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Posts Tagged ‘design’

Where Have All Our Zawns Gone? and Other News

February 27, 2015 | by


William Trost Richards, Rocky Cliff with Stormy Sea Cornwall, 1902.

  • Aquabob, clinkerbell, daggler, cancervell, ickle, tankle, shuckle, crottle, doofers, honeyfur, zawn the English language has historically teemed with vivid, precise words to describe the landscape and natural phenomena. So what happened to all of them?It is clear that we increasingly make do with an impoverished language for landscape. A place literacy is leaving us. A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining.”
  • On the shifting sands of literary fame: “It would be hard to find a poet, in the twenty-first century, who openly claims to write for glory, fame, or immortality. Yet the idea that great poetry was the surest way to achieve fame and outwit death has been very long-lived … Why has this dream of immortality vanished from contemporary literature? One reason, surely, is that in the twentieth century human beings faced a distinctively new uncertainty about the very existence of posterity.”
  • William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971, when he was only nineteen. Thus ensued a very unanarchic quest, on his part, to remove it from print, as it tarnished his reputation and took on a new life as a terrorist ur-text: “All hippies at one time or another renounce themselves. Sooner or later they put a tie and a coat on.”
  • A new exhibition celebrates the work of Paul Rand, who designed the iconic logos for IBM, Westinghouse, and Enron, among others—and who, “like Charles and Ray Eames, spread a bright and cheerful image of pax Americana.”
  • The pioneering romance novelist Bertrice Small died on Tuesday, leaving behind an oeuvre of “bold sexual storytelling.” “Her best-known work was the Skye O'Malley series, which starred a swashbuckling pirate queen who commanded her own fleet and once bested Queen Elizabeth I in a battle of wits.” A friend said, “I had the pleasure of knowing Bertrice personally and I’m proud to say she was a true ‘broad’ in the very best tradition of the term.”

Objects Are What We Aren’t

February 26, 2015 | by

Carl Andre’s sculptures are “plainly, inescapably there.”

“Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958–2010,” installation view at Dia:Beacon, Beacon, New York. Art © Carl Andre/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

The train ride upstate to Beacon, New York, is all geometry and noise, lines cutting through the countryside so that materials—wood, iron, steel—can do their churning work. From Grand Central Station, that palatial space with marble floors and walls of artificial stone, it’s an hour-and-a-half trip to Dia:Beacon, an art museum in a former cardboard-box factory. Through the window, ice flows, steam billows from a nuclear plant, and craggy rocks rise up across the Hudson River. Inside is a mass of plastic—vinyl seats creaking with every clack on the tracks.

It’s wise to be mindful of materials while en route to see art by Carl Andre, whose sculpture occupies Dia:Beacon in a monumental retrospective, “Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958–2010,” through March 9. Materiality is the matter at hand, even in pieces that suggest otherwise. There’s materiality and then more materiality, abetted by still more materiality for good measure. 

The effect is not as abstract as it might seem, though matters of the mind play a part in the whole of the show. It’s more an open invitation to look and reflect—to wonder at what might be at work in an experience as elemental as observing objects in space.  Read More »

Panties Inferno: An Interview with Peter Larkin

January 15, 2015 | by

Making a pop-up book about burlesque.


Peter Larkin

My mother Racelle, a painter, met the production designer Peter Larkin in the midsixties when she went to work for him as a scenic artist. After my parents divorced, Peter and Racelle became an item, eventually marrying. Peter had a long, Tony Award–winning Broadway career and then moved into film, designing pictures like Tootsie and Get Shorty. He’s a brilliant illustrator, as well—Ralph Allen, who’d conceived the musical Sugar Babies, collaborated with Peter on his book The Best Burlesque.

Burlesque, it turns out, is one of Peter’s great obsessions. Over the past twenty years, he’s created a mass of drawings, mock-ups, and maquettes for Panties Inferno, a pop-up book on the subject. Now eighty-eight, he continues to refine the work, though publishers have told him the book is too expensive to manufacture and publish—something about the glue points. But his pop-ups and drawings are wonderful, a testament to his comprehensive knowledge of the old burlesque scene. I called him to talk about his process and the basis of his fascination with burlesque as well as its history, which he feels has been mischaracterized since burlesque began to die out in the late fifties and early sixties.

Where does burlesque begin, for you?

The word burla is some kind of antique Italian. It means “joke,” and the first burlesque was imitations of what went on uptown. It was a family affair. People brought their lunches and stuff. Florenz Ziegfeld had The Ziegfeld Follies, which probably cost a lot of money—that show had nude ladies in tableaux, but they were forbidden to move. The curtain opened on Aladdin’s cave, say, or an artist’s studio, and all the ladies were still.

But in the early twentieth century, forward-thinking people like the Minsky brothers, of Minsky’s Burlesque, made it so that for a lot less money you could go and see the women moving. It changed tremendously through the years. These acts started out with a preponderance of acts and comics and maybe one or two strippers, and as it went on, more and more time was given over to strippers. The comics were furious. They started to use bluer material, to get even. Read More »


Typographic Sanity

October 1, 2014 | by


“The Blue Streak Comet,” a Linotype machine.

There’s a post over at Print Magazine about Frank Romano’s new book, History of the Linotype Company, which chronicles the rise and decline of the Linotype, a “glorious contraption” that was not so very long ago the industry standard for printing newspapers, magazines, catalogs, you name it. I’d be lying if I said I knew how it worked—to look at it is to imagine it taking your hand off—but fortunately there’s Wikipedia, which explains:

The linotype machine operator enters text on a ninety-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came, to be reused later. This allows much faster typesetting and composition than original hand composition in which operators place down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.

The machine was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant who set up shop in Brooklyn. At the height of its powers, it was used in eighty-six countries and in 850 languages. And the public domain is teeming with miscellany from the Mergenthaler Company, which produced an endless succession of handbooks, manuals, brochures, and pamphlets, among them Linotype’s Shining Lines, a sort of trade magazine with impeccably designed cover art:

linotype00121Read More »


Cardboard, Glue, and Storytelling

September 16, 2014 | by


Last year, Sadie Stein wrote here about Matteo Pericoli’s Laboratory of Literary Architecture, a “cross-disciplinary exploration of literature as architecture” in which students create physical models of literary texts. Pericoli has taught the course at the Scuola Holden in Italy, at Columbia University, and elsewhere—now he’s broadening the horizons, and the Laboratory has a robust new Web site to prove it. There’s also a new video—replete with a kind of slinky Sade-ish groove, because why not?—that walks you through the course’s fundamental questions.

But perhaps the easiest way to grasp what Pericoli’s up to here is to look at an example—the LabLitArch site features a number of them. Here, for instance, is Katherine Treppendahl, an intern architect, on her literary architecture independent study, seen above, of Ulysses:

The exterior space frame represents the overarching role of Joyce, the arranger, as well the modules of time within the text—each partition represents a different time of day. The two primary characters, Bloom and Stephen (Joyce’s Ulysses and Telemachus) are translated into different volumetric typologies. These volumes are stacked and arranged in terms of their presence, importance, and relationship within the story. The reader is represented as a pale tube snaking through these volumes. In the novel, there is a point at which the text shifts from a more conventional narrative style to a more abstract and self-conscious style. Within the model, as the reader moves into this territory, the volumes begin to break open and fracture. They are no longer whole vessels, and the “reader” is visible, moving uncertainly through this landscape.

There’s also a very fitting makeshift mission statement drawn from Alice Munro’s Selected Stories:

A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.

Check out more of the student projects here.


Cover Art

August 29, 2014 | by


Looking at this pretty slideshow of circa-1900 book covers, one is struck by a couple of things. First, the beauty and elegance of the design. And, second, the fact that the titles are all unfamiliar. Of course, beautiful, striking covers are produced every day: talented art departments work hard to accommodate an ever-changing market and far more cooks (so to speak) than designers of old ever had to please. One imagines in the old days, the author would take his Art-Nouveau swags and like it; agents rarely figured in the picture, and if you’d envisioned, say, a pine rather than a stylized laurel tree on your novel—well, forget it.

It’s also a change in tastes, or of standards; like so many old buildings, whose standard-issue marble work and penny tiling now seem like models of beauty and lost workmanship, these ornate covers were the rule, not the exception. If comedy equals tragedy plus time, well, that sort of works for beauty, too. Maybe not the tragedy part. As to the titles’ relative obscurity? That's also modern hindsight. And who knows what hopes the publishers had for The Story of Ab: A Tale of the Time of the Cave Man? One thing’s for sure: these were not disposable objects.