Friday, October 05, 2007

RIP, Mr. Muschamp (AY="Garden of Eden")

Former New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, who died Tuesday, "was governed by passion," wrote Times colleague Verlyn Klinkenborg in an affectionate editorial appraisal, citing "a passion for passion itself... I think he also had a passion for equity — moral, social and aesthetic."

Ok, but there's more. He seemed most of all concerned with the esthetic experience of a building, often decontextualized. By ignoring “the experience most people have,” Muschamp “helped create the world of starchitects,” commented the Boston Globe's Robert Campbell at a May 2006 panel.

Missing AY

Indeed, as I wrote, Muschamp's 12/10/03 review of Frank Gehry's Atlantic Yards design was an unqualified--and unreflective--rave, offering no reflection on the impact of development.

As noted in the graphic, developer Forest City Ratner wasted no time in turning Muschamp's quote into an advertisement, stretching to suggest that Muschamp's enthusiasm represented the editorial voice of the Times, rather than a particularly exuberant critic.

A building as starlet

Nicolai Ouroussoff's Times obituary noted that, in Muschamp's "typically sprawling 1997 review" of Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the critic declared the building "the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe.”

Muschamp continued, “What twins the actress and the building in my memory is that both of them stand for an American style of freedom. That style is voluptuous, emotional, intuitive and exhibitionist. It is mobile, fluid, material, mercurial, fearless, radiant and as fragile as a newborn child. It can’t resist doing a dance with all the voices that say 'No.' It wants to take up a lot of space. And when the impulse strikes, it likes to let its dress fly up in the air.”

That sequence, an architect friend of mine observed, "stays so adamantly detached from any understanding of architecture as a social, economic, urban, technological, environmental, or political phenomenon--everything is reduced to a private, entirely personal aesthetic opinion. How can the New York Times espouse this point of view as the only possible way to look at architecture?"

Others do it differently.

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