is not only worth the trip, but repeated viewings, too.

The Refusal of Time can be enjoyed at the Met until May 11 (Gallery 919). After that, it will go west; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the exhibition’s co-commissionerand has planned a long run to coincide with completion of the museum’s expansion project in 2016. After that, the joint stewardship of the Met and SFMOMA will ensure Refusal the unique bi-coastal immortality it deserves; its own refusal of time.

Cogito: John Branch

May 21, 2013


JB photo-painting by RC 2



Chaos to Couture
at the Costume Institute

In January 1978, the Sex Pistols came to Dallas, Texas (my home), and played a concert in an eclectic, edge-of-downtown, barnlike sex pistolsvenue called the Longhorn Ballroom. According to a trusted acquaintance who was there (Jeffrey Liles, who’s still involved in music and nightclubs all these many years later), maybe as many as a thousand people were present, but that was less than half the capacity of the place. Oddly, the number seemed to grow as time passed. In the early 80s, the Pistols’ show began to acquire the patina of legend, and more and more people claimed to have seen it.

As I headed into the Metropolitan Museum’s Punk: Chaos to Couture show, I half expected to find that fashion had glommed on to Punk in the same after-the-fact manner. Au imagesCA9I5GU1contraire: the show reminded me that packaging had always been involved with Punk, in a couple of ways. First, the look was part of the message. Defiant slogans and gestures, spiked hair, graffiti-like splashes of color, ripped or degraded fabric sometimes held together with safety pins, collars and other objects borrowed from bondage wear, outfits decorated with or even built from garbage bags: this was Punk to many people. The look was a marker of group identity, a rejection of other youth-culture styles such as the Hippie look and the glitter of Disco (fashion writer Amy Fine Collins pointed this out to me in an email), an expression of feeling damaged or cast off, a flip of the finger to the social order and the ruling class.

Second, especially in England, marketing and design played a role in Punk from the start. Two figures dominate this part of the story. mclaren and westwoodMalcolm McLaren, a musician, producer, impresario, and all-around spirit of the age, who was regarded as a hustler by some and a genius by others, influenced almost every aspect of the Sex Pistols; as the band’s manager, he booked it on that American tour in 1978, which ended with the band’s breakup in San Francisco. McLaren had earlier joined forces with designer Vivienne Westwood; the two of them pretty much created the look of British Punk and sold it through a London shop on King’s Road.

The Met’s Costume Institute show, which was curated by Andrew Bolton, displays many of Westwood and McLaren’s creations, but seeing them all on mannequins leaves the Punk period (roughly 1974–79) feeling less than fully fleshed out. Photos supplied to the press do it better, just by capturing Punk styles on people such as John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer of the Clash, Richard Hell of Television and other bands, and Gary Wilson, a musician and performance artist who used dry-cleaning bags in his look. (You can see these, paired with modern versions on models, here.)

Considering the title’s reference to chaos, this exhibition might also seem to be lacking in grime, disorder, and vomit. Critic Suzy Menkes complained (in an IHT review here) that the Punk background it presents is “sanitized and bloodless.” It’s odorless too, and as James Wolcott recently reminded Vanity Fair readers (see article), CBGB was a decidedly odoriferous place. But I’m unsure how much we’d like to be reminded of any of that.

CI punk show, May 2013: Zandra Rhodes & her dressesWhat do we have of Punk’s origins? There are many rebellious T-shirts by Westwood and McLaren and a few of their ensembles using bondage pants, furry sweaters, and the like. Also on display are a couple of 1977 Zandra Rhodes dresses that strike a lovely balance between distress and composure; Rhodes stationed herself in front of them for interviews during the press preview. Punk’s original habitats are evoked by two physical spaces that recall the Metropolitan’s other period rooms: a recreation of the CBGB bathroom from 1975 (sans odor), and a duplication of Westwood and McLaren’s boutique on King’s Road. The CBGB urinals remind others of Marcel Duchamp; I thought the scene needed a note reading “This is not a bathroom” (à la René Magritte). Rounding out the source material are video excerpts from various period films, including footage from that Sex Pistols show in Dallas, running on screens placed throughout the exhibition. But all the video is silent—the music we hear comes from other sources—and has a hard-to-read, throwaway feel. (Presumably the figures shown, and the rationale for which gallery they appear in, are more recognizable to others than they were to me.) In the DIY: Bricolage room, one of the large video screens worked better as a garish light source than as anything to ponder.

Where the curator has harvested a real bounty is in the recent borrowings from Punk. Spread through the galleries are dozens of pieces, both ready-to-wear and haute couture, for men and women. Knowledgeable commentary on these works is easy to find elsewhere. I’ll just say that it’s surprising how many design responses can be traced to the short-lived outburst that was Punk.

CI punk show May 2013: Fashions in the bricolage roomThere’s an energizing tension between the look and the feel of the show. The gallery layouts are symmetrical, classical (some use Roman-style niches), elegant, composed… almost serenely seductive. But when a crowd is on hand, the music is pumping, and ever-changing light dances from the videos, the show can feel like a nightclub—which, in case you don’t know me, I mean as a good thing. The experience is a fantastical one, in which you the viewer mingle, on entirely comfortable terms, with the chicest of the chic, who remain on their platforms like Patience on a monument.

Indulging the club feel will be a mistake if you fail to balance it with careful observation. I know I missed things in my larking CI punk show May 2013: Bullet-wound shirtabout. The gunshot-wound shirt by Hedi Slimane is eye-catching; less so is the intricate detail work in a mohair knit-and-crochet ensemble from Rodarte and the delicate beauty of Ann CI punk show May 2013: Ann Demeulemeester dressDemeulemeester’s “quotation dress” (my term), embroidered with Patti Smith text. The parting nod to Punk’s defiance is obvious too; more obscure is just where one could wear this mannequin’s barely-there evening dress, from Maison Martin Margiela.

The show concludes with a fine irony: the “no future” declaration, which originated in a Sex Pistols song, now marches proudly across the wall of the last gallery, negating itself by its very CI punk show May 2013: Maison Martin Margiela evening dresspresence. Punks either died or moved on, but their style had a futureit’s here.

Through August 14, 2013, at the Metropolitan Museum:

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