Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration #19

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Water Serpents I by Gustav Klimt. See it in colour here.

Continuing the delve into back numbers of Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, the German periodical of art and decoration. Yesterday’s post concerned a Klimt-like artist, today volume 19, covering the period from October 1906 to March 1907, includes further work by Klimt himself. The Wiener Werkstätte, with whom Klimt was affiliated, continues to dominate these editions, understandably so when the architecture, art and design being produced by the group was some of the most advanced in the world. In addition to the customary graphics and interiors there’s also some examples of dress design by Gustav Klimt which I hadn’t seen before.

As usual, anyone wishing to see these samples in greater detail is advised to download the entire number at the Internet Archive. There’ll be more DK&D next week.

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A portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein by Gustav Klimt. The sitter was the sister of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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A poster by Koloman Moser.

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Carlo Scarpa’s Brion-Vega Cemetery

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“I would like to explain the Tomba Brion…I consider this work, if you permit me, to be rather good and which will get better over time. I have tried to put some poetic imagination into it, though not in order to create poetic architecture but to make a certain kind of architecture that could emanate a sense of formal poetry….The place for the dead is a garden….I wanted to show some ways in which you could approach death in a social and civic way; and further what meaning there was in death, in the ephemerality of life—other than these shoe-boxes.” Carlo Scarpa

Dan Hill at City of Sound reminds us (okay, reminds me…) of Carlo Scarpa’s incredible private cemetery via a link to a Wallpaper* photo feature about the place. Scarpa’s final work (he’s buried in the grounds) was built for the Brion family at San Vito d’Altivole, Italy, and completed in 1978.

This construction and other Scarpa buildings often come to mind after encountering some disastrous use of concrete in architecture. Scarpa, like Frank Lloyd Wright, shows how well that meanest of building materials could be used with the application of care and imagination. And Scarpa, like Wright, also favoured attention to detail, with the cemetery providing copious examples of this, notably the motif of a pair of interlaced circles which feature as a prominent window design and recur in tiny elements elsewhere. Those paired circles and the garden itself remind me of the Jantar Mantar at Jaipur. I’m sure I read that one of Scarpa’s influences for the cemetery was Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead but I’m unable to find any online reference. For more about that painting, there’s my earlier post on the subject.

• Flickr has a wealth of photographs of the cemetery
A black & white photo set by Gerald Zugmann

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hugh Ferriss and The Metropolis of Tomorrow
The Jantar Mantar
Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead
Frank Lloyd Wright’s future city

Thomas M Disch, 1940–2008

“What sort of criticism is it to say that a writer is pessimistic? One can name any number of admirable writers who indeed were pessimistic and whose writing one cherishes. It’s mindless to offer that as a criticism. Usually all it means is that I am stating a moral position that is uncongenial to the person reading the story. It means that I have a view of existence which raises serious questions that they’re not prepared to discuss; such as the fact that man is mortal, or that love dies. I think the very fact that my imagination goes a greater distance than they’re prepared to travel suggests that the limited view of life is on their part rather than on mine.”

disch4.jpgThomas Disch castigating a science fiction readership which often regarded his work with a disdain born of narrow expectations. Disch (left), who took his own life a few days ago, was one of the New Worlds group of writers who frequently caused consternation among the kind of readers who only ever want to read about future technology. He was also much more than that, of course, and he wrote a lot more widely than most genre writers but it’s for his sf novels that he’ll be remembered. Rather than attempt another encomium I thought it far better to post a Charles Platt interview from 1979 which gives an insight into Disch’s character as a man as well as a writer. This was one of a number of interviews Platt conducted with leading sf writers during the late Seventies, published as Who Writes Science Fiction? in the UK (by Savoy Books) and Dream Makers: The Uncommon People who Write Science Fiction in the US.

Thomas M Disch by Charles Platt

New York, April 1979

disch2.jpgNEW YORK, city of contrasts! Here we are on Fourteenth Street, walking past The New School Graduate Faculty, a clean modern building. Inside it today there is a fine museum exhibit of surreal landscape photography, but the drapes are permanently closed across the windows because, out here on the stained sidewalk, just the other side of the plate-glass, it’s Filth City, peopled by the usual cast of winos, monte dealers. shopping-bag ladies festooned in rags and mumbling obscenities, addicts nodding out and falling off fire hydrants. Fourteenth Street, clientele from Puerto Rico, merchandise from Taiwan. And what merchandise! In stores as garish and impermanent as sideshows at a cheap carnival, here are plastic dinner-plates and vases, plastic toys, plastic flowers and fruit, plastic statues of Jesus, plastic furniture, plastic pants and jackets-all in Day-Glo colors, naturally. And outside the stores are dark dudes in pimp-hats and shades, peddling leather belts, pink and orange wigs, and afro-combs… itinerant vendors of kebabs cooked over flaming charcoal in aluminium handcarts… crazy old men selling giant balloons.., hustlers of every description. And further on, through the perpetual fanfare of disco music and car horns, past the Banco Populare, here is Union Square, under the shadow of the Klein Sign. Klein’s, a semi-respectable old department store, was driven out of business by the local traders and has lain empty for years. But its falling apart facade still looms over the square, confirming the bankrupt status of the area. While in the square itself—over here, brother, here, my man, I got ’em, loose joints, angel dust, hash, coke. THC, smack, acid, speed, Valium, ludes. Seconal. Elavil!

Union Square wasn’t always like this. Michael Moorcock once told me that it acquired its name by being the last major battlefield of the American Civil War. Foolishly, I believed him. In truth there are ties here with the American labor movement; many trades unions are still headquartered in the old, dignified buildings, outside of which stand old, dignified union men, in defensive lunch-hour cliques, glaring at the panhandlers and hustlers toting pint bottles of wine in paper bags and giant, 20-watt ten-band Panasonic stereo portables blaring more disco! disco! disco!

Oddly enough we are looking for an address, here, of a writer who is known in the science fiction field for his almost elitist, civilized sensibilities. He has moved into an ex-office building that has been converted from commercial to residential status. Union Square is on the edge of “Chelsea”, which is supposed to be the new Soho, a zone where, theoretically, artists and writers are moving in and fixing up old buildings until, when renovations are complete, advertising execs and gallery owners will “discover” the area and turn it into a rich, fashionable part of town.

Theoretically, but not yet. In the meantime this turn-of-the-century, 16-storey, ex-office building is one of the brave pioneer outposts. We are admitted by a uniformed guard at the street entrance, and take the elevator to the 11th floor. Here we emerge into a corridor recently fabricated from unpainted sheets of plaster-board, now defaced with graffiti, but high-class graffiti, messages from the socially-enlightened tenants criticising the owner of the building for his alleged failure to provide services (“Mr. Ellis Sucks!” “Rent Strike Now!”) and here, we have reached a steel door provisionally painted in grubby Latex White, the kind of paint that picks up every fingermark and can’t be washed easily. There’s no bell, so one has to thump the door panels, but this is the place, all right, this is where Thomas M. Disch lives.

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The Evanescent City

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The cover of The Evanescent City shows a night view of Bernard Maybeck’s Palace of Fine Arts, one of the few remaining structures from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition that was held in San Francisco in 1915. After earlier posts about ephemeral architecture and the futuristic visions of Hugh Ferriss, I stumbled across the Books about California site which features a wealth of scanned volumes, including a number of books and pamphlets devoted to the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Expositions and World’s Fairs hold a particular attraction for enthusiasts of architectural invention, not least for the way they allow architects the opportunity to create structures that would otherwise never be built.

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Palace of Horticulture—Dome and Spires by Night from The Architecture and Landscape Gardening of the Exposition.

At night, when the powerful searchlights within the dome are played upon the translucent glass, the effect is magical, the reflections weirdly changing in color and shape. The rich details of the decorations are softened in the night light.

The Panama-Pacific Exposition and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago fascinate owing to the insight they give into the 19th- and early-20th century architectural imagination. This invariably meant huge towers, enormous domes and everything ladled with elaborate decoration, the Panama-Pacific Exposition being especially decadent in this respect, numbering a jewel-spangled tower among its attractions. With the Bauhaus innovations a few years away this was the last time the world would be offered a reflection of itself that was so excessively indebted to the past. If Hugh Ferriss shows us a vision of the world like that in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the Panama-Pacific architects invite us to imagine a world like the Slumberland that Winsor McCay created for Little Nemo.

The Internet Archive has a number of short films showing views of the exposition. Most interesting, if rather crudely made, is The Story of the Jewel City, a brief fantasy about two children exploring the exposition grounds.

The following pictures are a small sample of the amount of material at Books about California. The snake-entwined figure of Helios would have made a good addition to the Men with snakes post while it’s difficult not to smile at the suggestion that the figure of a naked man should be preserved for America’s future gay capital.

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Tower of Jewels—the Illumination by Night from The Architecture and Landscape Gardening of the Exposition.

The Tower takes its name from the thousands of many-colored jewels so cut, polished and suspended that they reflect the sunshine with dazzling brilliancy by day and at night, under the white radiance of the searchlights, clothe the whole structure with shimmering splendor.

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The Fountain of Earth from The Court of Ages by Beatrice Wright.

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Part of Education Building and Court of Palms looking towards Horticultural Building from Panama-Pacific International Exposition—Popular Information.

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Tower and Cascade in Court of Abundance from the Official View Book of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Dedicated to Music and Pageantry. Water in the cascade flows over a scheme of brilliant illumination. Designed by Louis Christian Mullgardt.

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Palace of Horticulture—The Dome and East Entrance from The Architecture and Landscape Gardening of the Exposition.

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Helios by Robert I Aitken from The Sculpture and Mural Decorations of the Exposition.

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The Rising Sun by Adolph Alexander Weinman from Sculpture of the Exposition Palaces and Courts by Juliet Helena Lumbard James.

This fresh, strong young Sun is about to start on his journey – dawn is soon to break upon the world. With muscles stretched, the wind blowing through his hair, the heavenly joy of the first move expressed upon his face, the vigor of young life pulsating through his body, he will start the chest forward and move those outstretched wings. Let us preserve this glorious figure for our western city. It would so admirably suggest the new light that has been shed upon San Francisco by the Exposition of nineteen hundred and fifteen, as well as the new light occasioned by the opening of the Panama Canal.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ephemeral architecture
Hugh Ferriss and The Metropolis of Tomorrow
Winsor McCay’s Hippodrome souvenirs
The World in 2030
Metropolis posters
Frank Lloyd Wright’s future city

Hugh Ferriss and The Metropolis of Tomorrow

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Philosophy from The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929).

I’ve procrastinated for an entire year over the idea of writing something about Hugh Ferriss and now this marvellous Flickr set has forced my hand. Ferriss (1889–1962) was a highly-regarded architectural renderer in the Twenties and Thirties, chiefly employed creating large drawings to show the clients of architects how their buildings would look when completed. But he was also an architectural theorist and his 1929 book, The Metropolis of Tomorrow, which lays out his ideas for cities of the future, was a major influence on the work I produced for the Lord Horror comics during the 1990s. Ferriss’s book appeared two years after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis but bears little resemblance to Lang’s simplistic tale, despite superficial similarities. Rather than a science fiction warning, The Metropolis of Tomorrow was a serious proposal for the creation of Art Deco-styled megacities.

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Lord Horror: Hard Core Horror #5 (1990).

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