Sunday, October 15, 2017

MovieMonday: Woodpeckers (Carpinteros)

In the Dominican Republic, men and women inmates in adjoining prisons communicate with sign language, known as woodpecking.  This is the only opportunity for connection between the sexes.  

Working from that reality, the filmmakers devised this story of star-crossed love.  

The film opens by taking us into Najayo Prison in Santo Domingo with Julián, a newbie or fish in prison argot. Julián is a calm and cool character who adjusts quickly. He uses the money he brought with him (apparently intake officers didn't search his pockets) to find a mattress and avoid sleeping on a hallway floor.  He swipes another prisoner's cellphone, and he affiliates himself with Manaury, a well-connected insider with anger management issues. 

When Manaury is transferred to a different prison for fighting, he deputizes Julián to keep in touch -- by pecking -- with Yanelly, Manaury's girlfriend in the women's prison yard.  

Yanelly is a hotheaded woman who is already angry with Manaury.  She decides she prefers Julián, and the two flirt and contrive opportunities to meet, briefly, in person.  It's difficult to imagine these two characters falling in love in ordinary circumstances, but life in prison is not ordinary.

Over time, predictable tensions arise.  Unfortunately, the film's amped-up third act comes together in an awkward and not particularly credible sequence of events. 

The exotic location of the movie -- a real prison with inmates and guards as extras -- adds authenticity but is underrealized.  There is only a cursory exploration of the social hierarchy among prisoners and less interaction between prisoners and guards. Julián's mixed-Haitian parentage, we learn, may earn him the disdain of other prisoners, but the idea is not pursued.  (In fact, four Haitians died in a prison riot in the country a couple months after Woodpeckers was screened at Sundance.)

Those quibbles aside, the film is interesting.  Not many movies from the Dominican Republic end up in our theaters, and you might want to take a look. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Moto Jacket

Several years ago, women's fashion houses began to release a certain type of leather jacket.  It had an off-center zipper, two to five zippered pockets, a wide collar with double lapels and snap epaulets on the shoulders.

These were called moto jackets, and they imitated a traditional men's motorcycle fashion.

This year we still are seeing these jackets.  Here are a few of the many 2017 offerings.

These jackets are versatile.  I've had one for several seasons and plan to keep it for the long run.  It's good with dresses and skirts and jeans, and its vibe is a little tough looking, which moderates the girly-girlishness of frilly or softly constructed clothes.  


The moto jacket has a long American history.  Two sons of immigrants, Irving and Jack Schott, founded their company in New York in 1913; the first products were raincoats that were sold door to door.  Then the two branched out a bit.  

In 1928 they released a men's motorcycle jacket named the Perfecto, after Irving Schott's favorite cigar brand.  Various Perfecto versions -- all looking largely the same -- have been released ever since. 
Image result for images schott perfecto

The Perfecto really took off 25 years later when it was featured in "The Wild One," a movie about a battle between two motorcycle gangs in a small town.  The star of the film was Marlon Brando, who wore a Schott Perfecto with his character's name, Johnny, embroidered under the left shoulder.  

America was sort of a squaresville in the early 1950s, and Brando's motorcycle jacket was seen as an emblem of rebellion and danger.   As the century proceeded, rebellion and danger became more and more attractive.  

Later adopters of the Perfecto were James Dean, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and Bruce Springsteen.  

In the late 1980s, edgy designer Jean Paul Gaultier (known then for Madonna's cone bra concert costumes) released Perfecto-esque designs for women and men, as seen below.

Since the turn of the millennium, Schott Perfectos have been spotted on more mainstream celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe, Jonah Hill, Kanye West, Jay Z and Lady Gaga.  

Blake Lively was featured wearing a Perfecto and underwear on an Esquire cover in 2010.

I'm not sure the cover was as much about fashion as newsstand sales, but I suppose a leather Perfecto would appeal more to the Esquire demo than, say, a nubby wool number from Chanel. (In fact, Esquire covers typically feature individuals, with the men in full attire and the women in deshabille.  What a surprise.)

More Schott

Schott Bros., Inc. has been influential for more than Perfectos.  In World War II it designed and manufactured bomber jackets for flight crews and built pea coats for sailors.  The company still sells a range of jackets and sweaters in men's and women's sizes, and at pretty good prices.  You can find them online or at stores in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

This summer, rag & bone, the Brit-inspired, US-based urban fashion house, has partnered with Schott to sell a joint limited edition Perfecto jacket.  One r&b founder is a Perfecto collector who has revealed that he has a dozen vintage models.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MovieMonday: Blade Runner 2049

If you want to see this movie, you probably should see the original movie first.

That "Blade Runner" was set in a dystopian 2019 Los Angeles.  It predicted a dark, dingy, rainy reality where the crowded streets teemed with weird beings and police zipped around in flying automobiles.  The blade runner of the story, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), was a cop charged with hunting down replicants -- manufactured human-looking slaves -- and killing them before they came to have feelings and to assert their humanity.  The story developed as he became conflicted about his work.

"49" takes up the story 30 years later.  Deckard is long gone, and a more restrained blade runner, Agent K (Ryan Gosling), works the same assignment -- hunting down and retiring (killing) the last members of that long-ago batch of uppity replicants.  As happened with Deckard, Agent K becomes interested in matters he is not supposed to pursue.  Late in the movie, Deckard appears.  

"Blade Runner 49," directed by Denis Villenueve, is an homage to its predecessor and, in my view, rather ponderous.  Its plot is spooled out slowly over the course of nearly three hours.  It also ties up its story almost too neatly.  

(In fact, Ridley Scott gave his 1982 "Blade Runner" a big edit and, I read, a murkier ending in "Blade Runner: The Final Cut," which was released in 2007.  I streamed that later version at home last week.)

At their hearts, both movies examine what it means to be human.  They suggest the cost of totalitarianism and the diminution of presumed lesser beings in a science fiction format. The settings in a human-ruined environment reinforce the theme of degradation.


Both movies are set in Los Angeles, but only the first one rewards a viewer who is familiar with the place.  Scenes are set in the Bradbury Building, Union Station, the Second Avenue Tunnel under Bunker Hill and a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  The crowded street scenes suggest the Santee Alley flea market and, across from the Bradbury, the century-old Central Market, home to dozens of food vendors.

"49" was filmed mostly in Hungary and included a few "LAPD" signs for show, but nothing more, presumably for budget reasons.  Even at that, the production cost was more than $150 million.  

The atmosphere of the second movie is dusty and gray, rather than the sunless dank of the original, but the effect of a depleted environment is the same.  One character remarks in the film that she never has seen a tree.

The original "Blade Runner" got a lukewarm reception and only was recognized as a classic over time.  Similarly, this new version had a weak opening weekend, which could have been anticipated -- the first movie ran 35 years ago, and it's likely that few people under the age of 50 have seen it.   As I said, it helps to see the first movie before going to see the second.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Las Vegas

We have problems in this country, and I don't know how to solve them.  But after last Sunday, I have a few thoughts.  

A Bad Person

I prefer to believe that most people are doing the best they can, but a guy like Stephen Paddock turns this belief on its head    Forensic cops and scientists will try to discern his motives.  I don't care about his motives. There are only two relevant points for me.

First, after more than 60 years as a functional, law-abiding person, he set out to kill as many people as he possibly could.

Second, after this deliberate act, he shrank from taking responsibility.  An honorable person tries not to harm others.  A less honorable person does not harm others because he fears the consequences for himself.  A dishonorable person harms others and then kills himself to avoid unpleasantness afterward.  Stephen Paddock was a moral coward.

Maybe he had unresolved grievances.  Maybe something interfered with his mental functioning.  None of this excuses his actions.  He had enough life experience, and apparently enough money, to face his problems.  That he chose to make them our problem is a great failure on his part.  He chose to become a monster.


I was robbed at gunpoint once, a story for another day, and I would prefer to live in a country where citizens are not armed.  My problem is that I don't see how that can be accomplished.  

For starters, the Second Amendment is explicit, and there is not enough support to eliminate or replace it.  

I am not a lawyer, but I can see the issue. People reviled Antonin Scalia for the Heller decision, but it is difficult to argue with plain language that says "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  

Those who argue the other side of the verbiage -- that gun ownership should be limited to participants in a "well-regulated militia" -- similarly do not comfort me.  The Constitution was written by people who wanted citizens to be able to overthrow tyrants. The biggest groups opposing "tyranny" now seem to be that bunch who marched in Charleston last month and the Black Bloc.  Not my kind of folks.

Getting Rid of Guns

Even if we could agree on this goal, there are practical barriers to accomplishing it.

First is the sheer number of firearms in the country today.  We have spoken for years about 
300 million guns, but during those years the number has risen substantially.  According to the latest ATF reports, American manufacturers produced almost 11 million guns in 2013 and more than 9 million in 2014; only a few hundred thousand of those were sold as exports.  Also, we import millions of guns every year (3.6 million in 2014, 3.9 million in 2015, again per the ATF.)  

If we banned gun ownership tomorrow, my brother would hand over our grandfather's 22 rifle, but many other people would not cooperate.  Perhaps we could identify all those with registered firearms and use pressure to make them relinquish their weapons, but more than a few would resist.   

Then we would have the problem of finding and collecting all the illegal guns, which seem to be as available as heroin on our streets.  Cory Booker, after several years as mayor of Newark, remarked that only one of the hundreds of shootings in the city during his term had involved a legally registered firearm.  

The owners of those illegal guns would be unlikely to give them up.

If they do not, are we willing to send government agents into homes and businesses with metal detectors to search for weapons hidden behind walls or under floorboards?  To dig up lawns and parks?  To search storage lockers and the trunks and undersides of cars and the branches of every tree in the country?  

Maybe we can enact laws to ban bump stocks, a term whose meaning we all learned this week, but can we prevent people from manufacturing their own bump stocks or guns with 3-D printers?

Other Means

In fact, there are many ways to kill people, and people who are motivated toward bad ends will use them.  

In 1995, Timothy McVeigh made a bomb out of a truck full of fertilizer, parked it in front of a federal courthouse and detonated it, killing 168 people.

After that, heavy concrete stanchions were put up in front of large buildings here and in Europe to prevent access to truck bombs. 

Then, last year, a terrorist rented a large truck and drove it down the crowded Boulevard de la Croisette in Nice on Bastille Day, killing 84.  This year, similar actions have been undertaken on two bridges in London.

Little as we like the Las Vegas shooter, we must concede that he was smart, focused and disciplined.  If guns had been unavailable to him, he could have found another way to make his point, whatever the hell it was.  He could have rigged a drone to drop a bomb on the crowd at the concert.  He could have poisoned the reservoir behind Hoover Dam.  He could have piloted one of his two airplanes into the stands at a high school football game.

Security, Our New Growth Industry

After Las Vegas,  we can expect that there will be no more outdoor concerts along the Las Vegas Strip.  After Las Vegas, Nashville is reconsidering music festivals in its touristy SoBro neighborhood of three-story buildings.

After Las Vegas, will people want to line the building-dense route of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?  

After Las Vegas, will the NYPD be interested in providing the necessary security to guarantee the safety of a million people in Times Square on New Year's Eve?

Last year's Oscars ceremony was protected by police snipers, helicopters, drones, metal detectors and gosh knows what else, and still a couple random guys managed to walk into the holding pen for the celebrities.

When you think about it, national politicians and celebrities get a lot of protection.  The rest of us, not so much.

But it is the rest of us who bear much of the burden.

Last year my carry-on bag was selected at random in the TSA line at the airport, and I watched a burly guy paw through my clothes.  Last month I was selected randomly for a patdown by a female TSA officer. 

I have come to resent these intrusions.  My last brush with the law was a parking ticket 15 years ago.  The next time a police agency brings someone to justice for a violent crime against me or my family will the first time.  I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Unfortunately, after Las Vegas, this is just the beginning.


I still want to believe that most people are doing the best they can.  So far I personally have not been disappointed.  

But if somebody knew what Stephen Paddock was planning and did nothing to stop him, that person has failed as a citizen and, more, as a human being.

We have no idea how many relatives and friends have acted to frustrate people with bad plans -- confiscating guns and knives, warning targeted victims, calling police or hauling disturbed people to mental hospitals.  There must be many of these quiet heroes who deserve our gratitude even if we never learn their names.

Yes, if we see something we should say something.  I'd like it better if we framed that idea as a moral imperative.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

MovieMonday: Battle of the Sexes

I enjoyed this movie more when I saw it in the theater than when I thought about it afterward.  

It's nicely made and well acted, but its organizing concept and ultimate conflict is a silly 1973 spectacle that pretended to have something to do with women's liberation, as it was called in the day.  Why should we care? 

The body of the movie is the story of the two tennis players in that event.

Billie Jean King, the American tennis star, is rightly outraged that women's events draw audiences equal to those of men but offer much smaller prizes.  She and others form their own league.  She is absolutely right, and good for her.

Bobby Riggs, a middle-aged gambler and showboater who used to be a tennis star, challenges King to a tennis match and, when she refuses, convinces Australian Margaret Court to play him.  He wins.

King is challenged again by Riggs, and this time she says yes.  Her purpose is to assert the equality of women, or something.  "He's going to make women's tennis look like a sideshow," she worries.

A fair question, in 1973 and now, is this:  Why would a legitimate tennis star at the top of her game agree to participate in an actual sideshow with a middle-aged, washed-up, attention-seeking has-been?

Emma Stone plays King, who is ardent, serious and sexually confused.  Long married to a supportive husband, she finds herself attracted to a female hairdresser and they begin an affair.  This is presented in a credible way that is true generally to the facts of the situation, which was almost certainly an open secret in 1973.

Steve Carell plays Riggs, who is fun to watch but irresponsible.  His long-suffering wife finally tells him, "I need a husband who is steady, and that is not you."  His son Larry also seems to have had enough and refuses to attend the big match.

King trains for the match like the serious person she is.

Riggs does not train for the match.  He mugs for the press in silly costumes and makes outrageous sexist statements that even he does not believe. 

Then comes the match, whose result has been telegraphed pretty effectively.  And that's the movie.

Effectively, "Battle of the Sexes" portrays a 1973 event through a 2017 template.  We do a lot of that now, but every once in a while I find it grating.  This is one of those times.

To be fair, the whole thing works better than it should, which redounds to the credit of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also made the charming "Little Miss Sunshine," described once as "a thinking person's 'National Lampoon Vacation.'" 


If you care about that 1973 tennis match, you might enjoy a 2013 article that suggests a couple reasons why Riggs may have planned deliberately to lose to King. 

Margaret Court, the Australian tennis star, ultimately won 23 grand slam events to King's 12.  The movie treats her with a bit of disdain.  Long ago she intemperately said, "There were lots of lesbians in tennis," and she more recently has been been strident in her opposition to gay marriage.  There is now a movement afoot to take her name off an arena in Melbourne.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Boots of the Season

It is a truth generally acknowledged that there are two kinds of fashion -- one kind that screams for attention and the other for us normal people.

The "boots" above fall into the former category.  They are very tall. Their uppers are made of stretchy synthetic fabric instead of leather or suede.  Their colors are pretty darn vivid.  And their heels are at least 4 inches high.  They are not for everyone.

But they are interesting.

Spain's Balenciaga house appears to have been the first to release such boots.  Last spring it convinced (or paid) one celebrity to wear a bright red pair under white gown with a slashed skirt to the annual Met Gala.  Then Kylie Jenner paired a purple pair with a  not-long-enough tee shirt for a less prominent red carpet event and paparazzi.  

These have been named "knife boots," and are featured in the Balenciaga fall advertising campaigns.  To the extent they are bought, it is fair to guess that women mostly will want them in basic black.  Still, as footwear goes, they're pretty far out there.  

The knife boots' antecedents over the last 10 years are over-the-knee boots.  A early-adopter friend of wore a leather pair of these to a holiday event some years back; they looked rather stiff and seemed to bother the hem of her skirt.  This may be why new versions are coming out in more pliant suedes and as "sock boots," the latter of which used to be short, sturdy numbers appropriate for tramping through the frozen north. 

Here is a Balenciaga advertisement, including the knife boot in blue, that ran in the all-important September fashion magazines.  

Naturally other designers are offering their own versions.

Here's a photo from a Salvatore Ferragamo ad.

And one from Stuart Weitzman

And one from Ralph Lauren.

Slouch Boots

These boots have wrinkled leather shafts.  This is a trend that comes and goes and then comes back again.  This year it's back.

Some examples:

Marc Jacobs

Vanessa Seward

Michael Kors  (Note the triangular heel, which seems seems to be a thing this year.)

Saint Laurent.  This tall boot is being marketed in various leather colors, but the shiny silver version has drawn the most attention.  If you want a pair, you will need to put your name on a wait list, and then save your money to pay for them.  The price is $10,000. 
Image result for images slouch boots

Normal People

The Idiosyncratist already has purchased a pair of winter boots, block-heeled black ankle boots that will be good with pants or skirts.  These replace a previous pair of black ankle boots that died of overwear.   Regular readers know that the Id is something of a minimalist, constrained by limited closet space and a frugal nature.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

MovieMonday: Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle

What to make of this film?  It is a sort of double spoof of superhero movies and James Bond movies rolled up in a long and utterly preposterous series of set pieces.

This is the second Kingsman show.  The first, in 2015, made more than $400 million, making a sequel inevitable.  This new edition opened well over the weekend, grossing $100 million in theaters worldwide.

The Kingsmen are schooled in elite manners and warfare. They also are outfitted in bespoke suits, which they sell at The Kingsman Tailor Shop, the Savile Row front for their undercover good-guy organization.  They always know which fork to use at fancy dinner parties, but they do use the F-word rather more frequently than one might expect.

The story opens with Eggsy, a young man who joined the team in the first movie.  He immediately establishes his props in an extended battle with another young man, Charlie, who has gone over to the dark side, in this case a drug cartel called Poppy Pharmaceuticals.

Eggsy and Charlie tangle with ju jitsu moves, weapons, and Charlie's bionic arm in a lethally loaded Kingsman taxi that is being pursued by bad guys in SUVs with roofs that open to expose rocket launchers.  It's all very exciting and displays the range of tactical and online support that the Kingsmen can bring to bear in a fight.

Then, suddenly, the Kingsman organization is wiped out, and the world is plunged into peril.  The two survivors, Eggsy and a tech backup called Merlin, join forces with Statesman, an American counterpart organization whose front is not a clothing store but a whiskey distillery in Kentucky.  

There are many, many battles on three continents.  Harry Hart, a Kingsman who was shot dead in the first movie, is revived, somehow and in fits and starts, and he joins Eggsy and Merlin.  Harry is played by Colin Firth who, as ever, looks smashing in a well-tailored suit.  

It's clear the whole story is meant as a giant over-the-top parody, which renders any nodding glances at character development or motivation pretty much beside the point.  The effect is a very long two hours and twenty minutes of joke characters saving a joke world.  

If you like this sort of thing, you might as well go.


Actress Julianne Moore plays Poppy, the film's very bad bad gal, but she is not given much to do except bark orders to her minions.  Actors Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Channing Tatum also languish in small roles.  Perhaps the whole bunch are there to interest American audiences.

The film's two British screenwriters also have thrown in American stereotypes.  In one case, a Kentucky redneck provokes a bar fight by saying this: "Kiss my southern dick, bitch!"  In another, a generic American president is a secondary bad guy, comfortable with the idea of millions of deaths of his countrymen and other people worldwide.

The film opens with a bagpipe rendition of the John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," a set-up planted for an exaggerated payoff toward the end of the film.  Turns out that Merlin the Kingsman is a John Denver fan.

Elton John plays himself with good-natured humor, even when he is required to wear a ridiculous feathered costume.  His "Saturday Night" song provides the accompaniment for a fight scene, and he kicks a very tall platform boot to good effect.

Cities, Growth and Amazon

I've been spending time the last couple years in downtown Nashville, where the most common street sign is either the first or the second one below. 

It's nearly impossible to walk or drive two blocks in any direction without having to maneuver around at least one of these. 

Nashville is booming, thanks to its three big industries:  county/pop music, healthcare and state government.  The Economist reported last year that 81 people were moving into the metropolitan area each day; others say the number is higher.  Home prices are increasing, and so is construction of apartment buildings and townhouses and, farther out, single-family homes.  

In addition, the city is playing a huge game of infrastructure catchup.  Its population, 174,000 in 1950, has blossomed into an MSA (metropolitan statistical area) population of 1.8 million as of last year.  Traffic is pretty bad, and while there is talk of a five-spoke light-rail system, there is no plan to fund such a thing, whose buildout would take perhaps 20 years.

This of course is the sort of problem cities would love to have.

Where Tower Cranes Are

One rough measure of the health of a city is the number of tower cranes employed on major construction projects in its area.  Recently the Nashville Business Journal crowed about the number of tower cranes here -- 28 -- and ran this national map. Only New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle had more tower cranes.  If you've read about rents in those areas, you won't be surprised.

Actually, the map is now inaccurate.  One tower crane that had been working just down from our Nashville building was dismantled last month.  The process took a week and closed all traffic on the entire block.  Next month, the new 45-story tower of apartments and condos will open.

Where Tower Cranes Are Not

The US population is shifting.  Some cities like Nashville are attracting new residents.  Other cities have been shedding population for decades.  

Here are a few of those population losers.

--Detroit.  Its population crested at almost 1.85 million in the 1950 US Census and then dropped more than 60 percent by 2010.  Since then, another 50,000 people have left, leaving 672,000 people to maintain a built infrastructure designed for many more. 

--St. Louis.  Its 1950 population was more than 850,000 but is now below 320,000.  As is the case in other cities, residents seem to have relocated to surrounding suburbs.  

--Memphis. For most of its history, Memphis had twice as many residents as Nashville.  Its metro area population now trails Nashville's by 500,000, and the trend seems to be continuing. 

-- Cincinnati -- 300,000 residents in 2010, down from more than 500,000 in 1950.
-- Cleveland -- 400,000 residents in 2010, down from 900,000 in 1950.

I could go on about Buffalo and Akron and other cities, but you get the point.


Recently Seattle-based Amazon has announced plans to build a second, equal-sized headquarters facility somewhere else in the country.  Every city and town in the Midwest and East craves this business, and for good reason:  Amazon estimates it will need 50,000 employees to staff the new facility, with an average compensation level of $100,000 a year.  

Cities and states are being invited to submit proposals next month, which sounds similar to a professional sports team hinting that it might move its franchise to a city in exchange for a locally financed arena.  We'll see if that analogy holds up. 

Nashville, a go-getter kind of town, naturally wants the Amazon headquarters.  When civic leaders talk of bidding for the project, they fret that the Tennessee legislature's failure to enact a suitably progressive transgender bathroom bill could hurt the city's chances.

More to the point, I would think, is the fact that Nashville is crowded already.  Home prices are expensive relative to local incomes, and traffic, especially for commuters, is very congested and getting worse.

Many commenters have offered free advice to Amazon about where to locate its new operation.  CNN, for instance, suggested these eight cities:  Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Dallas, Austin, Boston, San Jose and Washington, D.C.

The selling points for these places, CNN argued, were good schools and large populations of high earners.  In effect, the recommendation was to choose a city that already is winning and to make it even richer.  

(There are people who like Amazon because it has lowered vegetable prices at its recently acquired Whole Foods stores and because its workers are paid well.  
         I'm less sanguine.  It's not that Amazon has demolished the traditional bookstore trade, or that it is doing much the same for retail generally, or that it appears set to try to control the grocery business, or that its founder has bought one of the most politically influential newspapers in the country.  My problem is that Amazon, a company based on algorithms, has done all of these.  To me, this looks like a prima facie case for the expansion of the definition of antitrust. But I digress.) 

If I were advising Amazon, I would encourage it to set its new headquarters in a hollowed-out city like one of the ones I described above. 

Here's what's in it for Amazon:

   -- Those cities have infrastructure -- road systems, empty schoolhouses, underused airports, cargo rail tracks and, in many cases, abandoned intracity railroad tracks waiting to be used again for new urban transit development.
       An influx of Amazon employees -- and Americans generally are happy to move for good job opportunities -- would make use of these and would appreciate the opportunity to buy or rent homes in a location where prices have not yet been bid up to unaffordable levels.

  --  Those cities also have largely empty central business districts and abandoned industrial sites ripe for repurposing and available at lower cost than similar sized, less well-located properties in Atlanta or Boston or Washington, D.C.  

  -- Amazon could show itself to be a good corporate citizen by demonstrating how a city of the industrial past can be turned into a successful city of the future.   
        It might also inspire Alphabet (Google) to abandon its plan to build a totally new techie-enabled city and to focus instead on updating an urban area that could be a showcase for a new kind of redevelopment.  
        Maybe even Facebook would decide to adopt a company town (although I personally would prefer not to live there.)  


Our country has cities that are thriving and cities that are not.  It also has big companies with grandiose plans for controlling larger portions of the economy.

In the US, we admire people who change their lives and succeed when the odds are against them.  Maybe it's time to show our struggling cities a similar way to change their destinies.

If big companies like Amazon took an interest in such projects, they would gain broad respect and the country might regain some of its now-tattered can-do spirit.  

I don't see any downside to this idea.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Stop at the Kimbell

On a pleasant trip to Texas last weekend, we went to Fort Worth to see the Kimbell Museum.  I had been there once before, but not since the 2013 opening of its second building.

The museum is named for Kay and Velma Kimbell, who made their money in granaries and grocery stores and also collected art by the European masters.  They left the art and a considerable fortune to the Kimball Foundation, and the museum opened in 1972. 

For many years, the foundation was most famous for its building, a late work by Louis I. Kahn, the famed modernist.  It is made of modern materials, cement and travertine limestone, and its chambers nod to the classics with rounded top pieces. 

Here is a traditional southern view.

The first time I visited the Kimbell, its entrance was on its west side and seemed almost obscured.  To enter, you walked through a gravel courtyard with a stand of shapely trees, a Kahn specification that was, in fact, modest and rather charming. In addition, Kahn set other groups of trees and reflecting pools around the site, nice touches in the sere Texas landscape. 

Here is the original entry.

Four years ago, the museum added a second building (below) designed by Renzo Piano to accommodate more of the foundation's growing collection.  This building is more square and more concrete than the original Kimbell, but they work together.

Unfortunately, in my view, the new project included switching the Kimbell entrance to the other side of the building.  (The original entrance now gives way to greenery and leads to the second building.)

The new entry looks out on the street and the museum parking lot, and it is decorated with a great big Joan Miró statue.  The effect is less inviting to the eye but perhaps more functional.

Over the years, the most remarked aspect of the Kimbell's architecture has been its natural lighting.  There are all kinds of unseen tricks engineered into the walls and roofs to bring in filtered sunlight that is subtle and comfortable.  

The interior lighting is the thing I remember most from my first Kimbell visit, and it is true of the Piano Pavilion as well. 


Since I just mentioned lighting, let me first note a 1986 Kimbell acquisition: "Interior of the Buurkerk."

This is a 17th century painting by Dutch artist Pieter Saenredam.  It likely is no coincidence that such a work, distinguished by subtle and indirect lighting, was chosen for display in the beautifully lit Kimbell.  

In fact, the Kimbell's team has been recognized from the beginning for aesthetic strength -- first for selecting the right architect and then for thoughtful additions to the original collection. 

In the years since the Kimbell opened, another foundation, that of J. Paul Getty, has been the bigfoot of the classical art world.  While the Kimbell has a fine endowment of about $400 million, the Getty's is much greater, more than $6 billion.  (Notably in this instance, the Getty has TWO Saenredam oils and several drawings, none of which seemed to be on display on my last visit earlier this year.)

The Kimbell Museum now defines its mandate as art created before the year 1950 and includes ancient  and tribal works from Central America, Asia and Africa.  None of the collections is huge, but each is interesting on its own and as part of the overall institution.  

Some other examples follow:


Here from one gallery are two statues separated by time but effectively quite similar.

First is an Early Bronze Age female statuette from Greece, made thousands of years ago and acquired by the Kimbell in 1970.   

Nearby we find a rare Amedeo Modigliani work, "Head," sculpted in 2013 and donated to the Kimbell earlier this year.  

Do you think these works speak to each other?  I sure do.


Below is "On the Pont de l’Europe" by French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte.  The painting is harmonious in color -- blue blue blue -- but it also suggests tension between its human subjects, three men whose expressions are hidden and the prominent industrial beams of a 19th century railroad bridge.  

(Two years ago, the Kimbell and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., organized the first major Caillebotte exhibition.  The painter came from a wealthy family and did not try to sell his own work but instead collected other Impressionists' paintings and bequeathed them to a museum after his death; that endowment established the most famous names of the Impressionist period, but it took much longer for Caillebotte to get his due.  The Kimbell bought this painting in 1982.) 


The gallery representing Central American art has a various works in clay and wood and gold, but two struck me particularly.  

This Seated Figure comes from the Olmec culture near Veracruz, Mexico, and may be 2,000 years old.  It is an informal rendering of a child and is interesting for its expression of the subject's personality.  (Who among us has not seen a young person in this mood?)

Across the gallery is this Tripod Vessel, a 1,000-year-old piece fashioned by a Mayan craftsman from a single piece of limestone.  Its walls are thin and translucent, and it rests on three round feet.  The shape would be recognized as classic in any culture.  Very unusual.


Here from from the Asian gallery in the Piano Pavilion is a Bodhisattva Torso, a Buddhist work from the Tang dynasty (618-907) in China.  You can't get the full three-dimensional impact from this image (made available, like the others, by the Kimbell), but the statue's realistic rendering of bodily flesh is almost voluptuous, which appears unusual for its era, and which antedates the European Renaissance and its more realistic renderings of the human form by 500 years. 


The Kimbell Museum is not large, but the pieces discussed here form only a small part of the collection, which is interesting throughout.   What struck me were the common themes in works from many cultures and time periods.  It suggests that art really does speak to us on a basic human level.