Saturday, August 13, 2011

Whither the Times's architecture chair? New occupant, art critic Kimmelman, coming, as "conventional wisdom" about Ouroussoff concerns detachment from NYC, notably disembodied AY critiques

In the New York Observer, Jonathan Liu's essay, Times Art Critic Michael Kimmelman to Take Over as Paper’s Architecture Critic, does a good job of sketching the importance of the post, occupied by just four critics since 1963:
The late Herbert Muschamp (he passed away in 2007) took over in the early 1990s...  Muschamp celebrated favorites like the Bilbao Guggenheim with the florid prose and omnivorous interests that might best be called fin de siècle.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, a Muschamp protégé, has held the post since 2004. He announced his resignation June 6. A month later, The Times named his replacement, Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s chief art critic, who will be returning to New York from four years in Europe. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Kimmelman, who takes the reins at the end of this month, doesn’t have formal training in architecture, or much of a track record as an architectural critic. He will continue to cover art...
“[Kimmelman’s] profiles of architects have been very good, but they aren’t criticism." [said the critic and historian Alexandra Lange] "But his hiring is insulting for the sense one has that The Times doesn’t think it is worth spending a whole salary on an architecture critic...”
Why it matters, and why AY matters

Liu writes:
For Ms. Lange, “the power of the Times critic job is in the fact that their reviews may be the only architecture criticism many people read. This is still true.” Yet when future generations consider the Ouroussoff Era, the defining text—assuming they still use Google—may be Alexandra Lange’s.
He refers to her "devastating takedown," headlined “Why Nicolai Ouroussoff Is Not Good Enough,” in the February 2010 Design Observer, a dissent that "has become more like conventional wisdom."

And what was the centerpiece of Lange's critique? As she wrote (and I excerpted):
Exhibits A and B in this critique are Ouroussoff’s reviews of the massive Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. It was unclear from his first review whether Ouroussoff had ever been to Brooklyn, so grateful did he think we should be for the services of (Los Angeles) architect Frank Gehry.

When did the Times critic leave Brooklyn?

Liu writes:
For Alexandra Lange and [The Architect's Newspaper's] Julie Iovine, the deterritorialization of the Times architecture critic began immediately after the departure of Ms. Huxtable, with her indomitable knowledge of zoning laws, block-level history and City Council minutiae.

Naturally, [Huxtable's successor] Mr. [Paul] Goldberger sets it later: “I think in Ada Louise’s time, and I hope in my time, the person in that job was a critical force—a very central presence in the dialogue about the future of New York. That’s less true today. … Herbert Muschamp and Nicolai Ouroussoff were both somewhat less interested in that and somewhat more interested in architecture as an object and artifact. … Whatever the reason, it is a very real loss.”

His successors, Ms. Goldberger noted, may have simply followed the general trend at The Times—that to survive, it would have to be a national, or international, paper.
Could it have been Davidson?

Chimes in the Observer's Matt Chaban, in If You’re Looking for an Architecture Critic, Try Justin Davidson:
If you want to find that critic, one who cares about “indomitable knowledge of zoning laws, block-level history and City Council minutiae,” as Mr. Liu puts the qualifications of the Times‘ first critic Ada Louis Huxtable, turn not to the paper of record but New York magazine. That is where Justin Davidson has been opining in Ms. Huxtable’s persnickety tradition for four years now.
For the record, in a scathing 9/13/09 essay headlined Basket Case: Bruce Ratner SHoPs for respectability., Davidson wrote:
In an attempt to save his Atlantic Yards project from ignominy and insolvency, the developer Bruce Ratner has trotted out another fancy fantasy of the Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets’ alleged future home. The latest design, by the joined forces of SHoP Architects and Ellerbe Becket, is much handsomer than the quickie renderings Ratner floated in June after dumping Frank Gehry for being too expensive. But comparing fictional arenas is beside the point by now. Atlantic Yards is too far gone to be rescued by a nice façade.

..And yet: SHoP has hocked its reputation for the sake of a PR stratagem that seems unlikely to end in triumph. Pasquarelli is letting his firm be used to gussy up a degraded project with architectural flimflam.
I had a few corrective comments on Davidson's essay.

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