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Posts Tagged ‘optimism’

Monet is popular because of his use of color.  In l967 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, under its new director Thomas Hoving,  acquired Monet’s La Terrace à Sainte-Addresse for  1.4  million. Monet had painted it in 1867, at the age of twenty-seven and had sold it for pittance because as a new father he needed the money.  But I digress.

Hoving fought to get the painting for the museum.  When he saw it in the dingy quarters of its eccentric owner, the Swedenborgian pastor Theodore Pitcairn, in a suburb of Philadelphia, he was so overcome by the painting’s beauty that he ”sat down on the bed and stared at it for what must have been an hour.” In his book, “Making the Mummies Dance,”  Hoving talks only about the exquisite colors in this painting.

Well, now, as is our custom in this blog, let’s have another look.  Colors, yes, but what about all this geometry.

I immediately notice two things in the geometry:  1) the two flag poles, making me suspect a Golden Section and 2) a dominant line at the lower right.

The Golden Section (1) is right there, defined by the flag poles and the center of the umbrella and the eye of the man in the hat, the beholder of the scene, and therefore one of us the viewers. (The bright green lines).

The dominant line (2) is the strong line dividing the pavement from the garden. (The pink line)  This line, in the Western tradition, is read as going down.  Hm, down.  Here’s this cheerful scene, which Hoving describes as pure joy, and what we get is this dominant line directing our eye down, down, down.    If you don’t immediately see the down-effect of this line, just flip the

image over.  Now, the line goes up.  When that line goes up, the joy loses all gravitas and turns the image into a tourist bureau advertisement.  Doesn’t the optimism in the flipped version become facile and trivial?

The picture within the picture that frames the man, the woman and the black sails through the use of the flag poles (3) is clearly intentional especially since the man in the hat is looking at that scene.  A few days after the birth of his son, the penniless Monet wrote to his friend Bazille: “Everything is fine here, work and family;  were it not for the birth I should be the happiest man alive.”

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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When you Google something today, you’ll see a line drawing of Crown Hall.  Bravo, Google!

Crown Hall is the Architecture building at the Illinois Institute of Technology, designed in the mid 1950’s by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was born on this day in 1886.  The building often houses architecture exhibits and art events.  It’s well worth the trip to just be in this building.

Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization, replied “I think it would be a great idea.”  He died a few years before Crown Hall went up.  Too bad.  He might have had an aha-moment in this exhilarating, optimistic space.  He would have noticed the clarity of its thought.

The Main Building of what was then the Armory Institute of Technology was built by Patton & Fisher in 1893, the year of the Columbian Exposition.  You see it every time you drive down the Dan Ryan.  It’s Romanesque Revival and was cut from the same fearful cloth as all the gloppy grandeur down at the Midway Plaisance that year.  The powers-that-were apparently trembled at the changes– social, political, cultural, technological, spiritual, the works– that were in the air and exploded in the early decades of the 20th century.  Louis Sullivan was part of that change and his Transportation Building at the Fair was the only progressive structure there.  Poor Louis, came to a tragic end.

The 20th century turned a corner, any way you think of corner, metaphorically or technologically.  No wonder, “how to turn a corner”  became a major topic of discussion among architects.

Mies turned a profound corner.

Gandhi might have been drawn to sit in meditation in Mies’s chapel, which looks inconspicuous, without grandeur, affectation or cowardly historical revivalism.  The chapel at IIT looks more like a factory, a little workshop, a cubicle even, a place where you go to work on your stuff.

(Above, my caricature of Mies, 1986, when I was a docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation and gave the Loop tours and the Boat Tour with great passion and the occasional quip about the powers-that-be, but you already guessed that.  )

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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