San Francisco on Foot

During the time of the plague–the virus mainly, more than the orange man in that white house–I have been taking long hikes in the city, first in Golden Gate Park, discovering nooks and crannies off the beaten path and now, along the bay side and the shore, south of the new Warrior stadium. Under siege now by the developer caste, and their paint-by-number, utterly hideous box buildings, mostly 2 or 3 story apartment complexes that could be anywhere, are always somewhere in the gray spectrum, and have absolutely nothing to do with the style or tone that distinguished this once unique city, it remains, so far, a largely neglected, semi-industrial zone. The photos catch parts of it, beginning, though with the UCSF medical complex which is a massive hospital/research array of buildings that have almost zero street level identity and  hence feel barren even though some of the buildings are above average in their architectural distinction. South of there the waterfront is still mostly industrial and those two areas are where the photos come from so, if each is worth a 1000 words, it’s time to move to pictures.


4 balls, highly reflective, outside the Chase Center

Pier 70 STeel w fence

See all the unbroken windows

Cemex 2

Not cement

Heron Head ruin

The jetty and the pier

More to come


Frank Gehry’s Bilbao

This is truly an impressive work. After seeing Sydney Pollack’s doc on Gehry where they mainly interact and Gehry talks about his career, I came away more convinced than ever that it is one of the great architectural achievements of modern times. And Pollack is generous enough to give screen time to Hal Foster who plays the Blue Meanie: it’s just not that good, not that important, and if it were, it’d be too important because museums are about the art. He should have told that to Frank Lloyd Wright before he built the original Guggenheim with its insane spiral gallery that has proven a wonder ever since!

But enough on Meanies. What struck me is the balance and proportionality of it, and the intricacy of the surfaces that curve, bend, fold and refuse to obey the rectilinear dictates of most architecture. In fact, a vast number of columns, including staircases and elevator shafts as well as the more thematically inspired columns that soar upward from the central open space within, are freestanding: they do not begin at the ground level or end at the ceiling but usually do just one or the other, or neither. It gives the whole thing a lightness and giddiness that belies its monumental size.

And the curves seem to mimic the enormous gallery of Richard Serra’s great freestanding steel sculptures that also appear unanchored in any traditional sense. See this photo below of Gehry’s sculpted space and compare it to the permanent installation of Serra. It’s just one of the many ways in this museum is a true gem and will remain so for a long long time.

Bilbao 45

Bilbao Serra

MOMA meet the Met: Reversals of Fortune

2013-08-20 10.09.27I may be the last person to compare the new MOMA and the expanded Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Much ballyhoo attended MOMA’s big expansion while the Met was adding here and there over the years and now, in 2013, the difference is spectacular: what was once a crusty, dingy, rather dark and dreary place, the Met, is the place to be and what was once the cutting edge of the provocative and new is now a disaster. A strong word for a great musuem but, in this case, deserving.

Ironically, my belated visit to MOMA coincided with a show on the work of Le Corbusier, one of the major pioneers of the modernist style of stripped down, no nonsense architecture.  Watching a video of him presenting his vision of a city of pencil like high rises separated by little more than lawns, I thought how sad it is that this notion has taken root so often: big, anonymous buildings with no distinctive character, access or amenties at ground level surrounded by a vast green desert of barren space.  His vision seemed demonic and one that came to fruition more from his own charismatic persuasiveness than the human scale and emotional appeal of his designs.  He must have mesmerized, if not intimidated, his clients into submission.

But did that happen to MOMA with Yoshio Taniguchi, the architect of the new monstrosity of its massive expansion? The space is grey, cheap in the small touches like flooring and signage, lifeless, vastly overcrowded with both vistors and objects, and without respite.  It is modernism architecture that has not learned from the postmodern upheavals that have, with playful and inventive turns, revitalized the field and given us buildings of grace, wit and elegance.  Taniguchi’s space has a monotonous, propulsive energy, sending the visitor onward in search of a moment of unhurried calm that never arrives. And where it is expansive, as in the passages that look down on the great atrium or the windows that look out on the sculpture garden and original MOMA buildings, it is entirely solipsistic: it looks at only itself. The rest of the city stands outside the gates.

And outside the gates but nestled securely in Central Park, stands the Metropolitan Museum of New York.  It has expanded mightily in the last decade or more but always with taste and subtlety. The enormous glass enclosed addition housing the remains of the Temple of Dendur is worth the price of admission alone (which is whatever one wishes to pay, above or below the recommended amounts!) and yet it is but one of the enormous number of special exhibitions and spectacular spaces we’re invited to take in.  Despite a crush at the entrance no less daunting than at MOMA’s, once inside the museum absorbs its guests into a calm serenity. Even the best attended exhibitions such as the current “Photography and the American Civil War” and the complementary “The Civil War and American Art” lack the propulsive move-along, don’t-linger, get-out-of-here energy of MOMA. And the standard gallery shows, such as the fabulous atelier-like space devoted to  contemporary art, take the breath away with their hospitality, audacity and beauty.  The image at the top of the Post is of Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum V, fills the entire wall of gallery 925.  And it is obvious from the photo that the energy is habitational, contemplative and serene compared to the frenzied pace of MOMA.  It’s possible to linger, ponder and absorb the magic of this simple but subtle work that simply could not be shown without a space of the kind the Met has created.

Enough said. I’m late to the show but it’s worth keeping thought, dialogue and recommendations of where to go and what to see, alive.