Aesthetic Grounds: February 2007 Archives

Tim. Thanks for the thoughts about Benjamin Bufano from San Francisco. I just threw out the idea of vernacular public art without understanding where it is going. Vernacular is something that appears to sprout from the place and feels so at home that most travelers ignore it. But art requires a little uncomfortable sand in the face.

Your definition of vernacular is to merge with the life of the place. The art is USED. But not to sit on and not to look at, but for the natural imagination of humans. The imaginative use is performed by children and therefore vibrant by nature. For adults, the imaginative uses include conversations, destinations, memories and daydreams. Like all things we use, we only grab them when necessary - not every time we pass by.

I guess at the Randall Garden, the Bufano sculptures have been saved from the vernacular. They have given up their complexity of uses and now stand as simple symbols of another time, place and people. Or merely art. Merely art can be fabulous, but it is still just one-dimensional.

I think the Lapidus follies are still alive with use. No one is trying to isolate them. They breathe among the people. First the Miami Beach middle class of the 1960s, then poor and criminals of the 1980s and now the "be seen" crowd of rich and dressing rich. This longevity and transfer from one people to another is not possible to predict at the beginning. Artist make, administrators install and life proceeds without either.

To see good documentation of Bufano's work, visit and search on "Bufano". Hank Donat is Mister SF.

Below from Tim Barrus

I do not know if the art of Benjamin Buffano fits into the notion of art-as-the-vernacular, but Buffano's amazing sculptures became a part of our ordinary if embattled lives living in San Francisco in the 1970s where I raised my daughter as a single parent.

The sculptures themselves were commissioned by the San Francisco Housing Authority in the 1940s. They were climbed on and loved by countless children for fifty years where they loomed over despair, drug dealers, gang violence, boom boxes, low-riders, gun fights, and all the rest of urban life as it is lived by the boxed and dispossessed.

Playing with Bufano

More Barrus. Please read.

February 27, 2007 9:33 PM | | Comments (0)

Touching on an idea that demands more examination, should we start to think about public art as vernacular? Do we commission so much public art that cultural integration should be prioritized in the same manner of vernacular architecture?

As a starting point, check out Lincoln Road, a pedestrians-only roadway in Miami Beach. Lincoln Road is packed with cafes, tables, awnings, signs, lights and people. When the road was closed in 1960, the great master of Miami Beach architecture - Morris Lapidus - designed a series of artistic follies. Each shade structures exploits one 20th century technology in concrete construction - folded plates, cantilevers, floating slabs, etc. 47 years later, the follies have a quiet energy and clarity of form that hold their place among the chaos.

In 1999, the Miami young turks, Carlos Zapata with Benjamin Wood, designed a new folly in the style of "deconstruction". Unlike the Lapidus, the form strains to be unique, or to be art. A vast curving, falling, knife-life roof juts from an impossible support of green glass. Unlike the Lapidus, no one touches the Zapata - Wood sculpture.

In the Lapidus Lincoln Road Visual Essay, the photos show the strength of the Lapidus among the activity. The follies stand with alone with dignity or as backdrops for fashion, drinking and even other artworks.

I think public art can take a lesson from architecture that the public art belongs to the place and starts to be used. Really used. Som public art might become vernacular - loved by the trained eye and just part of everything to the uninterested.

February 26, 2007 2:09 PM | | Comments (1)

Maybe Andres Duany is not such a tyrant. His heart opened and felt New Orleans as the glorious northern capital city of the Caribbean instead of the impoverished urban slum of North America. In February's Metropolis Magazine, he observed and followed his instinct to describe the relationship between mortgage free homeownership and the pattern of living - not the pattern of streets and building. The tyranny of the regulating plan and transect disappears into generations of self-taught carpenters, cooks and domino players.

In 2005, I made myself go hear the master at the Smart Growth Conference in Miami. I was surprised at the brilliance of his original expansion of Christopher Alexander's work by stealing the technique of ecological science, "the transect", for urban planning. I was dismayed at the insults he hurled at planners, architects and environmentalists. This is a not-so-brilliant technique, but seems to help win followers to the New Urbanist dogma.

If the artworld could stomach Jeff Koons while admiring his work, Duany and his partner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk deserve consideration. So last summer, I filled the Honda Element with three dollar gas and toured the DPZ works of Florida and their influences, minus Seaside.

In the Aesthetic Grounds visual essays, the trip is documented. A simple sets of repetitive patterns have emerged through implementation such as the 150 meter long "downtown", central canals with bridges, seas of parking lots behind every facade, cut-though passages, electric golf carts, three story apartment buildings, the allee of trees, etc. In better-designed communities, the streets are aesthetically pleasant. But in the newest profit driven densities, the internal streets are very mean.

New Urbanism as an intellectual exploration is dying through its implementation by the unimaginative and greedy. Like post war suburbs and office buildings that killed modernism, it will be implemented at an increasing pace until eighteen year olds are escaping the villages for those old, cool, single family 'burbs. Even later, imagine the Retro New Urbanism and Neo New Urbanism. No don't.

But New Urbanism has been successful in two ways. 1. For the human beings that don't want any control of or responsibility for their architecture and semi-private outdoor spaces and yet want suburbia, the villages are a superior model to the Florida gated single family communities with the same lack of individual empowerment.

2. Inventing New Urbanism led DPZ to design Windsor in Vero Beach, Florida in the late 1980s. Windsor is a village as a work of art and worth the visit. (You need to arrange in advance). Psychologically, it feels like a graveyard for the wealthy in the sense of late 19th century mini-city graveyards but without any individual creativity. Like those graveyards, the road pattern dominates the wandering experience. The distances seem just right before the next change like a small court with tree or the end of an allee of palms. The minor alterations like the jutting Leon Krier "church thing" or Scott Merrill's semi-circle pavilion become markers from a variety of vistas. Just enough change to keep you wandering pleasantly for 90 minutes. Just enough balance of familiar and surprise.

Back to New Orleans, Nicolai Ouroussoff in the NY Times is defending those mass produce modern communities. Unlike Duany, who released himself to feel the relationship between the pace of architecture and people, Ouroussoff wants to stop HUD from knocking down some government slums and recommends the dedication of high-end architects to the housing crisis in New Orleans. Instead of pleasant thoughts of generations of spices and handsaws, I think of generations of this tired modernist fantasy. If I did not crave pure creativity so much, Ouroussoff might cause me to join the tyrant Duany.

The Lafitte Housing Project scheduled for demolition. Photo by Fred Conrad, NY Times

February 22, 2007 10:27 PM | | Comments (2)

The streetscape - sidewalks, trees, benches, cafes, building facades - is the world's number urban renewal project. How many thousands of miles or kilometers are rebuilt each year to invigorate neighborhoods here, there and almost everywhere? As with all global movements, the differences can be minute. Yet, every city declares their streetscape a strict response to local culture making the space unique to XXXXXX neighborhood.

In addition to whatever visual symbols exist or can be invented locally, nature can make a difference in the palette of the designer. Palms and maple trees are not interchangeable. Within our nowhere mechanically controlled interior environments of the city, the strictly outdoors spaces can be at least geographically distinct.

One zone is the subtropics with humidity, no freeze days and some winter-summer difference that includes summer rain. Most trees and plants are evergreen and many are flowering. Shading by trees and overhangs is essential and nothing should block any cooling breeze. Miami, USA. Brisbane. Australia. Calcutta, India. Okinawa, Japan. Maputo, Mozambique.


City Design, a government agency of the City of Brisbane and Brisbane City Planning under James Coutts' leadership determined to create that subtropical streetscape with a sustainable attitude. No monoculture tree planting every 30 feet in a pit. Larger planting areas with multiple tree and plant species provide a dense, garden feeling. Benches are shaded by these mini-forests, not sited repetitively as auto-barricades. Stormwater is directed to cisterns for dry day needs.
Canopies, awnings, overhangs and arcades occur in a variety of locations between the building and curb. During the day, a necessary pattern of shade and sun results. A kind of streetscape ceiling emerges made of leaves, canvas, steel and artwork bellies. Lighting is both up and down highlighting the horizontal and suppressing the vertical.

This week I have created a visual essay on the Melbourne Street Subtropical Boulevard in the Southbank district of central Brisbane. The visual essay is at the companion Google site. The artists, Luke Roberts, creator of U.F.O. (Unidentified Flowering Organism) and Andrew MacDonald with Sarah Rayner, creators of the natural forms in aluminum, were inexperienced local artists. It is the general courage of the Queensland Public Art Policy that focuses on local talent rather than national fame and experience. Curators and consultants like Beth Jackson with a positive team from City Design find ways to implement the artist dreams.

More writing will come in the future on the unique response to the subtropical climate in Brisbane and Gold Coast, Australia and elsewhere. Michael Singer's proposals for Howard Park and the Waterfront in West Palm Beach, Florida, expand these Australian investigations in subtropical North America.

February 18, 2007 11:50 PM | | Comments (0)

In some chairs in some room in New York City in 1980s, Kyong Park and I discussed a guerilla project to block out all the street signs in a section of Manhattan. In a few hours could we paint over every name: 33rd, 32nd, 31st.....? Would a traffic jam ensue in the morning? Would the government of New York respond like an emergency or just let it be until the streets department replaced them in a few weeks.

What is the relationship between phenomena geography and the signed geography? In general, the new or infrequent visitor exhibits massive frustration at missing street names and hard to find street numbers. Especially from the road, physical stuff - trees, light poles, decorative architecture - blocks the view to the naming and numbering. With clear and consistent placement, the mathematical geography dominants and comforts the visitor.

Yesterday through the blog of Cennydd Bowles, I learned of the 2005 public project of art and civic space by Christoph Steinbrener & Rainer Dempf. "Delete! Delettering the Public Space" covered every sign with yellow fabric on a narrow shopping street in old Vienna. The two-week installation had nothing to do with the mathematical navigation of space and everything to do with flattening of space with graphic yellow.

I have been in urban places with extremely reduced advertising signs: Fez, Morocco and Havana, Cuba. In places such as China and Japan, the signs are visual, but without meaning to the western reader. Reading in the street ceases and staring begins. Your eyes need to find new places to land. Volume and activity of the space are continuously felt. Or in reverse, the signed space breaks the continuity and the mind leaps to reading and even to vocalizing. We are trapped in our priority toward words.

Steinbrener and Dempf removed the words, not the signs, from one block. After the game of guessing the covered names is boring, the eyes bounce from yellow to yellow. The "layer of the signs" over the architecture becomes palpable. The smooty blending of plastic and stone ends.

Fresh yellow, especially on a cloud day with perfect digital camera lighting, removes the perspective. A place in the city is flattened with non-spatial graphics. The yellow at the back is not farther, just smaller. Our digital eye emerges in real space.

Has the digital eye replaced the perspectival eye? How many centuries before our painters grasp perspective and how many more until designers cut pure perspective shaped the trees of French gardens and placed the monuments at the end of boulevards? Where is the digital sending our real space?

Back to the street signs. Street signs require a sense of mathematics, a mental overlay in order to travel in the right direction. Signs may repress the 3-D city (so significant for the stable resident), but the geography is at least 2-D. With the dashboard mounted GPS, the world is one dimensional - just follow the line and turn left or right as directed. In one dimension, even the most minor cross-references and nearby connections are ignored. Geography is irrelevant. Where is the digital sending relationship with space?

February 15, 2007 10:11 PM | | Comments (0)

Domus Magazine in Italy thought the Jinhua Architecture Park was so hip, that they published the park before anything was really complete in July 2006. "a+u" magazine in Tokyo published the suburban park of architectural follies in December 2006.
architecture-park_15.jpgHerzog & de Meuron

Cataloguing a creative moment in architecture has rarely been done outside of temporary world fairs or biennales. The park is guaranteed to be "dated" within a few years. But dating may be a major technique to preserve difference in the future unified globe with its standard worldwide construction methods.

Face it. Local vernacular architecture is ending. Future subtleties of difference will be perceived by some, but to the space alien, the differences will be very decorative (within each economic group). These alien visitors will see global differences like we see differences between tribes and cultures in an isolated geography.

Current geographic and psychological role of historic places will be the only vacations from globalism. Due to politics, some cities such as Fez in Morocco or Havana in Cuba have this timefulness caused by isolation that might serve as a model to non-disneyland differences.

The curator of Jinhua, Chinese artist / architect Ai Wei Wei, has created place in which timefulness predominates. Not on purpose. The architectural follies will be dated in 15 years. The best have a permanent joyousness that can be felt through children as in these photographs of the HHF Architects pavilion.

The overall suburban park has placement in a longer time period of at least 200 years and growing - maybe. Or maybe the suburban park is at the end of its history. The folly or small building has a prominent role in the aesthetic history of suburbia. From the first mini-temple in the English garden to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, the principle remains intact: an isolated object in which the landscape has been manipulated to focus attention on the object. Techniques involve

1. an open vista, frequently with grass, in front of the object frames and leads the viewer's eye;
2. a contrasting color, frequently white, against the dark green trees or blue sky and
3. a change in elevation from the viewer, frequently up, to attract the future visitors to look back and visually survey the land.

Of course it is China with its grand history of the garden. Framed objects in the landscape are significant. But somehow from the photos of Jinhua, the landscape is less dense and coordinated. Each folly is left alone with its land like the traditional suburb or modern sculpture garden.

It is strange how the suburban vision so desired. Even new Seattle sculpture garden could be seen as a contorted and desperate attempt to preserve the suburban vision as the urban world crushes around it. Get out the giant date stamper: 20th CENTURY. And thank you for it.

All photos by IWAN BAAN. Click Here for all the Photos.

Fernando Romero

February 11, 2007 11:11 AM | | Comments (0)

"Danger, Will Robinson" squawked the robot. Now, I walk into the danger of critiquing something I have never seen, but many others have - the Sleepwalkers video projections by Doug Aitken on MoMA in NYC. But projecting yourself into the reality of some other place is a primary function of this Blog and is the virtual/physical internal struggle of the Internet itself.

This entry is caused by comments sent to me by Tim Barrus of Cinematheque Films. Barrus produces video art on YouTube. The comments from Barrus, myself and AJ blogger Tyler Green are reposted in the "CONTINUED READING SECTION". Thank you very much, Mr. Barrus. I encourage others to speak their minds to me.

Barrus had responded that YouTube is a public territory where public art exists. But unlike the public art of physical public space, YouTube is a virtual space of reciprocity between creative people. As I see it, public art in physical space is primarily "show and see" and in the best situations "show and show to others". It is a presentation, not an invitation to respond creatively.

On the other hand, Barrus argues that YouTube is a public space where public art is only as valuable as the creative response from others. As I see it, the low cost and free use of public space on YouTube permits this indirect creative interchange, whereas 95% of physical public art actually discourages creative interchange in the public space. Vandalism (unauthorized physical changes) is illegal. On YouTube, the concept of vandalism makes no sense.

But Barrus writes because MoMA is stealing free space on YouTube to advertise, not participate. He is absolutely right. The MoMA YouTube video is a 60 second "trailer". MoMA could have presented one random version of the whole 13-minute work. MoMA could have streamed the work every night from multiple, building-mounted video cameras as used in nearly every major construction project in the nation. Instead we are presented, not invited. Perhaps Barrus fears that vandalism may become a YouTube concept.


In my virtual chair imagining 53rd and 54th Streets of Manhattan, "markart" on showed me the story because MoMA and Creative Time websites present only one photograph of the work from the street and this strange map describing how to the view the work. The instructions seem contradictory to Roberta Smith of the NY Times as she paraphrased Guy Debord, "simply to walk or ''drift'' through the city, open to accepting fleeting experiences as art".

BLOG UPDATE: Mark Barry sent me this link to Creative Time's intern Brent Burket's blog with daily images and comments. Thank you! Click here to truly experience the work.


This is only spatial information because the directors, curators and writers are most interested in Aikten's video work, not the space and not the city. This makes me think that the maximum achievement might be as Creative Time curator Peter Eleey calls it - a drive-in cinema for pedestrians. Not a very high goal, since every city in America has an outdoors "lawn chair" cinema in the warm season.


In addition to Eleey's statement in the MoMA press release, quotes from the directors of Creative Time and MoMA match the language of the junior public art administrator in any medium American city. Creative Times' Paternak: "...flow of cinematic images, and making architecture come to life with rhythmic human presence, for the public to enjoy." And MoMA's Lowry: "Sleepwalkers will be easily accessible to a broad and diverse audience of New Yorkers and visitors to the city, who can engage directly with an artwork in a vital and unexpected context."

Something tells me that the lack of response on the Internet and media is in part due to the low institutional imagination for participation. Yes MoMA and Creative Time have made another advance in technical support for the artist video projects, but we hold these institutions to higher standards. I remember the grassroots thrills of Krzysztof Wodiczko projections on monuments in the 1980s. I have been in full body experiences such as the annual gigantic horizontal fireworks display on the Edo River in Tokyo. Light-up Tampa and the UK projections of David Mach wake us up on the street. We expect Sleepwalkers to be a work of space in addition to a work of the mind.

Regarding the mind, one attribute of Aitken's work apparently reinforces a common myth of NYC. Eleey: ..engages the turbulence of city life.. MoMA's Biesenbach: ..engaging the audience as nocturnal movers.. Smith:.. ode to the city that never sleeps... Restating and remaking the myths of a specific place is one of the finest goals of public art.

Back to Barras. In the 1980s in Soho, I went to party sponsored by "Red Spot". The artist on the fifth (?) floor loft handed out glass slides and glass paint. With his large slide projector, handmade miniature works became gigantic images on the dirty wall across the parking lot. Using city space with an invitation to participate. I don't know about Aitken's work, but below on that Soho street, Gibold became reality: "simply to walk or ''drift'' through the city, open to accepting fleeting experiences as art". The Red Spot images flickered and disappeared making me love - even more - that street, that city.

PS. Another video projection work that I never saw, but always enjoyed in my imagination is Chris Doyle's LEAP. With the help of Creative Time in 2000, images of New Yorker's jumping were projected on the former white façade of Edward Durell Stone 1964 façade on 2 Columbus Circle.

Photographs by Fred Charles from MoMA / Creative Time website.

Continued Reading features comments from Barrus, Weiss and Tyler Green

February 8, 2007 8:58 AM | | Comments (0)

Surfing the web for five years as a public art consultant, I noticed that nothing exists that keeps interested parties informed on public art or public space that is not pure reporting or academic analysis. Where was the something in the middle - arts journal criticism? Something that focuses on the visual? Something that understands the silly institutional traps?

I live in Florida. The sun shines and the brain shrinks. We live with our bodies and our eyes. Warmth and color. We like the emerging event - the energy. Nothing dies in Florida. It is only sick and forgotten for a while until it reemerges.

We are the future of the planet with the vast majority of humans living in the tropics and subtropics. We don't need much clothing or much architecture. Life is easier and this is the future too.

We invent pleasure around every turn. The public spaces with its architecture, landscape, design and art must bring us more satisfaction. If we don't, people will move to some other place - within Florida. We compete - city against city, beach against beach, shopping against shopping. Cooperation is absurd. Who can make the best place? The best emerging event?

So Florida is the perfect base for a Blog on public space and public art. I can't escape into my thoughts because the world is too desirable. Justification without bodily experience is absurd. I am always asking - do I really want to go there?

Twice a week. By Monday morning and Friday morning, I will post some single idea and single project. Overtime, with the help of others, we can build a bank of images and ideas that help us enjoy the actual space that we literally build. Please email images and information.

February 4, 2007 8:40 PM | | Comments (0)

On January 29, 2007, Marvin Finn died at the age of 89 in Louisville, Kentucky. I have never heard of Finn before. A notice came to me via Google's daily alert. His obituary included one "public art" project made during his 86th year.


In the Courier-Journal, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson praised Finn's legacy, calling him "one of Louisville's greatest folk artists."

I love this statement. Not America's, not Kentucky's, not African-American, but Louisville's. In many ways, our art and design bureaucracies have turned away from local pride to broader comparisons.

The "CONTINUED READING" contains the details on Finn and the project, but the mandatory front-loaded Blog concern is that local talent that has been dismissed by the nationalism of public art administration. How many times have I heard that the local artists don't have the experience? The assumption is that the artists can't achieve success, but the truth is that the arts leadership cannot achieve success.

Except in situations when a jurisdiction needs some strange particular skill, local artists are always capable of adorning public space and structures. It is just that the administrators and arts supporters want to be judged by national standards. They institutionalize those objectives through required methods to deliver new public art. Skills in navigating design and construction administration and skills in responding to community needs have become prerequisites.

As the Queensland (Australia) Art Built-In Programs have proven, these attributes can be achieved by other professionals assisting the artists. But frequently these required skills permit the administration to comfortably ignore local talent and to satisfy an objective of national or international participation.

As 2006 protests in Kansas City and elsewhere have shown, the local artists are forced into a position of asking for training to come up to national standards. The artists should require that the programs be re-conceptualized for the talents of local artists with exceptions granted for projects where outside artists seem like a good idea.

Here is where Marvin Finn is so important. The citizens of Louisville reconceived both their method of selecting public artworks and their method of fabricating artworks to have a public artwork by a local artist. All parts of the processes where transformed to bring Finn's vision into the public realm. Every agency should ask itself how it could change such that the Finn's are the norm and the pride, not the exception.


Thanks to Kelly Haferman photos, John Nation and Michael Kimmel of Waterfront Development Corp.

February 4, 2007 5:24 PM | | Comments (2)



About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Aesthetic Grounds in February 2007.

Aesthetic Grounds: January 2007 is the previous archive.

Aesthetic Grounds: March 2007 is the next archive.

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