Saturday, September 24, 2016


I'm not sure if this falls under the heading of simple lack of knowledge or yet another senior moment but my first memory of the Rookery had nothing to do with my architectural history lessons but instead the photography of Rodney Smith. I've always been a covetous admirer of his work; the quirkiness, the imagination and shear genius of his imagery drew me in from the first commercial photographs I spotted of his work in fashion magazines.
There was one image in particular that drew me in not so much for the fashion that he was so renowned for capturing but for the location. Location always plays a significant role in his images sometimes even overshadowing the fashions themselves. In this particular photo it was the staircase that I became obsessed with. I thought since he was a New York based photographer that somewhere hidden in one of the city's castiron buildings I'd some day stumble on this staircase. It was always at the back of my mind every time I walked into a building in Soho or midtown that I hadn't been into before that that staircase would appear.
Apparently the decades that transpired between Arch History 101 and now had erased any recollection of the Rookery from my brain trust. It was only recently after a trip to Chicago that I was doing some research for a posting on our trip that I googled Chicago architecture and there sandwiched between images of the Public Library and the Sears Tower was a picture of Rodney's staircase. I clicked on it like a sleuth who stumbles on his final clue to trace the photo to its bigger location and there it was - The Rookery, right there in Chicago. All this time I had been snooping in the wrong city. This to me was justification for another trip to Chitown if only to see this staircase up close and personal.
Then came the second revelation. I remembered a conversation I had with my University of Illinois pledge son who has become a major developer in Chicago about how he had worked on the most recent renovation of the Rookery when he was a fledgling architect with McClier Architects. Carl had played an important part on sourcing much of materials important in the restoration. It was only natural to call Carl and ask to meet him in the lobby for a private tour and history lesson.  I knew he'd be more than happy to impart.
So as not to totally embarrass myself I did a little historic research before our tour. I discovered or rediscovered that after the great fire of 1871 a major building boom took over Chicago giving the city an opportunity to come to the forefront in a new era of architecture filled with technological advancements and a new means of construction. The Rookery, designed by the firm of Burham & Root, was one of these buildings. Today, along with its National Registry status, the Rookery is considered Chicago's oldest standing high-rise.
The exterior of the building has been described as a blending of a multitude of styles from Moorish to Islamic that to some seems chaotic but to Chicagoans tells the tale of a city enveloping many cultures and welcoming all.
The interior has an exotic tale all its own where the building has gone from prized jewel to derelict eyesore and then back again. Its most significant renovation happened in 1905 when Frank Lloyd Wright was brought in to refurbish the building.
It was his chore to bring the building into the twentieth century with a more modern appearance. He immediately covered over Root's elaborate ironwork with a more refined marble envelope and adding simpler grillwork along with his signature oversized planters and hanging light fixtures making the Rookery into one of Chicago's most sought after office spaces.
In between then and the most recent renovation that Carl worked on beginning in 1992 the building suffered more episodes of neglect. It was Carl's responsibility beginning in 1992 to reconstruct much of the destroyed interior. He was in charge of replacing all of the missing marble, duplicate the tile floors in the lobby as closely as possible, and reopen and restore the glass ceiling.
They now give tours of the building which is the only way you can get up to see the oriel staircase. There's also a Frank Lloyd Wright gift shop and an unsupervised opportunity to spin around one of the world's most amazing lobbies. If you get to Chicago don't miss this stunning piece of historic architecture and don't try to find the oriel staircase in New York. It's not there.

The Oriel Staircase at the Rookery
Rodney Smith, photographer
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Thursday, September 15, 2016


Last Thursday was the official beginning of the season with so many openings in the Chelsea art district on the far West Side of Manhattan there was more street traffic clogging the cobblestones in the district than Fifth Avenue at Christmas.
It seemed as if every gallery was having an opening with some of them having lines of attendee hopefuls queuing up behind stations waiting for their turn to see the next new star of the art world.
Now I'm a photography guy so I had rsvp'd for two openings: one for the artist and the other for the gallery. Yancey Richardson has been my go to gallery ever since she opened her doors on Broadway in 1995.
She's since moved her gallery to the Chelsea art district with a prominent street level space making her one of the preeminent photography galleries in the world. We've taken many a client to Yancey's to peruse and purchase from the artists she has found and nurtured over the years.
Her season opening exhibit featured Mitch Epstein's new work titled "Rocks and Clouds".  The event had an early start time where Mitch and Yancey conducted a walk-through of the exhibit. Mitch took us through the gallery and through what went through his head in creating this body of work.
What I was immediately drawn to was the size. These are not digital prints but silver gelatin prints shot with an 8 x 10 field camera making the printing of large scale work a much more difficult task.
Conceptually Mitch talked about how he moved from his investigation of trees to how nature exists in an urban setting, how nature and society interact.  I was struck by the absence of dramatic contrast one would expect with focusing in on the hardness of rock and the ephemeral quality of clouds.
Instead there seemed to be a conscious effort to find middle ground in the images with a narrow tonal range blending the two so that you really had to concentrate on where to find the rocks and where to find the clouds
Like much of art it's the artist's intent that makes their art resonate. Being able to start out the opening of the season with such insight was a gift I was glad I was at the right place at the right time to accept.

A few doors down on the same street as Yancey Richardson is Julie Saul's gallery. One of Julie Saul's favorite artists is Sally Gall. Julie opened her season with a solo show of Sally's work. This was the twelfth time Julie has given Sally a one-woman show.
We originally became aware of Sally years ago when her work was primarily black and white and the imagery existed in caves and on ponds. We loved her work so much we convinced two clients to purchase her image "Canoe" and then bought one for ourselves. The edition is now sold out. There was a softness and romanticism to her work that attracted us, a harkening to hidden spaces.
Her work has evolved from the black and white images we started out with to the addition of color with a flower series to this newest exhibit of laundry in the abstract. At first, when I walked into the gallery I thought perhaps Julie had moved and I was in the wrong space.
This exhibit of Sally's work was so far from what I was expecting I had to stop for a minute and move from disappointment into amazement.
At first glance the images are complete abstractions, color pushed through a kaleidoscope all resting on some intrusive horizontal lines.
Some how Sally has been able to transform laundry billowing in the wind into the idea of flowers and sea creatures and images of flight.
Once I was able to give up my hold of our past relationship I was completely able to embrace this new body of work.

We will be one of three design partnerships taking part in a panel discussion where we'll be grilled on which side of the design fence we're on and how we handle it one of us is on one side and the other has jumped to the other side. Could be very interesting.

Friday, September 9, 2016


I've been saving up a collection of photos of New York City that I haven't been able to use in any of the posts I've published so far. The adage is a picture is worth a thousand words so this time I'm going to let the photos do the talking and I'm just going to sit back and consider this a very long love letter to the city I love. Hope you will too. Comments and antidotes are very welcome.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


I've limited my surfing the aisles of the Gift Fair to the Home section that is in some respects a misnomer. How jalapeno honey or lingerie for the full-figured woman qualify as home products I'm not quite sure. Furniture again continues to be on the slim side but novelty accessories are still making a strong showing. I've got it down to aisles 1000 through 2900 knowing that as you start to approach the higher numbers the tabletop and jewelry start to take over and I can move a little faster down those aisles.
I have my favorites who seem to show up in the same places show after show and I could highlight their product but since I've done that what I feel is enough times over the past few years I'm going to try to focus on other vendors and the concept of color.
Color was in abundance but none so prevalent as pink in all its glorious shades. From its deepest shades approaching magenta to the faintest hint of blush, pink was on show down almost every aisle of the show.
The faded shades of a vanilla strawberry smoothie poured over these throws were one of the first pink items to draw me in. There's a comfort in the softest shades of pink especially when woven into a throw. Pale pink takes a throw out of the decorative and qualifies it as a security blanket, one you'd want to wrap up in on cool summer night out on the dock as the stars start to pop out of a Maxfield Parrish sky.
I said I wouldn't focus on past favorites but Shiraleah was showing these recycled glass bowls in swirling shades of pink. There are always tons of glass at the show and some that is certainly more creative than Shiraleah but as a utilitarian product Shiraleah's pink tableware is tough to beat.
There were times at the show where pink was like a whisper that you really had to get close to to see. Live edge slabs have been the rage for the past few years but seeing this one made me do a double take. The pale stain on this table allows the grain to show through with the slightest hint of rose. It added a new edge to the mean of live edge
Accessories are always fodder for pops of color and this year's show had plenty of pink in this category. Many lighting vendors were right on point with a big hit of pink in their products. Even the light cast from the pendant fixtures cast a soft pink glow.
There was also a whole lot of pink splashing toward the deep side of this hue. It's not unusual to see this happening in the arena of children's toys and these beautiful free trade animals made in Africa were no exception.
But possibly my favorite use of pink at the show were these faux flamingo feather pillows. Birds of a feather flock together and I'm flying with these amazing pillows.

Going through the aisles of NY Now it's very easy not to see all of the white product. White ware can feel like a sea of prototypes rather than actual product. It's the torrent of hot sizzling and assaulting colors that take focus in both good and bad ways. It's why I try to do the show twice. Once to be grabbed and the other to uncover what I wouldn't see if didn't look a bit closer.
I loved this tabletop dinnerware by bidk home. These simple ceramic table settings epitomized sophistication to me at a price point that made them accessible to almost everyone. Form doesn't need to be overly embellished to appear new and fresh to say nothing of elegant.
Bedding is traditionally white and I love it that way but the combination of these cotton and linen sheets and pillowcases was gorgeous. Even when it went to embroidery and intricate thread work it kept its touch on good design.
Accessories like throw pillows and upholstered hassacks are another target for white and this line did not disappoint. Pompoms, fizz and fringe all added to the textural intrigue of these accessories.
When you add a bit of leather to it what you end up with is an equestrian look that is hard not to saddle up and take for a run around the track of your living room.
You might look at this vendor and think blues but if you take the time you'll see that the workhorse here is white. All the white lacquered furniture forms the backbone of this room allowing the blue to shine through. In comedic duos you frequently have a straight man that sets up the laughs and appalause for his partner. In design the results can be very similar where white is the straight man and blue gets all the recognition.
My favorite find from the show was the world metro map from Art+Code+Data that connected 11,924 stations from 791 subway lines in 212 cities on 5 continents. If you look close you can transfer from the 125th Street Station in Harlem to the Louvre stop in Paris. If this is too much for you they will custom make a map for you connecting two of your favorite city's subway systems. I was so fascinated I had to buy one. They are dirt-cheap but framing it is an issue. Still for anyone who loves to travel or has a fascination with Finding Waldo this map is for you.
Penn Station, 1958
Louis Stettner, photographer
Represented by Benrubi Gallery, NYC