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Thread: The Seagram Building

  1. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
    The best of the tombstones. There's an even bigger collection of them on Sixth Avenue.

    When Seagram arrived she was the only one. She was breathtaking. The rest of Park Avenue was still a uniform cliff, as it still is further uptown. Seagram would catch my eye each time I passed and I would ogle her shamelessly.

    After a while Seagram started to have company. The company somewhat resembled Seagram and came with plazas. So Seagram looked less and less unique.

    The other day I went down Park Avenue in a cab, and I passed her by before I realized it: I had neglected to ogle my breathtaking beauty.
    Always liked the Lever building better myself. I have a strong aesthetic dislike for bronze-colored glass/buildings.

    That said, with all the deconstructivist trash being built, these simple boxes are beginning to look ‘less bad’.

  2. #17
    Forum Veteran TREPYE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luca View Post
    That said, with all the deconstructivist trash being built,
    Such as?

  3. #18

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    You know, the Liberskind and Koolhaas "I want my buildigns to be unsettling challenges to assumptions about our place in the space-tiem continuum and patriarcal-capitalist narratives of 'order' and 'proportions'" stuff getting built.

  4. #19

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    Hahaha, good summarization! You may as well also throw Eisenman in there too.. wankers.

  5. #20
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Yes but that kind of trash isn't being built in NYC. We have banal trash.

  6. #21
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    Well I think we have way too many Seagrams around in NYC. Besides the personal stance that I have (as most know by now I am anti-modernist) I belive that we should have a variety of styles. We have beaux arts, gothic, art deco, modernist, international, postmodernist why cant we have some decontrutivism, structural expressionism; nothing wong with a little variety.

  7. #22
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Default Speaking for myself,

    I'm over the 'building looks like it's falling down' moment.

  8. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by stache View Post
    Yes but that kind of trash isn't being built in NYC. We have banal trash.

  9. #24
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    A new play, RED, has been brought over to New York after a critically acclaimed production at the Donmar Warehouse in London and opens this week on Broadway; it concerns the 1958 Seagram / Four Seasons Restaurant / Philip Johnson contract with painter Mark Rothko for a set of murals that would be installed on the walls of the FSR. In 1959 Rothko, after much work, cancelled the contract and in 1968 a deal was struck for some of the paintings to be permanently displayed at the Tate Museum in London (A terrific article on how the paintings ended up at the Tate: "Feeding fury: How Rothko's Seagram murals found their way to London").

    The Four Seasons Restaurant (sans Rothko):







    The paintings that Rothko created in 1958-59 at his studio in the former YMCA at 222 Bowery (near Prince, opposite the New Museum for Contemporary Art) with the FSR in mind include a series of Black on Maroon color fields ...





    Another, "Mural for an End Wall" (1959) ...



    And "Red on Maroon" (1959) ...



    Rothko's inspiration for the paintings came from a number of sources, including the nearly windowless and enclosed Vestibule for the Laurentian Library (1524-1534) that Michelangelo designed for the Medicis in Florence:





    Rothko also drew upon the frescos he saw at Villa of the Mysteries near Pompeii, where a feast for Dionysus (circa 75 AD) is depicted with a background of red:





    Rembrandt's "Belshazzar's Feast" (1635) also served as inspiration, and Rothko aimed for paintings for the enclosed space at FSR that would be illuminated from within:



    In 1964 Rothko was commissioned by Texas oil millionaires John and Dominique de Menil for a collection of paintings. The result was the Rothko Chapel in Houston, built to Rothko's specifications to house 14 paintings ...



    The finished Chaped opened in 1971, but the artist who inspired it never saw it. Rothko committed suicide in 1970 -- on the same day that the set of 8 FSR murals arrived in London.

  10. #25
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Great unspoilt view of all those Art Deco beauties .


    1958 - Ezra Stoller

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2011/0..._years_ago.php

  11. #26
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    Thank you, Lofter, for this interesting post about Rothko's Seagram Murals. I have been very intrigued by this subject ever since I saw the Simon Schama's Power of Art episode devoted to this work. Check out the link here:



    [I particularly like this observation of Prof. Schama's: "They say that money follows art. Well, art quite likes money, too."]

    [Also noteworthy is the performance of Allan Corduner, the actor who plays Rothko, who previously portrayed the decidedly different Sir Arthur Sullivan in the terrific 1999 film "Topsy-Turvy."]

    I have been looking, without success, for some sort of reconstruction or conjectural view of how the Pool Room would have looked if Rothko had allowed his murals to be installed. There may be some scholarship on how the murals would have been arranged. Perhaps a forum member can "use all your powers and all your skills" (as Don Corleone famously asks the undertaker Bonasera) to put together a model incorporating views of the Pool Room with scaled images of the murals?

    After completing 7 (or was it 9?) murals for the project, Rothko ate dinner for the first time in the restaurant where they were to be displayed. Afterwards, he withdrew from the commission and returned his advance. James E.B. Breslin wrote in his book "Mark Rothko: A Biography" that

    "Seated in 'Brno' chairs designed by [Ludwig] Mies [van der Rohe] himself, Mark and Mell Rothko contemplated a menu which offered them a cuisine 'derived from many of the cuisines of the world'... Rothko had hoped to paint something that would ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever ate in that room. Instead, the concrete reality of the restaurant probably ruined his appetite, and certainly ruined his project...

    "When he got home that evening, he called Katharine Kuh 'in a state of high emotion' to say he was returning the money he'd received and withdrawing his paintings. 'When he was working on the project, his imagination plus a dash of wishful thinking projected an idyllic setting where captivated diners, lost in reverie, communed with the murals. I'm afraid it never entered his head that the works would be forced to compete with a noisy crowd of conspicuous consumers.' But 'real transactions' were not on the Four Seasons menu. The next morning, arriving at his Bowery studio, 'he came through the door like a bull, as only Rothko could, in an absolute rage,' said Dan Rice. 'He said quite explosively - no good mornings or anything... slamming his hat down on the table and pounding, 'Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine.' 'He was furious,' Stanley Kunitz said 'I've never seen him so angry about anything. He could talk about nothing else for weeks.'"'
    Last edited by ttk; January 10th, 2011 at 12:38 AM.

  12. #27
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    A Personal Stamp on the Skyline

    By MARK LAMSTER

    “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Tapping a shaft of white marble in the lobby of the Seagram Building, the bespoke modern tower she willed into being more than 50 years ago, Phyllis Lambert was as close to wistful as her rather unsentimental constitution would allow. “I consider I was born when I built this building,” she said.

    Designed by the architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, the Seagram Building was an instant classic upon its 1959 dedication and was once described by the critic Herbert Muschamp in The New York Times as “the millennium’s most important building.”

    Ms. Lambert’s book, “Building Seagram,” being released next week by the Yale University Press, is something of a joint biography: a history of this stately Park Avenue landmark that many consider the pinnacle of postwar architecture in New York, rendered through the lens of her vivid memories of its invention and of her privileged early years as the daughter of the liquor baron Samuel Bronfman, who founded the Seagram distilling empire. The book reveals many new details about a building that remains among the most studied of the modern era.

    Though it now seems an implacable and timeless monument, a bronzed monolith standing resolutely behind its well-proportioned plaza, the tower’s existence was by no means ordained. In June 1953 Ms. Lambert was a 26-year-old recently divorced sculptor living in Paris, a self-imposed exile from her native Montreal and from her domineering father.

    It was then that she reeled off a missive to her father, a response to his own letter outlining plans for a New York skyscraper. She was not impressed with the undistinguished modern box his architects proposed and let him know: “This letter starts with one word repeated very emphatically,” she wrote, “NO NO NO NO NO.”

    Seven more pages followed, in which Ms. Lambert alternately scolded, cajoled and lectured her father on architectural history and civic responsibility. There was “nothing whatsoever commendable” in the proposed design, she wrote. “You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society.”

    Sitting at a corner table in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons, the Seagram Building restaurant that inspired the phrase “power lunch,” Ms. Lambert, still unyielding at 86, laughed with unguarded pleasure at the nerve she demonstrated 60 years ago. “When I read it now I think, ‘Wow, it’s amazing,’ ” she said of her letter. “I was thinking the whole thing through as I wrote.”

    Her father was impressed enough by her passion to invite her back from Paris, thinking she could, as she writes, “choose the marble for the ground floor,” a task he thought would assuage her.

    But Ms. Lambert was not content to play a subservient role. “When I come to the U.S. it will be to do a job and not to sit around the St. Regis making sweet talk,” she wrote to her mother, Saidye.

    She got her chance and eventually won the title director of planning for the project, along with a $20,000 salary. Determined to choose an architect who would “make the greatest contribution to architecture,” she recalled, she was referred to Philip Johnson, who was leaving his post as director of the architecture department at the Museum of Modern Art to devote himself fully to his fledgling architectural practice.

    Together they made a shortlist of candidates. In one memorable afternoon they sorted the contenders with Eero Saarinen in the living room of Johnson’s Glass House, in New Canaan, Conn., now a landmark but then still new. Saarinen later tossed himself into the mix, proposing a tower similar to the one he would deliver to CBS for a site just a few blocks away. He was rejected, as were Marcel Breuer, Pietro Belluschi, Walter Gropius, Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph, I. M. Pei and Minoru Yamasaki. One prominent architect Ms. Lambert did not have to worry about was Frank Lloyd Wright. He had already put himself forward for the job (among his proposals was a 100-story tower) only to be dismissed by Seagram executives as ungovernable.

    That left two options: Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French modernist, and Mies, who had moved to Chicago from Germany in 1938. Ms. Lambert chose Mies, whose career Johnson had championed for decades. Mies, in turn, made Johnson a partner, and put him in charge of much of the interior work. “Mies forces you in,” Ms. Lambert wrote in October 1954. “You might think this austere strength, this ugly beauty, is terribly severe. It is, and yet all the more beauty in it.”

    That severity represented an aesthetic about-face for the Seagram company, then with headquarters in the flamboyant Art Deco Chrysler Building. One of Ms. Lambert’s more amusing revelations in the book is that Seagram’s offices there were designed by a young Morris Lapidus, future maestro of Miami kitsch.

    Mies and Johnson were in some respects unlikely architects for the Jewish Bronfman family, in that both had checkered histories during the 1930s. While Mies had been apolitically opportunistic in Germany, Johnson was a fascist and anti-Semite. The Bronfman family had its own past to contend with. “The fortune was started or hugely advanced by the sale of liquor into the United States during Prohibition,” said Daniel Okrent, author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.”

    Ms. Lambert is somewhat evasive on that subject, but she writes that the “stigma” of that past was on the minds of Seagram executives, who were concerned that they might have trouble finding renters for a building owned and occupied by a liquor company.

    But first they had to build it, a task that required all the backbone Ms. Lambert revealed in her initial letter to her father. That meant, in May 1955, staring down a conference room packed with some 30 builders, all men, who questioned the feasibility of Mies’s plans. “I only had one thing in mind, and that was making sure Mies built the building he wanted to,” she said. “When you’re young, you’re very clear about what’s right and what’s wrong.”

    She was uncompromising in her defense of Mies’s vision, even after he returned to Chicago when New York State authorities claimed that he lacked the proper qualifications to practice architecture. When a contractor tried to dissuade her from using an expensive brick bonding technique because it would be hidden from view, she channeled the aphoristic Mies, countering, “God would know.” (The building’s structural integrity, in any case, was assured by its chief engineer, Fred Severud, who was later an author of a cold-war primer on safety titled “The Bomb, Survival, and You.”)

    Carol Willis, the founding director of the Skyscraper Museum in New York, said the Seagram Building gave “a modernist corporate identity to a city that was changing from stone to glass.”

    That transformation did not come cheaply. While Mies averred “Less is more,” that was not a philosophy he applied to the budget. The highly customized building cost about $36 million, an astronomical sum at the time, and then incurred what was effectively a luxury tax from the state, an imposition that became the subject of a protracted legal fight. In a 1964 editorial, The Times described this “tax on architectural excellence” as nothing less than a “catastrophe.”

    There were other frustrations. In 1958 Ms. Lambert commissioned Mark Rothko to create a series of murals for the Four Seasons. He began work but backed out and then vented to a reporter that he had only accepted the job with “malicious intent,” so he could make paintings so disagreeable as to spoil the appetites of the restaurant’s fat-cat patrons. (The episode became the subject of the Broadway play “Red.”) Ms. Lambert puts little stock in Rothko’s rant. “He had this religious feeling about his work,” she said, and simply didn’t want it hanging where it would serve merely as decoration. “I kind of understood his point.”

    Other artists Ms. Lambert tried to enlist were Brancusi and Picasso. Brancusi treated her to Champagne in his Paris studio, where he kept a gong over his bed. Nothing came of the visit. She recruited Picasso to create a suite of sculptures for the Four Seasons. She met him for lunch at his studio in Cannes, and he charmed her by forming animal shapes from pieces of bread. But the meeting came to nothing, a failure Ms. Lambert, who had sharp features and bright eyes, attributed to the jealousy of Picasso’s lover Jacqueline Roque. “That was what we all assumed,” she said. “I was a very pretty young lady.”

    She did get her Picasso, however. “Le Tricorne,” a stage curtain he created in 1919 for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, has been a Four Seasons signature since the restaurant opened in 1959. Ms. Lambert purchased it from an independent dealer for $50,000.

    Even as ownership has passed from the Bronfman family’s control, Ms. Lambert has watched over the building. A set of design standards established in 1979 as part of a complex lease-back agreement stipulated everything from the positioning of venetian blinds to the continued “policy of genial permissiveness” regulating its landmark plaza. “It has to be maintained properly, and that’s a lesson I hope people have learned,” she said. The building became a New York City landmark in 1989.

    Ms. Lambert later became an architect herself, studying under Mies at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 1979 she founded the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal, where she lives in a historic building with two bouviers des Flandres. Her singular devotion to architecture inspired a 2007 documentary, “Citizen Lambert: Joan of Architecture.”

    “When she got the Seagram Building built, it was the first time you really realized that architecture brought something to the city that didn’t exist,” said the architect Ricardo Scofidio, a partner in the firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro, which redesigned the Brasserie, the Seagram’s less rarefied restaurant, in 2000. “It really turned the city around, and for architects it suddenly raised their status in the eyes of clients.”

    Musing on her accomplishments between bites of tuna tartare Ms. Lambert betrayed a clear sense of satisfaction. “You come down the street and you see this building and it’s just fantastic,” she said. “I was just so passionate about what had to be done.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/a...book.html?_r=0

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2013/0...m_building.php

  13. #28

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    True story: the first time I went "looking" for this tower (as in purposely made a trip to the area to check it out) I couldn't find it. This was around '02 when I was just getting my bearings on both architecture and the city itself, and I remember looking up and down Park Avenue thinking, "damn, all these modernist boxes look alike, even this one that's standing where the Seagram is supposed to be" and walked away unfulfilled (this of course being before we had access to Google at all times).

    And to this day I still look at the Seagram with a certain amount of disappointment, as in yes it is an amazing specimen of its style, but at the end of the day it's just another damn box amongst a sea of boxes. My more educated self sees what the hubbub's about and I think the restaurant is gorgeous, but I doubt I'll ever be able to shake that initial feeling of (non-)discovery.
    Last edited by kz1000ps; April 8th, 2013 at 01:29 AM.

  14. #29
    Senior Member DUMBRo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kz1000ps View Post
    True story: the first time I went "looking" for this tower (as in purposely made a trip to the area to check it out) I couldn't find it. This was around '02 when I was just getting my bearings on both architecture and the city itself, and I remember looking up and down Park Avenue thinking, "damn, all these modernist boxes look alike, even this one that's standing where the Seagram is supposed to be" and walked away unfulfilled (this of course being before we had access to Google at all times).

    And to this day I still look at the Seagram with a certain amount of disappointment, as in yes it is an amazing specimen of its style, but at the end of the day it's just another damn box amongst a sea of boxes. My more educated self sees what the hubbub's about and I think the restaurant is gorgeous, but I doubt I'll ever be able to shake that initial feeling of (non-)discovery.
    I guess 'The Shock Of The New' quickly wore off amid the 1960s box boom.

  15. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by DUMBRo View Post
    I guess 'The Shock Of The New' quickly wore off amid the 1960s box boom.
    Yes, the "shock of the new" is partly what elevated this building to its' iconic status: but - and I think what KZ is really getting at - this is really more a case of 'the emperor is naked'. We have all been bamboozled, we bought the hype, done been duped; because the 'international style' and modernist architecture is ultimately a 'let-down' a 'disappointment'. I totally get the sentiment behind KZ's story.

    There is a beauty, grandeur, and integrity in Classical Architecture that much of the modernist mediocrity being built today just does not possess - so by comparison, as KZ stated, the 'international style' and 'modernist architecture' is often a bit disappointing.

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