Archive for October, 2010

Small Treasures

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Kaiser Aluminum News, 1965

One of the most difficult tasks is to go through a family member’s things after they’ve died. After my father died, we did this so my brother and his family could take over his house. At first, it’s gut wrenching, and I wanted to keep everything for sentimental reasons. “But that was Dad’s rubber-band,” I would argue. After a few days, something else clicked in and the dumpster began to fill up. This was after we’d been told by several thrift shops to stop bring clothing from the 1970s. Fortunately, my sister gave the bulk of my father’s wardrobe to a friend who was the bartender at a groovy bar. Unfortunately, my brother had to stop going there because he thought it was creepy to see a young hipster behind the bar in Dad’s old striped shirts from Sears in 1975.

Books were the hardest to give away. Who knew that everyone was so picky? We called several used booksellers in Berkeley and San Francisco. They came out to the house, sifted through the hundreds of books and took three. Eventually we started throwing them away. I admit a book on Cobol (a computer language from 1959) is not a big draw. I did, however, save a wonderful assortment of ephemera. One of my favorite items is Kaiser Aluminum News III, from 1965. The drawings are by Saul Steinberg. Don Conover is listed as the art director. I don’t have any idea why my dad had this. Maybe he owned stock, but I don’t think he was interested in aluminum. There are some scary typographic choices (the bold Century Expanded and italic Optima), but each page is as incredible as the next.

Some day, after a few cocktails, I’ll do some drunk posting, and talk about the other “ephemera” we found.

Baby Doll

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

As an elderly shut-in, I never stay up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live. When I stay at my grandparents’ house, the only thing to watch is old VHS cassettes of The Lawrence Welk Show. Noreen showed me a wonderful combination of the two today that needed to be shared. If only my grandparents were still alive, we could switch their tapes with these.

Making Halloween Real

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

retape the package after you open it

One of my friends recently told me about a neighbor who lured children into her home at Halloween. She told the kids who were Trick-or-Treating that the candy was in a bowl in the closet. Of course, children are easily led astray with promises of snacks, so they would all go into the dark closet looking for the candy. She would then shut the door and leave them in there. Fortunately, she opened the door after a few seconds and let them leave with the candy.

Some of you may be saying, “That’s kidnapping.” Maybe it is. But, if the spirit of Halloween were to scare children, I’d say it’s a successful trick. In that same vein, I’ve decided that this year I’m going to up the terror level at my house. Rather than simply handing out cute little Reese’s packages, I’m going to only give away candy and fruit that looks suspicious. I plan on buying some wonderful red apples, and slicing each one open a bit, just to make sure they are fresh. Then I’ll open each and every candy bar to make sure they’re safe, but I’ll tape them all closed again with some big Scotch tape. And, I’ll probably hand out little Ziploc bags of assorted loose candy like candy corns.

I know it’ll play out like this: the kids will take everything. They rarely pay attention to the “tampering” issue. At home, the parents will panic, there will be drama, “Where did you get this? Who gave this to you? No, put it down! I don’t care, it’s not safe!” I doubt the kids will remember that the items came from my house, and if they do, they probably won’t bother me next year. This is the true spirit of Halloween, and I’ll have succeeded at scaring parents, while making sure the candy is good for the kids.

slice the apple with an X-acto to check freshness

safe now after re-taping

Delight and Disgust

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Morris Lapidus, The Eden Roc Hotel, 1955: Miami, Florida

Everyone loves a story about the misunderstood artist, reviled in his time, and then lauded in his old age. Morris Lapidus is that story. When the Eden Roc and Fontainebleau Hotels were built, Lapidus was called vulgar, pretentious, artificial, and tasteless. Both hotels, however, were incredibly successful. The design challenge was to build a hotel where “the guy who can afford to pay fifty bucks a day will look around and think that a fortune had been spent to create the hotel.” The result did this. Lapidus used a cinematic approach to architecture. His buildings look the way America in the 1950s thought luxury looked like, via Hollywood. Granted, some of the design, such as the Lapidus Residence bathroom, escapes me. But, if you like fancy, it sure is “fancified”.

I find it endlessly fascinating that populist work is typically deemed, “unworthy,” while something created for a small minority of elite intellectuals is “worthy.” If a basic tenet of Modernism is to create good design for the masses, this is contradictory. Lapidus weathered the decades of criticism and kept working. In 1970, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s critique of Lapidus was typical: “Lapidus is a sleazy, self-promoting careerist, an architect on the prestige-make. Lapidus is a well-known phenomenon in the profession. He made his pile and excuses his aberrations with the nauseating clichés of ‘what people want’ (as if taste pollution did not go the other way from designer to public).”

We can dissect the virulent antagonism in multiple ways. Since the work was designed to appeal to the masses in Florida, and was not in New York or Chicago, there is a distinct sense of regional and class elitism. Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in the New York Times that his work was “uninspired superschlock.” This was a criticism of Lapidus’s ornate decor, but Huxtable’s use of Yiddish words subtly raises the question of the hotel’s Jewish architect and clientele, suggesting anti-Semitism.

Fortunately, by the time Lapidus had retired, and was 97, the architecture community began to acknowledge his work. The book, Morris Lapidus: The Architecture of Joy, is a wonderful collection of exuberant and interesting work that challenges our ideas of taste and modernism.

Images below are from this book

Morris Lapidus, The Fontainebleu Hotel, 1952: Miami, Florida

Morris Lapidus, The Eden Roc Hotel, 1955: Miami, Florida

Morris Lapidus, The Summit Hotel, 1959: New York, New York

Morris Lapidus, The Americana Hotel, 1960: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Morris Lapidus, Lapidus Residence, 1963: Miami, Florida

Morris Lapidus, Lapidus Residence, 1963: Miami, Florida

Morris Lapidus, The Architecture of Joy

A Morality Tale

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

George Tscherny, Art Auction Brunch

A couple of weeks ago on Mad Men, Don Draper decided to stop working for tobacco companies. When this happened, I immediately thought about George Tscherny’s packaging for Lark cigarettes. Which left me with a moral dilemma. I’m not crazy about smoking, but my family made their living from tobacco for the first two hundred years in America, and the Lark packaging is so good. Fortunately, Mad Men is a television show, and no cigarette company has approached me to design a campaign. I must be remarkably shallow. These are the kind of moral dilemmas that most designers immediately can answer, “Absolutely not!” But I really like the Lark packaging.

George Tscherny, Lark Cigarettes

George Tscherny, Museum of Modern Art

George Tscherny, Herman Miller

George Tscherny, SVA

George Tscherny, Uris Building Corporation

George Tscherny, PanAm

George Tscherny, Johnson + Johnson

George Tscherny, 1940s

George Tscherny, 1950s