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The Designed Landscape: An Interview with Carol Betsch

December 15, 2014 | by

1._LALH_St_Mt-Auburn_Cemetary

Carol Betsch, View from Mountain Avenue, below Washington Tower, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts, 2005.

100 Years of Design on the Land,” a photography show opening here in New York this evening at 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery, explores ten historic American landscapes, from Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston, created in 1831, to the Camden Public Library Amphitheatre in Maine, created in 1931. The show presents contemporary photographs by Carol Betsch and Andy Olenick that have been commissioned for books published by the Library of American Landscape History (LALH). Robin Karson, the executive director and founder of LALH, curated the exhibition. As she says in an introductory statement in the show’s catalogue, “each of these places was shaped by a deliberate design process, and each has an individual story to tell. Taken together, they tell a much larger story of a nation’s beliefs and aspirations—who we are, where we long to go or what we want to get back to.”

The Library of American Landscape History, based in Amherst, Massachusetts, is defining the field of landscape history through its books about significant American landscape practitioners and places. LALH also organizes exhibitions that reflect the subjects of its publications, and, in partnership with Hott Productions of Florentine Films, produces a series of short films, North America by Design. Carol Betsch’s photographs have appeared in eleven LALH books (two are forthcoming). For the 2013 title The Best Planned City in the World, the author Frank Kowsky worked with Andy Olenick, an architectural photographer based in Buffalo, to document the key elements of the park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for that city. This includes three large parks and a series of parkways to connect them, as well as Niagara Falls, which Olmsted helped to preserve from the destruction of local industries.

Olmsted Project

Andy Olenick, Delaware Park Meadow, Buffalo Parks, Buffalo, New York, 2013.

I first encountered Carol Betsch’s photographs at the exhibition “A Genius for Place,” at the PaineWebber Art Gallery in the fall of 2000. I was struck by the remarkable elegance and stateliness of her images. The landscapes pictured were stunning, with grand homes nestled among ancient trees, vast lawns, formal gardens, pools, ponds, and follies. I found the feeling of serenity in these places, the evocative light and space, tremendously appealing. Looking at these photographs felt like walking through these wonderful American landscapes and gardens, having just the right guide to take me to the best views, the most significant perspectives, and to create the opportunity for understanding some of the ideas behind the landscapes unfolding before me. The photographs looked like they could be the work of an artist from the late nineteenth century, but they had all been made during the last decade. Who was this photographer? And where were these places?

“A Genius for Place,” both the show and the book that followed, presented seven estates of the country-place era, roughly the 1890s to the 1930s, created by some of the most important landscape architects of the time. Written by Robin Karson, the chapters alternate between biographies of the practitioners and exploration of the places from the perspective of an art historian, looking at the landscape designs as works of art. Selecting the best of the sites that retained the integrity of the original design, and discussing them in chronological order, Karson reveals the trajectory and evolution of American landscape design, and the ways these designs expressed ideas in the larger culture.

In anticipation of this new show, I spoke with Betsch about her photography, and the process of working in these landscapes. Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Jonathan Lippincott, Designer, Part 2

January 13, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Lippincott’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


DAY FOUR

11:30 A.M. Start reading the manuscript of Amy Waldman’s The Submission, a novel we are publishing this summer, and get pulled right in. This is still the most exciting part of the job, even after all these years—being one of the first readers of something that is really good. The story takes place a couple of years after the September 11 attacks, and is about a committee chosen to select a memorial for ground zero. In the opening chapter the committee is having its final meeting, there is a lot of arguing back and forth, a decision is finally reached, the anonymous entry opened, and it turns out the artist is Muslim. Chaos ensues. Read through lunch, and then have to get on to other projects.

6:30 P.M. Opening for a show of new work by Sarah Brenneman at the Jeff Bailey Gallery. This is the third show of her paintings that I have seen, and it is interesting to see how an artist’s work evolves over time. The paintings are done in watercolor, sometimes also with pencil and gouache. I was always struck by her beautiful sense of color and pattern, and now elements of the paintings are cut out and collaged elements are added, making an even more animated image. A very strong show. Catch up with a few friends, and then head out to dinner.

7:45 P.M. Dinner with our friend Peter, whom we haven’t seen in quite a while. We have a great time catching up, talking about recent books and less recent movies. Duck Soup, Pennies from Heaven and Bay of Angels need to be added to the Netflix queue.

Today’s photos:

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A Week in Culture: Jonathan Lippincott, Designer

January 12, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

I have decided to resurrect my “walking to work” photo project. I was a reluctant New Yorker when I first moved to the city in the early 1990s, but immediately loved being able to walk everywhere. I would take long walks on the weekends, in part to learn my way around the city, and in part to get out of my squalid apartment. There was so much to see! One of the things that always struck me was the sheer quantity of stone carving on so many of the buildings. The combination of great craftsmanship and brute strength required to carve all these ornaments is remarkable, and all around Manhattan there are gargoyles and goddesses to rival any in Paris or Rome. And while all these cities have remarkable troves of artwork in their museums, walking down the street provides endless sights of beauties as well—these architectural details are another facet of the city’s public art. The photos this week are all taken between 34th and 14th, on Madison or Fifth Avenue. You have to look up (and watch your step when you do). Most street-level spaces on these avenues are stores or restaurants with little detail. For the most part, the detailing becomes more elaborate further up. I should probably remember why this is the case from my art history classes; maybe it was simply to celebrate the colossal height of these buildings. (Click the images to enlarge.)

9:30 A.M. Arrive at the office to find a sample of the box set of Elizabeth Bishop’s Poems and Prose, which I designed (it's coming out in February). To my delight and great relief, it looks marvelous. The color is an excellent match to the jacket of Bishop’s The Complete Poems, from 1969, which was the inspiration for the design of the new box and books. Nice way to start the new year. Spend the morning going through endless e-mail and other post-vacation office tidying. Finish work on the interior design for the Vargas Llosa Nobel lecture, due out ASAP.

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Large Scale: Lippincott Inc.

December 7, 2010 | by

Before Lippincott, Inc. was founded in 1966, artists had no natural industrial partner and no capacity to produce sculpture on an industrial scale. They had to fabricate their own pieces, working alone or perhaps with assistants or students, or turn to manufacturers with no experience producing artworks. Sculpture was typically modest in scale, designed for intimate viewing, and often still produced in the artisanal manner—by the incremental labor of single artists.

After Lippincott, Inc. was founded by my father, Donald Lippincott, and his business partner, Roxanne Everett, sculpture changed. It got bigger, it moved outdoors, it asserted itself as a modern form of public monument. The Lippincott shop introduced industrial production to sculpture and vice versa, and it helped create a new kind of work in which scale was not just a formal matter but a crucial part of the sculptural endeavor. Lippincott’s four decades in business correspond quite neatly with perhaps the most active period of public sculpture in art history; for more than a decade and a half, Lippincott was the only fabricator dedicated exclusively to fine art.

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