Herbert Muschamp

  • William Forsythe, Behind The China Dogs

    “It is a fashion, a fury,” reported Mme de Sévigné in 1696 of the French court’s ecstatic response to the introduction, from Italy, of a new vegetable: green peas. “Impatience to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them, the joy of eating them again, are the three questions which have occupied our princes for the last four days.” For many New York dance fans, William Forsythe was last spring’s dish of petit pois. The New York City Ballet gave us a generous first serving with the premiere of Forsythe’s Behind the china dogs, 1988, as part of the American Music Festival. Seconds and thirds were


    To the Editor:

    For the record, would you please print in large, emphatic and capital letters the following:


    Thank you very much.

    Jerome Robbins

    New York, NY

    WHAT WAS ROBBINS SO worked up about? Well, Dances at a Gathering marked the choreographer’s return to the New York City Ballet in 1969, after a dozen years of brilliant work on Broadway. Now he was not going to make entertainment, he was going to make art, and art

  • Architecture

    THE NUMEROUS WORDS OF PRINCE CHARLES on the subject of contemporary architecture reverberate with vast existential allure. The content of his messages—the calls for populism, for contextualism, for resistance to Modernism and to Brutalism—may strike us as welcome or irritating, on target or beside the point; whatever our response, they have a resonance, which lies less in their content than in the emergence of their urgent, angry shapes from one of the symbolic centers in which architecture once received its validation—the British throne. The shapes remind us that this center was once not only

  • Architecture

    WHAT DID HELEN CHANDLER ever see in Bela Lugosi? Why would an attractive young virgin eagerly bare her neck to a transparently predatory old vampire? And, a lot of people have been wondering, why would an architect consider it an honor to appear in an exhibition curated by Philip Johnson?

    To hear all the shrieking going on over Johnson’s show of “deconstructivist” architecture due to open in June at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, you’d think that garlic cloves would be dangling from every neck that ever bent over a drawing board. As Michael Sorkin noted in the Village Voice column last

  • Architecture

    I'VE NEVER BEEN to Miami. I've never visited a building by Arquitectonica. I've yet to watch an episode of Miami Vice straight through to the end (I think). I haven't read any of the recent batch of books on Miami, and I was feeling under the weather last summer when the excerpts from David Rieff's book Going to Miami came out in The New Yorker.

    But when I was very young I used to sing the “Alabama Song” quite a lot. I thought I was lucky to have friends who were a lot older than me, so I didn't mind when they prodded me to join in and sing, “Oh show me the way to the next whiskey bar,” even

  • the Names Project.

    THE SIGHT OF IT let loose a motley of mental pictures, images sacred, profane, solemn, bucolic, sometimes hilarious: a comforter; a graveyard; a picnic cloth; Betsy Ross; the pavement of the stars at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. In the capital, on the Washington Mall, a huge quilt rolled out to a length of over four city blocks. By now, December, it’s longer. The image that the huge quilt forms in the memory is that of a maze, an architecture whose shape intertwines the terror of confinement with the hope of release.

    Legend has it that the form of the maze long preceded its embodiment in stone and

  • Weocracy, weography, on PWeS.

    AFTER ROBERT STERN'S NOSTALGIC hymn of praise, Pride of Place, a televised avoidance of the critical issues in architecture, the pressure was on for Spiro Kostof s public-television series, America by Design, really to enter architecture, to do more than take us on a tour of the life-styles of the rich and Anglo, which is what Stern did. There was reason to believe Kostof could pull off something decent: he is a gifted historian, and it seemed he could be the one to highlight the connective tissue between our mental and our physical geographies. So what went wrong? Why did such superficial things

  • Architecture

    “PRELIMINARY RESEARCH IN THE NEW field of photobiology, or color therapy,” reported an article in the New Yorker recently, “indicates that a bubble-gum color called passive pink may have an almost immediate effect on aggressive behavior. When a berserk 16-year-old is placed in a four-by-eight-foot passive-pink cell at the San Bernardino County Probation Department, he is calmer within a few minutes. After ten minutes or so, he’s sometimes lying on the floor, nearly asleep.”

    This kind of news, even when dis patched from a prison cell, can almost always be relied upon to give our hopes a little

  • Architecture

    THE HISTORY OF MODERN ARCHITECTURE has in it a story about the changing nature of nature. In the Nature of Materials was the title of Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s monograph on Frank Lloyd Wright’s early work. For Wright, this focus on material essence was designed to create a pure architecture, governed by the organic laws of nature. To enter a “natural house” (to use Wright’s term) was to be ceremonially cleansed of the contorted constructs that culture since the Renaissance had placed on materials and on individuals, and to be drawn into harmony with a natural order of things. For a later generation

  • the stress and comfort of pillow talk.

    ARE WE COMFORTABLE? IF NOT, let’s not make matters worse by blaming ourselves. Let’s blame Modern architects. Everyone else does. They wanted us to live in a work of art even if it killed us. Say good-bye to all that. No more architects’ raptures on a chair of beauty as a joy for backbones. Be post-Modern. Demand your rights; fight back with pillows.

    Pillow-fighting in post-modern rings is a stock routine. In the form of history reupholstered with an intellectual stuffing of post-Modern polemic, the bolsters are flying through the air and the times, tossed up with great gusts of pious sympathy

  • Eureka—Mona Helga.

    A report arose on April 18, 1485, that the corpse of a young Roman lady of the classical period [“Julia, daughter of Claudius”]—wonderfully beautiful and in perfect preservation—had been discovered. . . .The body had been coated with an antiseptic essence, and was as fresh and flexible as that of a girl of fifteen the hour after death. It was said that she still retained the colors of life, with eyes and mouth half open. She was taken to the Palazzo dei Conservators on the Capitol; and then began a veritable pilgrimage to see her. Many came to paint her "for she was more beautiful than can be

  • Taking Liberty with Symbols.

    THE STATUE OF LIBERTY and Mies van der Rohe came into the world together one hundred years ago. What an odd birthday couple they make: the colossal present from France, a monument to the 19th-century belief that history, in this case the classical past, could be quarried for architectural forms appropriate for democracy, and the architect who revealed a Modern classicism by stripping away overt historical associations. Yet the two are fraternal twins. Both embodied ideas arising from the Enlightenment. The Statue stood for the freedom of the individual from despotism, for the protection of

  • The picturesque of the urbanesque.

    THE POSTWAR AMERICAN SUBURB was more than the conquest of a continent by the car. It represented, among other shifts, a switch in gratifications from work to leisure. The distance between the two was measured in commuting time, a rite of passage which glorified the new tract houses by separating them from the drudgery of work. In the golf links and curving cul-de-sacs of the suburbs, architects developed picturesque forms appropriate to urban flight, and modeled after the country estate whose squire didn't have to work for a living. The city, meanwhile, was recast in the monolithic image of the

  • the piazza in the living room. Communion by communication.


    Faithful Who Watch Pope on Christmas Will Win Release From Sin’s Punishment

    Rome, Dec. 18 [1985]—The Vatican, in an unusual shift in Roman Catholic devotional practice, said today that Catholics who follow the Pope’s annual Christmas benediction on television or radio will partake for the first time in the plenary indulgence reserved until now for those who were physically present at the service.

    New York Times

    IT’S AN OLD STORY by now that the media have usurped much of architecture’s traditional role: the providing of symbolic focus for social ritual. Anyone

  • A Note on Ettore Sottsass

    IF MARIANNE BRANDT, DESIGNER at the metalwork shop at the Bauhaus, were to peer down at us today from some spun-steel cloud in Modern heaven, she might be mystified to observe the commodification of art so widely discussed as a critical cultural problem. To her it was a shining ideal: a mission critical to art’s important role in modern life. Each lampshade and ashtray that she issued was a courier charged with carrying a spiritual message to a material world: the idea that, as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy wrote, “to be a user of the machine is to be of the spirit of this century. It has replaced the

  • HUGE walk-in studio, up & coming neighborhood, stunning Manhattan views, 24-hr light, ideal for writer. $1500. Can subdivide.

    MENTION THAT YOU WRITE about architecture and chances are that whoever you’re chatting with will want to talk about real estate. Chances are, too, that they’ll think you’re splitting hairs should you suggest that real estate and architecture are not the same thing. There’s nothing unusual about the mixup—it’s right there every day in the arts-and-leisure sections of our newspapers. All developers are wise to the idea that projects can be made more palatable when coated with a veneer of "good architecture.” A similar veneer occurs in the press, where much of what comes under the cover of

  • Parabuilding—the Postmodern tick on the Modern elephant.

    THERE ARE BUILDING SITES, there are parasites, and then there are parabuildings, buildings designed not to stand on their own but to be attached to existing buildings—like ticks to dogs or lamprey eels to sharks, one might say, except that parabuildings can great]y surpass their hosts in size. Often, the host is paradoxically converted into a parabuilding by the architects of the new addition; such is the case with Michael Graves’ proposed addition to the Whitney Museum of American Art, which would convert the original Marcel Breuer building into a symbolic cornerstone of the museum’s ambitious

  • Ballet

    George Platt Lynes, Ballet (Pasadena, Calif.: Twelvetrees Press, 1985), 83 sheet-fed gravures.

    At a time when photography and ballet were often both dismissed as minor arts, George Platt Lynes photographed ballet dancers as major gods. To Lynes, the balletomane’s ecstatic cries of “Divine!” were simply the oracular utterance of the truth. The extreme stylization of ballet—from the predilection for mythical subjects to the ritual application of eye shadow—enabled Lynes’ flair for artifice to masquerade as straight reportage, mitigating somewhat the obsessive quality that delights admirers of Lynes’

  • Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky: Interviews With George Balanchine

    Solomon Volkov, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky: Interviews With George Balanchine, trans. Antonina W. Bouis (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 252 pages, 76 black and white illustrations.

    George Balanchine’s audiences always included many viewers who had no interest in ballet except as Balanchine practiced it. In the ’70s, a portion of this audience consisted of younger viewers for whom the choreographer seemed to hold a special message; the appeal was partly that of the endangered species. As recently as 1982, the last great survivor of the heroic age of Modernism could be seen taking his bows

  • time-sharing.

    ARCHITECTURE IS OFTEN viewed as an art of space, but for two centuries architects have also been practicing an art of time, clothing their structures in the costumes of an epic architectural Dance of the Hours. The performance thus far has transpired in three scenes; a program note might read:

    Modern Times. Synopsis. I. Mid 18th to late 19th centuries. Architecture dons period attire to reenact the architectural pageantry of ancient Greece, medieval Christendom, and other ceremonies of a symbolic past. II. Early to mid 20th century. Architecture blasts out of the past to dwell in a fictive future