Sunday, November 28, 2010

A new book promotes pro bono architecture

Scanning quickly through a new book on architecture reveals page after page of carefully composed photographs of a wide variety of structures that are beautiful, dynamic and imaginative. In other words, the types of buildings, the excellence of design, and the quality of the presentation are indistinguishable from the many other thick surveys of contemporary architecture that proliferate in the architecture sections of bookstores. That is intentional. What sets this volume apart is its purpose and perspective. The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients demonstrates that pro bono work can be held to the same standards as any other architecture. It highlights exemplary built projects and argues for the value—and power—of pro bono to benefit not only the public good but the architectural profession as well.

Lavezzorio Community Center, Chicago, IL
Studio Gang Architects

The book is edited by John Cary, who is the former executive director of Public Architecture. An award-winning non-profit organization, Public Architecture "acts as a catalyst for public discourse through education, advocacy, and the design of public spaces and amenities." (Full disclosure: I've known John Cary since he was in high school, when my class was his first exposure to architecture. It is truly invigorating to see how far he's taken it.)

"Pro bono" is often misconstrued to mean "for free" because the work that is done is not billed to the client (or sometimes billed at a substantial discount). Pro bono actually is short for pro bono publicum, which means "for the public good." The common conception that the service is "for free" is a product of our consumer culture, in which cost is a primary consideration. "For the public good" suggests a greater sense of social responsibility. However, this focus on the social fabric does not have to come at the expense of the bottom line. In his introduction, John Peterson, founder of Public Architecture, says that "pro bono projects routinely generate deeper client/architect relationships than conventional fee-generating work." Cary goes on to say that through their involvement in these kinds of projects architects "often find a new dimension of personal and professional purpose."

Robin Hood L!brary Initiative, New York, NY
HMA2 Architects

All architecture exists within the intertwining contexts of setting and function. It is the most social of arts and inevitably affects the public sphere. Yet, surprisingly, the profession has no historical commitment to pro bono work as does the legal profession, for example. The Power of Pro Bono seeks to change this and provides not only a rationale but cogent arguments for why such a change would benefit both the public and the profession. The many examples cited in this book and the many firms that now actively include pro bono work as a regular practice seem to indicate that the profession is ready to step up to the plate. Cary says "It turns out that pro bono work doesn't just benefit those who are served; it fortifies and inspires those who serve."

Kudos to John Cary, Public Architecture, and The Power of Pro Bono!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New photos from the Lynden Sculpture Garden

Inside/Outside at the Lynden Sculpture Garden continues through Dec. 12. I visited yesterday and got a few more shots of the installations outside. These are just a sample. To see more, go to my flickr page.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

A day of reflection; a day of remembrance; a day of togetherness. My offering on this day: this week’s spectacular, stormy sunset on the County Grounds and an old favorite poem by Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

© Mary Oliver

Monday, November 22, 2010

Project 50/50 helps the homeless

Shay Kelley is 25 and she's homeless. Instead of becoming another statistic, she chose to become an advocate for other homeless people. She's on her way to visiting all 50 states in 50 weeks, collecting food and not a small amount of attention along the way. The food she donates to shelters and food banks. The fame she uses to leverage more action to help homeless people. She has 14,000 "friends" on facebook but she insists that those numbers mean nothing if people don't DO something about homelessness.

I heard the story on NPR (gotta love those stories on NPR, hey!). Click here to check that out.

Or go to her website. She's a photographer, so the site is full of her images, which are of all kinds of things she has seen on her route through the 50 states. The two here are samples from California. Arts Without Borders salutes Shay Kelley. I predict she won't be homeless long after she finishes her project in December - though she claims she can never live a "normal" life after living in her pickup for 50 weeks. (Oh, to be 25 again!)

Yale to return artifacts to Peru

One of the more contentious and longstanding examples of what's become a common issue in the art world seems to be resolved as Yale University announced on Friday that it would return thousands of Peruvian artifacts that were taken when Machu Picchu was excavated a hundred years ago. Having witnessed sunrise from the Puerta del Sol on the Inca Trail above Machu Picchu, I freely admit to being under its influence.

Click here for the story as attributed to the Associated Press and reported on NPR. (Go NPR! Hey, I'm not biassed.)

Here's a shot from my trip in 2009. Stay tuned for my upcoming exhibit, Seeing Peru: Layered Realities, which opens January 16 at Mt. Mary College. You can see two sets of images from Peru on my flickr page.

Friday, November 19, 2010

“Venerate” at the UWM Union Gallery

Venerate: Collectors of the Human Condition opened last night at the UWM Union Art Gallery. It is a two person show of paintings, sculptures, and installation. It’s worth a visit. These snaps are a teaser, but don't do the work justice.

 Unfortunately, I came late and missed the gallery talk by Marco Zamora. Here he is next to his wall piece.

This installation of piled backpacks dominates the space and is an example of the kind of site specific installations that the Union, with its enormous ceiling height and dramatic architecture, does often and well.

An example of the lovely sculptures, inspired by hurricane Katrina, by Loren Schwerd.

This detail shows Schwerd’s incorporation of human hair into the work. See more at Loren Schwerd’s website.

Schwerd will give a gallery talk at 7 pm on Thursday, Dec. 2.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: the depressive personality

Do you occasionally feel unaccountably ill at ease? I know I do. I usually chalk it up to the latest bad news or a low pressure system moving in with days of sunless weather. (I won’t discount the effects of the last election, but that’s not unaccountably.) Sometimes I wonder if it’s something more fundamental, but I hope it’s not in my genes.

I’ve been unaccountably content lately. Which feels good, of course, but, since I’m not certain why, I hesitate to trust it. I’m one of those who often has to work hard to see the glass half full. If it comes easily I wonder when the other shoe will drop.

I’m reading Freedom, the bestselling novel so celebrated that the author, Jonathan Franzen, made the cover of Time magazine recently and reviews bandy phrases like “great American novel” and such. I’m about a third of the way through and although the story is engrossing, my internal jury is still out; I’m not yet convinced it lives up to the hype.

But last night I came across the following passage, which struck a chord and, well, I’m hoping it doesn’t describe my personality too much! One of the main characters in the book is Richard Katz, a middle-aged musician who has been, up until this point in the story, blithely if not blissfully unsuccessful.

“Katz had read extensively in popular sociobiology, and his understanding of the depressive personality type and its seemingly perverse persistence in the human gene pool was that depression was a successful adaptation to ceaseless pain and hardship. Pessimism, feelings of worthlessness and lack of entitlement, inability to derive satisfaction from pleasure, a tormenting awareness of the world’s general crappiness: for Katz’s Jewish paternal forebears, who’d been driven from shtetl to shtetl by implacable anti-Semites, as for the old Angles and Saxons on his mother’s side, who’d labored to grow rye and barley in the poor soils and short summer of northern Europe, feeling bad all the time and expecting the worst had been natural ways of equilibriating [sic] themselves with the lousiness of their circumstances. Few things gratified depressives, after all, more than really bad news. This obviously wasn’t’ an optimal way to live, but it had its evolutionary advantages. Depressives in grim situations, handed down their genes, however despairingly, while the self-improvers converted to Christianity or moved away to sunnier locales. Grim situations were Katz’s niche the way murky water was a carp’s.”

Art imitates life – I just don’t want it to imitate my life. No, it’s not me – at least not today!

(Now, how did I get old Jim Croce’s “Workin’ at the Carwash Blues” stuck in my head?)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Beaver "art" along the Menomonee River Parkway?

It looks like art, but what do you call it if it was chewed by a beaver?

Read the story behind my discovery of this natural artist and see more pictures at Urban Wilderness.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Milwaukee Art Museum is “world’s sexiest building”

Never mind the titillating Victoria’s Secret ad that was filmed there, a website called VirtualTourist has named the curvy Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion itself as the world’s sexiest building. Which begs the question, how does one decide what makes a building sexy? Victoria’s Secret doesn’t leave that question much latitude, but architecture is another thing. Is “sexy” simply a provocative way to say “cool” or the latest in trendy design? (Some of their choices are decidedly old.) Are there formal qualities of shape and proportion that deliver innuendoes?  Or can there be something sensual about a building that actually evokes or at least symbolizes the physical attraction that “sexy” denotes?

If sensuous curves are the criteria, why Milwaukee? There are Calatrava buildings all over the world that compete with this one, along with any number by Frank Gehry, whose Disney Opera House made the list of top ten. On the other hand, if you check out the complete list you will find it includes the Sonneveld House in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which is all straight lines and right angles. They call it the “strong silent type” but how imaginative is that? If that’s the criteria, let’s start with Mies van der Rohe's masterpiece, the Seagram Building and work our way down to a brutalist hulk like John Madin’s Central Library in Birmingham, England (below).

OK, maybe that's not very sexy, but masculine sexual metaphors are definitely in a token minority on the VirtualTourist top ten list. Curves clearly dominate. The Absolute World Towers in Missassauga, Canada (top), tall and twisty as well as curvy, are described as the “supermodel of modern architecture.” A bridge (there are two sexy bridges on the list) in Malaysia is “slinky as a screen siren…slithering across the water.” Gaudí made the list, as well he should. But Milwaukee’s Calatrava? Perhaps I’m making too much of what is no doubt a PR ploy to attract customers to its website. Maybe VirtualTourist makes a new list every year and has to come up with new choices. That could be why they choose Milwaukee over, just to pick one of Calatrava’s more outrageous designs, the Tenerife Opera House (below).

But, hey, why not Milwaukee? If sexy is in the eye of the beholder (shall we ask the Supreme Court?), then the Quadracci Pavilion can stand the scrutiny. Georgia O’Keeffe continually denied that her giant flowers were meant to be interpreted as sexual in the face of almost universal disagreement. How unlike her Calla lilies is this magnificent edifice?

(I still marvel at it every time I see this building. Not that it exists, but that it’s here, in Milwaukee!)
And thanks to Mary Louise Schumacher at Art City for bringing this to my attention!