Category Archives: Art and Architecture

Whiter shade of pale

Happy birthday to today’s Google Doodle honoree, Agnes Martin.

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Emptying the shoebox

A holiday weekend affords some time to scan some old photos.

AlgernonSusan and AlbertaErstwhile cars and girlfriends, much loved. Did I really have that much stuff growing in my front yard? I think that’s my neighbor’s Mitsubishi 3000GT behind Algernon.

findingfoundA Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) foraging at Huntley Meadows Park. This might have been my lifer.

the old old boardwalkIs this the original boardwalk at Huntley Meadows? I don’t think so, but it’s what we had in 1991.

Bonneville DamBonneville insideObsessions with the built environment on a trip to the Pacific Northwest in 1993. Bonneville Dam and its generator room.

closedopenThe bascule Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria. Today, it’s in the process of being replaced.

in your pocketWhere else in the world but Portland would you find an official city park the size of a manhole? Welcome to Mill Ends Park.

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I like the bubbly Canvasback, too

Rick Wright offers some of his unconventional picks for this season’s art competition for the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.

This is not a decoy, not a duck, but the self-conscious simulacrum of a duck/decoy, and in its grotesque combination of the organic and the artificial, the living and the not, this figure brings together eloquently the concerns, shared and conflicting, of hunters and birders, reminding us all of where the duck stamp comes from and all the fine things it has led to over the years.

It might win, but it won’t. I predict that next year’s stamp will be pedestrian and placative, like all its predecessors. I’m still buying it, though.

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Upcoming: 35

Artomatic, the building-recycling, artist-driven free-for-all, is coming to Jefferson County, W. Va. The exhibition opens 4 October in the “Rock & Tile Building” in Charles Town.

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Decline of the West: 1

First it was the lights coming on at Wrigley Field, then the closing of Tower Records and Ollsson’s Books, and then the end of the zone system for D.C. taxicabs. We endured. But this blow is too much to take: the Metropolitan Museum of Art has discontinued its colorful admission buttons, replacing them with paper tickets, stickers—and advertising. A spokesman for the museum says that the the new paraphernalia will save the organization two cents apiece. Bah!

hoping for a freebieAnd Godzilla here was working on collecting a full set, hoping to score a free admission when his color came up again.

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Upcoming: 33

Glenstone, a private art museum in Potomac, Md., looks forward to a $125 million expansion. Come 2016, a new series of exhibition spaces will be open five days a week, albeit by reservation only. Important works by mid-century moderns (Serra, Pollack, Johns, de Kooning) and contemporary artists are part of the collection of Mitchell and Emily Rales. Carol Vogel has the full story.

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Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing No. 681 C at the National Gallery has collapsed. The pieces are going into storage.


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You shouldn’t be a prisoner of your own ideas. Everyone gets into their own box and enunciates principles, if only in their own mind—you have your own constraints and your own structure that you think you’re following, and then you realize that what you’re saying is “I can do this, but I can’t do that.” And then at some point you say, “Well, why not?” and the answer is “Because I told myself I couldn’t.” If you keep telling yourself, “You can,” then you are liberated. If you’re totally constrained, all that’s left for you to do is break the mold. “Every wall is a door.”

—Sol LeWitt, BOMB Magazine, Fall 2003
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The waxwing slain

Toronto’s glass-and-steel skyline is an architect’s delight, but quite deadly to fall migrant birds. Despite Canadian government regs that make newly-built towers less lethal, there is still great room for improvement. Ian Austen tours the city, and picks up a few carcasses, with Michal Mesure and volunteers for the Fatal Light Awareness Program.

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VCU Rice Center

building frontFor my first field trip as part of the Virginia Native Plant Society’s annual meeting, we visited the Virginia Commonwealth University Inger and Walter Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences in Charles City County. The botanizing was what it was, but the education and lab facility was a stunner.

the JamesVCU acquired the property, on a bluff with a majestic view of the James River, via a gift from Walter Rice’s widow, Inger. She then went on to specify (and fund!) a state-of-the-art sustainably-built edifice. Panelled in American White-cedar, the building has achieved LEED platinum certification. Early plans called for solar panels on the roof, but they would have been shadowed by the huge oak that provides the shade in this image. So the panels were relocated to the research pier at the bottom of the bluff.

Vertical geothermal tubes provide some of the heating and cooling. I was surprised to learn that the permeable paving system for the entrance drive and parking area (a plastic grid over layers of sand and gravel) was one of the more expensive elements, blowing out the original $2M budget for the entire package.

the windows openThe south-facing conference hall is naturally lit and ventilated. Knee-height casement windows are supplemented with industrial-strength ceiling fans, keeping temps in the room very comfortable (albeit on a breezy early fall day).

As we talked outside, our presenters were upstaged by a pair of chippering Bald Eagles, their arrival announced by an unhappy Blue Jay.

Along with research into Eastern Box Turtles and Prothonotary Warblers, the Center is in the midst of a wetland restoration project—one that was prompted by Nature herself. Kimages Creek, just to the east of the educattion building, was dammed in the 1920s by a real estate developer who sought to establish a hunting club. Although he busted almost immediately, the dam remained for the time being, impounding a body of water called Charles Lake (it’s still labelled as such on Yahoo!’s maps). The earthen dam, never well-maintained, was eventually breached by storms in the 2000s. Efforts are now underway to re-establish the tidal freshwater creek.

Land use in the area is exceptionally well-documented and mapped, owing to the place’s strategic importance during the American Civil War. Gen. George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was encamped on the eastern side of Kimages Creek for a short period of time in 1862.

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tileI kid you not, this building is at the end of the block of Degraw Street where my no-frills European-style hotel was located.

As evidenced by the newly-established hotel, Park Slope and Boerum Hill are encroaching on this industrial neighborhood of Gowanus. We passed a shiny new condo block on the west side of 4th Avenue. Degraw and Sackett Streets are painted with bike lanes.

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Roosevelt Island and nearby

almost from QueensI took a vacation day Monday, before my training classes midweek, to explore some offbeat places in New York. I’d never been to Roosevelt Island before, so I got that tram ticket punched. The park at the southern tip of the island was closed, but the views across the East River from just outside are just as good.

northern lightAt the northern point is a lovely, tiny lighthouse, dwarfing the Triborough Bridge in this perspective.

still a few aroundBack on the “mainland” of Manhattan, a painted advertising sign persists on 2nd Avenue. I look at the sloped lettering of PORTOVAULT and now I understand where Ben Katchor’s signs come from

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Upcoming: 30

Artomatic 2012 will take place in the Transwestern Presidential Tower on Clark Street in Arlington, as announced by the Crystal City BID. The unjuried, free show celebrating local artists of all kinds runs 18 May to 24 June.

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New camera

rooftopsA new camera, and I’d always wanted to take some snaps from the 7th floor roof deck. Looking north, two domed houses of worship are visible, the golden United House of Prayer for All People, and on the distant heights, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The long horizontal roofline is Galbraith A.M.E. Zion Church.

something is upLooking down into K Street, N.W., the vacant pavement, once a parking lot, has been fenced off for several weeks. Perhaps some new construction is afoot. Looking beyond to New York Avenue, N.W., the green awning marks the location of the old A. V. Ristorante; its aggressive street-level awning used to span the wide sidewalk. Also notice the backside of the billboard, inflected toward Maryland-bound commuters.

dome, slope, flat, spireLooking to the southeast down Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., the white dome will be familiar to some. The sloping red brick roofline is the Pension Building, home to the National Building Museum.

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Mens sana in corpore sano

crispOn my way up and down J Street (so you know I wasn’t in downtown D.C.) to visit Mom I passed this charming brick and terra cotta edifice, which turns out to be the Sacramento Turn Verein, now a German language and culture society.

sound mind sound bodyRiding the wave of German immigration in the mid 19th century, the American Turnerbund movement established athletic clubs in Cincinnati; Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; and elsewhere. It had its roots in a nationalistic yet democratic student movement in the early 1800’s, founded by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn.

Jahn’s nationalistic spirit contributed to his role as a promoter of “patriotic gymnastics,” recognized as a strong force in Prussia’s liberation. The gymnastic exercises that he introduced were intended to infuse his students with a patriotic love of freedom that would make them capable of bearing arms for their country, in the name of war of liberation.

American Turners opposed slavery and served in the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War.

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