Plaza of 550 California Street, at Kearny Street, San Francisco.
Plaza of 550 California Street, at Kearny Street, San Francisco.
To me, this modernist home in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco represents the height of “California Cool” of the 1950s and 1960s (even if it was probably built more recently). It stood out from the more conservative brick-and-stone mansions to either side.
There aren’t a lot of examples of Brutalism in this architecturally conservative city, but the exception seems to be medical centers. This one of several medical buildings with Brutalist facades. The photo was taken on a rather dreary and rainy day.
The Bronx County Courthouse in the Bronx in New York City. It’s an imposing structure, but with lots of Art Deco details that align it with many of the nearby apartment buildings along the Grand Concourse.
I make a point of dropping in the Bronx Museum of the Arts when I’m back in New York. This most recent visit did not disappoint, with three strong exhibitions of arts with connections to the borough and New York City at large.
Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect turns familiar notions of architecture upside-down with many projects featuring cuts, holes, and other modifications to derelict and abandoned buildings in New York and beyond. The Bronx of the 1970s was one of his main canvases and the point of departure for his practice. His series featuring the iconic graffiti of the borough’s subway trains and facades leads the exploration, with Matta-Clark observing the built environment as it is.
The next level of his work modifies the built environment by adding his own elements, or rather removing parts of existing architecture. In his Bronx Floor series, Matta-Clark removes a section of the floor of an abandoned building on Boston Road. This serves as a setting for installations and photography.
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Bronx Floor]
Like Matta-Clark, I find these spaces of the Bronx of the 1970s quite inspiring on an aesthetic level. My enjoyment of this often overlooked aesthetic is a bit tempered by the notion that these buildings ended up this way through a variety of bad circumstances: neglect (sometimes deliberate), poor city planning, rising inequality, etc.
From the foment of the South Bronx, Matta-Clark took his concept to Manhattan. In his 1975 project Day’s End, he cut large holes into the abandoned Pier 52 along the Hudson River (I remember the derelict piers that used to line the lower West Side all to well from the 1970s and 1980s).
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Day’s End (Pier 52 in Manhattan)]
This served both as a sculpture and installation in its own right, but also as a performance an exhibition space. Interestingly, the authorities did not notice the initial work cutting out a piece of the building, but they did find out about the performances and happenings, and were none too pleased by this. Eventually, the city dropped charges while he was working on a project in Paris.
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Conical Intersection (Paris)]
Conical Intersect cuts out a section of a partially demolished mansion in the Les Halles district, adjacent to the still-under-construction Centre Georges Pompidou. This was the setting for film and still photography projects, as well as performances and happenings (including “including roasting 750 pounds of beef for passersby on the Pompidou plaza” [
[Susannah Ray. Hutchison River and Co-Op City, 2015.]
Seeing Ray and Matta-Clarks photographs in the same visit shows the evolution of the Bronx, and in particular how the natural spaces have improved since their nadirs in the early 1980s. The lower Bronx River was once a disaster but is returning to new natural-urban balance in recent years.
[Susannah Ray. Canoes, The Bronx River, 2013]
You can read more about the revitalization of the lower Bronx River in this 2016 article. Again, we find beauty in these spaces and admire the work that Ray and others are doing to share it.
The final exhibition takes a decidedly inward turn compared to the explorations of Ray and Matta-Clark. In Elegies, artist Angel Otero explores the long history of painting. His large “deconstructed” paintings bring together traditional practice, abstraction, and collage.
[Angel Otero. The Day We Became People, 2017]
The exhibition is organized in relation to Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic series and includes stark black-and-white pieces from Motherwell, sometimes with statements on art and painting.
Otero’s work stands apart from Motherwell’s in its vibrant colors and relation to space, as well as its unique use of material. Although titled Elegies, the paintings are not really elegies at all – or at least not in the typical sense. There is an optimism in his work.
The paintings were all created specifically for this Bronx Museum exhibition.
Our visit to the Bronx Museum was also the subject of a recent CatSynth TV episode, which also took us a little further south to visit our friends at the Bronx Brewery in Port Morris.
I don’t have many memorable dreams these days. But when I do, they usually occur in the late morning hours – far past what many people would consider a reasonable time to wake up – and they are more often than not rather tense and stressful. This morning was no exception.
The majority of the dream took place at Westorchard Elementary School in Chappaqua, New York. This is my elementary school where I spend many of my early years. But I was my 2017 self, a grown professional woman. I had some sort of teaching gig there, though not a full-time one with a fixed classroom. I have no idea what I taught. The students were mostly absent from the dream, except as occasional props in other teachers’ classrooms, visible behind glass walls (the real-life school did not have glass walls in classrooms). I was mostly wandering around the Byzantine hallways between the different modernist wings of the school (that part is accurate), But in the dream there was an even larger labyrinth of utilitarian hallways, lounges, fitness centers, and conference rooms, that were exclusively for staff that as far as I know did not exist in real life.
During the course of the dream, I seemed to randomly shuttle back and forth to New York City at all sorts off times of the day, with lots of moments on subways, buses, and in impossible buildings. It also seemed like I would camp late nights at the school, with a bag of clothing and other living stuff in my small office.
And there were cats. Lots of cats. Most notably, Luna was part of the dream. Sam Sam was known, but not present. Indeed, the main action of the dream, and what made it so stressful, was the fact that seemed to be constantly bringing Luna with me to school, and she kept getting lost. So much of the time wandering the real and fictitious halls of the school were spent trying frantically to find a small black cat. A task that was made harder by the fact that there seemed to be many cats wandering around. I scooped up one cream colored cat, made friends, and then proceeded to lose her as well. I would sometimes espy a brown or black cat, only to conclude that it wasn’t Luna, and then a few moments later see the purple collar and pink pendant, turn her around and look into her emerald eyes. I’d grab her squirming body, give her a big hug, and then a few minutes later proceed to lose her again. I sometimes got distracted by the architecture in New York – one long detour in the city had me scrambling to find an elevator from the top floor – and some of the apparent remodeling in the school. One floor between two classrooms in Wings D and E was removed to make an open double-story loft-like space. One auxiliary staircase was at first dark and with vinyl flooring from the actual school but later was brightly lit with white marble stairs. I think this was the moment I figured out this was a dream, and it didn’t last much longer than that. But not before one more frantic moment locating Luna, grabbing her and shouting out to my colleagues for a bag.
I am not one for broad metaphors, but I do like to oversee and analyze the details of things, and this dream has a lot to unpack. It was beautiful even while it was anxious – in that way, it was like many films that I enjoy. Luna’s presence is the easiest to assess. I have had several such dreams about her over the years, some before her cancer diagnosis. The earlier ones were fear and anxiety of loss – that was a part of this dream as well – but now there is also unprocessed grief. As for the many other cats…well, I do love cats.
The school setting is interesting. It’s not unusual for past schools to appear in dreams. But this one was unique, in that was returning as a teacher. Most often, I am an adult, but for some reason having to go back and repeat a grade (usually some bureaucratic technicality). Those dreams were usually humiliating. This time there wasn’t any such humiliation, and my interactions were with the teachers and staff as peers. Also, I was my 2017 self, as opposed to a very different past self as a younger adult that almost always appeared in such dreams. It’s quite a relief to be myself in the dream, even if it was a weird and stressful one.
Why Westorchard in particular? That’s hard to say, though I know I have looked at it on Google Maps several times of late. The architecture and layout of that school were quite interesting. It was a daily exposure to a particular type of modernism. Architecture and space are an important part of my dreams, as they are in waking life. The dream architecture can be impossible at times and transcend space.
And New York just looms large in my life.
Building on the High Line in New York by the late great Zaha Hadid.