“Plain Beauty of Well-Made Things”

I came across an article today “The Plain Beauty of Well-Made Things” ,  by Karen Stein via The Design Observer.

Exterior of former artillery shed adapted by Donald Judd to house his 100 works milled in aluminum, Marfa, Texas – source

Stein’s proposition “…that architecture is made not just by architects…” is spot on in my opinion. The question is explored through her writing about Donald Judd.   The challenge to consider – “what is or is not architecture” (and perhaps by extension – who “is or is not an architect”)  is an old question for sure, but it is interesting to see it explored in her writing and through the lens of an artist such as Donald Judd. I think there is a corollary to photography – that photography is not made just by photographers… Perhaps that is quite an acceptable (and obvious) statement – though sometimes, I wonder…

Something touched upon in the article – to consider; refers to Judd’s writing – to be aware of the effects of separating “art from non-art”. Perhaps another careful consideration correlates to the sometimes opposed idea of “fine art photography and the snapshot”…  that it may be more interesting to think along the lines of distinction as a matter of degrees between “forms of art and non-art”…  The context of a person’s intention and the context of which one encounters that form – obviously comes into play… Above, the apparent found condition of an artillery shed – modified by Judd with the curious addition of a tin metal quonset hut above.

Tin Snips - Walker Evans

Tin ships, by J. Wiss & Sons Co. $1.85 – photograph by Walker Evans

With admitted sense of irony, it got me to thinking about photographs by Walker Evans – from the portfolio of  “The Beauty of Common Tools” published in Fortune Magazine – June 1955. Original web source of image via http://www.fulltable.com/VTS/n.htm – Dr. Chris Mullen The Visual Telling of Stories, illustration, design, film, narrative sequences, magazines, books, prints etc”

I think the text accompanying Evan’s photo essay (noted above) deserves to be quoted here:

Among low-priced, factory-produced goods, none is so appealing to the senses as the ordinary hand tool. Hence, a hardware store is a kind of offbeat museum show for the man who responds to good, clear “undesigned” forms.  The Swedish steel pliers pictured above, with their somehow swanlike flow, and the objects on the following pages, in all there tough simplicity, illustrate this. Aside from their functions – though they are exclusively wedded to function- each of these tools lures the eye to follow its curves and angels, and invites the hand to test its balance.

Who would sully the lines of the tin-cutting shears … with a single added bend or whorl? Or clothe in any way the fine naked impression of heft and bite in the crescent wrench…  To be sure, some design-happy manufacturers have tampered with certain tool classics; the beautiful plumb bob, which used to come naively and solemnly shaped like a child’s top, now looks suspiciously like a toy space ship, and is no longer brassy. But not much can be done to spoil a crate opener, that nobly ferocious statement in black steel…  In fact, almost all the basic small tools stand, aesthetically speaking, for elegance, candor, and purity. – W.E.

Aspiring to understand why some utility objects or buildings, unadorned (or not quite unadorned) – yet quite deliberately designed and engineered – seem to cross the boundary in some contexts between art and non-art objects or forms…  What role does photography play in this? What is it that distinguishes some photographs from others? The qualities of a photograph that bring appreciation to those things that occur quite naturally and unassumingly from “out there” in the world?  The degree to which the image causes a distinction among possible images which allow me – or even better – cause me to pause and consider, to notice, to observe – to recognize how I interpret them…?

UPDATE: Cover: Art Building U of Iowa

UPDATE: Steven Holl – interviewed by Charlie Rose. I was very happy and excited to see a bit of the University of Iowa’s new Art Building be a part of the noted work discussed in the interview by Charlie Rose. I have to say that having been a part of the team for the Art Building and from the architect-of-record point of view, this was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I’ve had. I think it is important to note how many times Mr. Holl refers to “we” or “us” when describing the process. It begins with a strong idea that a group can work upon and with.

The “we” expands and contracts of course throughout process but ultimately boils down to recognizing the power of a strong client / architect / builder – with these three willful partners in this process a lot of great work and ideas can be accomplished.

Well, it’s fun to see your work, whether it’s a photograph, or a project, or both/and – published.

Art Building – School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa
Steven Holl Architects – Design Architect (Project link)
HLKB Architecture – Architect of Record

More photo’s of the project here

A review by Blair KaminChicago Tribute architecture critic here in ArchRecord (full article in January 2007 ArchRecord magazine).

Best experienced as is all good architecture… in person…

Intersecting Images: Fragments [as seen through the lens]

“Splitting” Gordon Matta Clark

UPDATE: Read about the show…and see a couple of images via NYT
Showing at the Whitney

“…He often talked about edges: about the areas between walls, between a floor and
a ceiling — about gaps and voids, which he made into art. In the show are
photographs that he took of the spaces under chairs, between the floors of
buildings, on the ceiling of a loft, where the sprinkler pipes were: places
people don’t usually bother to notice. “Opening up view to the unvisible” (he
loved wordplay), was something he jotted on a note to himself. It might be his
manifesto.” – Art Review- Cross Sections of Yesterday

Published: February 23, 2007

Gordon Matta-Clark, “Splitting,” 1974,
black & white photo collage, 40 x 30 inches
Collection Jane Crawford
Courtesy Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago

I find Matta-Clark’s vision of space more to my sense of being in the world… After all we humans stand up on two legs… and look out at the world through two eyes (I’m generalizing here)… We don’t fly over things like birds… so I find things like this…. by Andreas Gefeller – which I think is a bit more odd and difficult to enter into… excepting that I am a practicing architect (intern) – so I’ve got some practice looking at “plans”. But that’s a whole other subject – like the Oblique…

To me the plan (more like a way-finding map – removed – abstracted – about iconography) means something entirely different than the section photo montage by Gordon Matta-Clark above. I like the collage of photographs each room with it’s own vanishing point. Vanishing point – that assumes that there is a subject perspective…. a point of view. Therefor I can imagine being in this space… I like the offering of being able to “see it all at once” yet I’m, not really able to a have true understanding of the space. That’s what’s challenging in this work. What we think we see in photos recomposing a certain kind of reality… In this case Gordon’s. I like it.

Incidentally, the work and other stories of Matta-Clark will be shown at the Whitney coming next year. Should be a show worth seeing.

Julius Shulman – Photographer

Julius Shulman
“Richard Neutra and Me”
1950 printed later
Gelatin Silver Print
S K Josefsberg Studio

TITLE: My Mother
Julius Shulman

Julius Shulman – Photographer

Eames House
203 Chataqua
Pacific Palisades, CA
Architect: Eames
Photography: Julius Shulman

Case Study House 22
1635 Woods Drive – Above Sunset/Laurel Canyon
Los Angeles, CA
Architect: Pierre Koenig
Photography: Julius Shulman

Eye for architecture ”
Renowned photographer to speak in Pasadena
Janette Williams Staff Writer
PASADENA – “My Dear Shulman, When I let you in on Tallesin West I did not realize you were a professional photographer. I thought you were some artistic youth wanting to try your luck. … I admit that no better photos have been made of the camp than those you send. What technique did you employ in making these admirable prints?”

Frank Lloyd Wright, writing to Julius Shulman in 1950, knew good work
when he saw it. Now, at 96, Shulman is recognized as the preeminent architectural photographer of the age. Shulman will be at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena Saturday to launch the Sidney D. Gamble lecture series. Even people who don’t know Shulman’s name know his work, most famously of the 1960 Case Study House No. 22. The iconic 1932 image of the two young women sitting in a glass box hanging Sunset Boulevard has become the most widely seen architectural photograph in the world, Shulman said.

He and his Kodak Vest Pocket camera – which he still has – were just “in the right place at the right time” in 1936 when his sister introduced him to architect Richard Neutra’s assistant, Shulman said. Neutra liked and bought the pictures Shulman took of his Kun house in the Hollywood Hills and he was on his way.”

Nice story – I’m interested in the “myth”. Being in the right place and the right time that is. i believe you have to make the conditions ripe with opportunity in order to produce (like farming – you must put a fish in the bottom of your hole before you plant the corn) – because it’s easy to produce nothing. I wonder what the back story really is….?

On this architectural photography style – I wonder about the artistic viewpoint? Is this architectural photography really a certain genera of work that belongs simply to “product” photography?

UPDATE:  a little vid of Julius Shulman here…  interesting note in the vid by Shulman about “Iowa Architects” – how true that work such as the work by Shulman is quite the reason for many such “discoveries” –  it’s another example of the eye of the photographer to portray a sense of character of a space (whether you like the style or not) and this is key to convey a sense of mystique… A story here on NPR as well….