“Once I Had This Dream,” an exhibition of paintings by Gretchen Scherer, is at Art 3 Gallery through June 24. Scherer, who lives and works in Brooklyn, paints rambling manses and crumbling chateaux as seen through a fun-house mirror—their staircases swerving, their portraits multiplying, their baroque furnishings collapsing into a labyrinth of distorted decor. “I often think about the way I imagine spaces before I see them and how my ideas differ vastly from the way those spaces actually appear,” she says. “It’s these places we create in our minds that inform my paintings … The images I use to collage are mostly from homes in the Victorian era. These pictures hold a fascination for me and cause me to wonder if there is something lurking under the surface. As I’m collaging I imagine the people that lived in those spaces; I begin to catch glimpses of their former lives.”
A few years ago, when I heard through the grapevine that Grey Gardens was up for rent, I thought it had to be a bizarre joke: What kind of a sick twist would pay to spend time in the notorious cat-and-rot-scented squalor so memorably depicted in the Maysles brothers’ 1975 documentary Grey Gardens? I knew Jackie O had paid to rehabilitate the place after Long Island authorities had nearly condemned it and ousted its inhabitants, Jackie’s aunt Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and cousin Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie). After that embarrassment-driven overhaul, the place seemed briefly, passably pâté-worthy again—but still, it would have to be classified as “for niche tastes only.”
It turned out Grey Gardens had long since been renovated back into a glistening private playground for the intelligentsia A-list. (My ignorance of this fact confirmed me as an intelligentsia C-lister, at best.) After the demise of Big Edie, the Washington journalist and social doyenne Sally Quinn bought the house with her husband, Ben Bradlee, the Watergate-era executive editor at the Washington Post. The capital’s quintessential power couple paid a mere $225,000 for the house and grounds, and lovingly restored the estate to its 1930s glory; there, amid the rose bushes and chintz chaise lounges, they entertained the gods and goddesses of the film and political worlds. More recently, they offered to share Grey Gardens by renting it to those willing to pay $150,000 a month for the privilege. (It’s now on the market for nearly $20 million.) Read More
Francesca Woodman’s playful darkness.
Francesca Woodman died on this day in 1981. Digital subscribers can see a portfolio of her early work in our Spring 2014 issue.
In 1912, the essayist Randolph Bourne wrote in the Atlantic Monthly that the ability to think “was given us for use in emergencies, and no man can be justly blamed if he reserves it for emergencies.” If the photography of Francesca Woodman can be reduced to one defining feature, it’s that she provides emergencies. Woodman’s emergencies are not loud or particularly dangerous; they don’t require alarms or intervention. But they do ask us to think, to ponder the urgency of an unorthodox kind of desire—a desire that insists, I am here, naked and soft, on one side of a wall, and I want to be over there, on the other side, where an equally naked and soft orchid flirts with me. This situation is serious. Read More
The house Thomas Mann described as “so completely my own” could be torn down.
Thomas Mann’s house in Pacific Palisades, California, is up for sale. The news came as a surprise: the house, designed by the modernist architect J. R. Davidson, was believed to have a reliable owner with Chester Lappen, the lawyer who bought it from Mann in 1953, and his heirs. As late as 2012, they’d expressed no interest in selling. Things have changed. Read More
I grew up in a Manhattan apartment whose view encompassed sky, clouds, and other apartments. For a while I kept a pair of binoculars on the windowsill. I used them before going to bed, a kind of voyeuristic nightcap. Most of the pleasure I got came from noting which lights were on and which were off in other people’s apartments. I would sometimes wonder if somewhere out there, in one of the unlit windows, perhaps, there was a kid with binoculars looking back at me.
Once, when we were thirteen or so, a friend in the building and I took his massive telescope to the roof. This was before all modes of entrance and egress in Manhattan apartment buildings and hotels were locked down and wired with alarms. We probably almost died getting the tripod up the fire ladder. Once we were up there, we took turns slowly rotating the telescope across the landscape as we peered through with one eye closed. We did this on a few occasions, and only once achieved the semi-nirvana of seeing a naked woman. She was sleeping on her stomach. A sheet covered most of her. But enough of her back, and a bit of leg, was visible to infer that she was naked. The question was if she would wake up, or at least roll over. We stayed up there for a long time, waiting. I don’t think she ever woke. Read More
A day in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s gardens at Steepletop.
In high school, I had a simple assignment to write a report on a poet. I searched aimlessly for the right one: more than a poet of some specific literary achievement, I wanted one who had died by suicide. Not to say I was a morbid teen—I was just fascinated by the arresting drama of that narrative. Strangely, my search led me to the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, which was poor research: she didn’t kill herself. She fell down the stairs of her home at Steepletop very early on the morning of October 19, 1950, sixty-five years ago this week. And if you believe the coroners, she suffered a heart attack first. I chose her anyway.
I read as many of her poems as I could find, printing out my favorites—like “Afternoon on a Hill,” “Witch-Wife,” and “The Little Ghost”—in colorful, elaborate fonts and hanging them on my bedroom wall alongside photos of Millay. Poetry had never spoken to me before. It had always left me feeling like an outsider—an especially undesirable experience for an adolescent. But reading Millay was a new kind of encounter. Her work was understandable, relatable: melodic, even. When other kids were putting up posters of shirtless pop stars, I was taping up photos of Millay with tousled hair, laying in a grassy field, her arms and legs tangled with her companions’. This is what I thought life should look like. It was, as Michael Minchak put it, how I got “Millayed.” Read More