Arts History Update for late December 2016

28 Dec

Arts History Update for late December 2016 by David Cummins

Robert Venturi, architect, and his wife Denise Scott Brown, urban planner, received the 2016 AIA Gold Medal. He wrote a manifesto in 1966, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and co-wrote Learning From Las Vegas in 1972.

A book published in the Fall of 2016 is The Difficult Whole: a Reference Book on the Work of Robert Venturi, John Rauch and Denise Scott Brown (eds. Kersten Geers et al., Park Books 2016) 216 pages $36.30.

Venturi is 91 years of age. His Philadelphia firm is now called VSBA Architects & Planners

His previous awards include a Pritzker Prize, a Vincent Scully Prize and others. His notable buildings include Vanna Venturi House [1964 considered the first post-modern designed structure], National Gallery of Art on Trafalgar Square Sainsbury Wing, Seattle Art Museum, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Hartford Stage, Frist Campus Center and many more. Look around in your community and possibly you will find a knockoff structure influenced by Robert Venturi. He was an architect of his age and for his age. What was cutting edge in the 1970s and 1980s has never quite lost its edge.

Robert Venturi, the architect who launched the post-modernisn assault on Miesian glass-box modernism by countering Mies van der Rohe’s famous dictum, “Less is More” with his own “Less is a Bore,” was at IIT’s restored Mies masterpiece Crown Hall last month to talk about “Mies is More: Learning from Mies,” part of the 2005 Chicago Humanities Festival.

Lest anyone think the 80-year-old enfant terrible was growing soft, however, Venturi’s major thesis was to unmask Mies, known for minimalist structures free of the type of applied ornament that Louis Sullivan loved, as a bit of a hypocrite, not above choosing symbolism over substance when it came to creating an architecture that expressed the industrial age of his time. “Ultimate irony,” observed Venturi, “Mies, like other modernists, enjoyed abstraction as an aesthetic, yet also employed symbolism as an aesthetic.”

For Mies, that meant keeping structure visible and exposed, but Chicago’s strict building code requires that the steel frame of multi-storied buildings be fireproofed within a concrete casing. When you look at a classic Mies skyscraper like the IBM Building at Wabash and the River, the exterior may appear to be structure, but the structural steel is actually buried in concrete fireproofing, and what you’re actually seeing are the anodized aluminum plates covering that concrete. To call Mies’s bluff on another affection – the vertical steel I-beams that he loved to use as mullions between the continuous strips of windows on his buildings – Venturi quoted Tom Wolfe’s diatribe against modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House. “Sticking things on the outside of walls,” Wolfe wrote, “wasn’t that exactly what was known in another era as applied decoration?”

Ironically, the building in which Venturi made these observations is the one place where Mies was able to express his aesthetic without subterfuge. Crown Hall, because it’s a one story building, didn’t have to be fireproofed. The steel you see is not what Venturi calls an “appliqué”, but the actual structure. It was sandblasted down to the bare steel during this summer’s restoration, and painted a revelatory deep and glossy black that observers who were there for the 1956 opening say replicates the building’s original appearance.

Venturi put up a slide with his comparison of “Mies” and “Bob”.

Mies Midcentury

Bob Post Mid-Century



Symbolic (industrial) Symbolic (iconographic)
Not acknowledged Acknowledged
Minimalism Complexity and Contradiction
Not aesthetically expressed Aesthetically expressed
Aesthetic cover-up Aesthetic celebration
not mannerist mannerist
Less is more less is a bore

The Vanna Venturi House from 1964 like the Robert Bruno Steel House in Ransom Canyon Texas are post-modern structures you wouldn’t necessarily want to live in yourself, because of all the strictures and difficulties of doing so, but they are architectural masterpieces. Notice the details, three different floor levels in one bedroom, how likely would there be a fall in the night while blurrily struggling to get to a commode?


I am of an age when with time and leisure I can look back and take stock of a life. I became an adult in the 1950s graduating from college, getting married, going into the Army, etc. Today people would say those were choices. In reality for me they were available, on offer, expected and I had no idea there were options of any kind. I was, we would say today, clueless. Adults suggested and showed me what to do, how to do things, and I did them. I was conformist or shaped whereas today I would strongly object to that characterization.

I remember reading Faulkner and being mesmerized by a description of a Negro in a short story That Evening Sun Go Down (1931) [many years later they would be African-Americans but then they were Negroes]. Faulkner’s tale made me understand how human such persons were, certainly as much as I was human, and taught me to respect people like Negroes who were different in skin color and cultural background but not different in humanity. It would be decades later when I learned that Faulkner was a cultural racist in his private life, who said in the threat of integration imposed by the federal government that he would take up arms and fight on the side of his white racist Mississippi neighbors. In the 1950s I was incapable of appreciating the distinction between what an author wrote and what he did and was in his private life. Today I am keen to discover the interstices that lay between the written word and the author and his/her agenda, finding the interstices more interesting than anything the author wrote or did. The latter can be mundane but the human psychology and sociology that reside in the interstices are fascinating.

It seems that I’ve grown from a 1950s adult into a wise old fart. Curiously, I’m pleased such a status won’t even get me a coffee refill.


Thinking of auditing a course in the Arts? MUHL 4300-003 Jazz History, The Music of Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington meets TR 12:30 pm – 1:50 pm beginning January 19, 2017 in Music Building Room 218. Permission of instructor required contact Professor Christopher J Smith contact by e-mail information


It is winter and the chill is heavy but we bring practiced coping skills to bear, and thrive. John Updike lived at Beverly Farms Massachusetts and wrote “Snow makes white shadows, there behind the yews, dissolving to the sun’s slant kiss, and pools itself across the lawn as if to say Give me another hour, then I’ll go”.

——- a poem in his last collection Endpoint and Other Poems published posthumously

John Updike 1932 – 2009 received a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Pen Faulkner Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, National Humanities Medal, National Medal of Arts and more.

Also published posthumously were a collection of his latest short stories titled My Father’s Tears and Other Stories.

He wrote and wrote and wrote, essays, memoirs, book reviews, literary and art criticism, poetry, short stories, novella, novels. Of all modern American writers,” wrote Adam Gopnik in Humanities magazine, “Updike comes closest to meeting Virginia Woolf’s demand that a writer’s only job is to get himself, or herself, expressed without impediments.”

Very late in life John and Martha Updike moved or spent most of their time in Tucson Arizona and he wrote this memoir

Here in this place of arid clarity,
two thousand miles from where my souvenirs
collect a cozy dust, the piled produce
of bald ambitions pulling ignorance,
I see clear through to the ultimate page,
the silence I dared break for my small time.
No piece was easy, but each fell finished,
in its shroud of print, into a book shaped hole.

Be with me, words, a little longer; you
have given me my quitclaim in the sun,
sealed shut my own adolescent wounds, made light
of grownup troubles, turned to my advantage
what in most lives would be pure deficit,
and formed, of those I loved, more solid ghosts.

Our annual birthday do: dinner at
the Arizona Inn for only two,
White tablecloth, much cutlery, decor
in sombre dark-beamed territorial style.
No wine, thank you. Determined to prolong
our second marriages, we gave that up,
with cigarettes. We toast each other’s health
in water and a haze of candlelight.

My imitation of a proper man,
white-haired and wed to aging loveliness,
has fit me like a store-bought suit, not quite
my skin, but wearing well enough until,
at ceremony’s end, my wife points out
I don’t know how to use a finger bowl.”

Postscript by me: A “quitclaim” is everything I have if I have anything at all. An example: If I sign over the Brooklyn Bridge to you by issuing a quitclaim deed, that deed will transfer to you all my title to the bridge but it doesn’t warrant or promise that I have any title at all to transfer. You may have guessed that I don’t have any title or any portion of ownership to that bridge, it being the public property of the City of New York.

Re-read Updike: “Be with me, words, a little longer; you
have given me my quitclaim in the sun, … ”


Lubbock Homeschool Christian Athletic Association LHCAA formed in 2004 to provide sports opportunities for home school students. The website is and there is a Lubbock Titans boys high school six person football team, a boys and a girls high school basketball team, girls high school and middle school volleyball teams, boys high school baseball team and more. Facebook site is On these two websites you will find schedules and venues for viewing the action. They mostly play their games at the school of the opponent since they don’t have a facility but occasionally play at Rip Griffin Center on the Lubbock Christian University campus.


Museums are changing as they are moving from being about something to being for somebody. I am delighted!

Museums are no longer stewards of a collection of objects but are now instruments for social change. Museum operators know they are not in the salvage, warehouse and display business, even though they perform those functions, but their business has become their patrons place in the world. When they perform that function they connect the patron as individual with a world about which or in which s/he was unaware or un-situated or previously uninterested. Museum operators today know they are growing their patrons, not in a body count sense like a commercial seller of commodities, but growing their patrons as cultured human beings well placed, well situated within their local regional national and planetary communities.

Gary Morgan, Ph.D. the new Executive Director of the Texas Tech University Museum, is devoted to the new role of museums and is often found wandering about in the galleries. He’s not perusing the objects on display, he’s perusing the people viewing those objects and he notices how they are interacting with the objects and with their fellow patrons. He’s watching their dynamics, how they circulate and whether or not they hook up or interact with other patrons who didn’t arrive with them. Accordingly he’s repositioned much of the display space and added what some may say are amenities to enhance and support the patrons experiences when in the museum. His expanding programs and policies are clearly designed to gain repeat visits to the museum by patrons and he’s brought faculty and staff from outside the museum into the process of building exhibits and viewing experiences. He’s turning the dead space/time in the museum into rentable event and hosting space/time, thereby introducing the venue to new audiences who may become patrons.

Texas Tech University Museum was never an art museum or a historical museum, it was always more than that, but we are seeing it become a pilot museum literally reinventing itself on the fly with the obvious purpose of connecting its patrons with the world and communities those patrons occupy but haven’t yet been fully aware or informed.


Julien Benda, La Trahison des clercs (1927) (English: The Treason of the Intellectuals) (reissue Norton Library 1969) 243 pages Texas Tech Library HM213.B443 (reissue 2007 transl. Richard Aldington, Transaction Publisher 2007) explored by Roger Kimball, The Treason of the Intellectuals and the Undoing of Thought, The New Criterion, vol 11 no. 4, December 1992.


Here is a video of the Lascaux caves paleolithic art near Dordogne France




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: