Category: Design & Fashion

Looking back at MoMA’s ‘Rising Currents.’

A dredging operation in New York Harbor in August of 2010. The regular dredging of the harbor — to allow commercial vessels to navigate the rivers — make the city more susceptible to violent storm surges. (Photos by C-M.)

The more I look at images of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, the more I think about a startlingly prescient exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art during the summer of 2010. Organized by architecture and design chief curator Barry Bergdoll, Rising Currents examined New York City’s vulnerability to rising sea levels and storm surges. For the exhibit, Bergdoll gathered teams of architects and designers to study the city’s infrastructure and propose changes.

The boat tour was done in conjunction with the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Above right, MoMA exhibition curator Barry Bergdoll.

In August of that year, I joined a group of architects and designers on an evening boat tour to study some of the at-risk sites in question, including Red Hook and the banks of the Gowanus Canal (areas which have since been devastated by Sandy). Many of the proposals that day emphasized “soft” infrastructure, such as the restoration of wetlands and seeding of oyster beds in the harbor, that could filter water and serve as wave attenuators in the event of large storms. (The Harbor was once filled with oyster beds — but overfishing and dredging have destroyed these.) As we discussed the eventual possibility of catastrophic storms and rising sea levels, the air was warm and the water in New York Harbor resembled glass. It was difficult to believe that any of this could happen any time soon. Yet, it did.

As New York rebuilds, it would be wise to go back and examine the findings from this exhibit. According to the New York City Panel on Climate Change, sea levels will rise approximately two feet in the next fifty years. By the end of the century, those numbers could be as high as four to six feet. This could place some areas of the city permanently underwater. And there’s no telling what would happen in the event of a storm.

As Bergdoll says in the short bits of audio I’ve embedded in this post, New York, like Venice, is a city that is in the water. Yet the city, so often, seems to be divorced from this reality. (Something that was made all too clear when I paddled around the city’s waterways with artist Marie Lorenz.) There is water all around, yet access to it is limited. Wetlands struggle to survive at the fringes. Vast tracts of condos were once patches of swamp. In all its fantastic urban artifice, sometimes it can be easy to forget that New York is really just an island — one that is more vulnerable than anyone would like to think.

Find photos from the boat trip after the jump.

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Calendar. 07.25.12.

Personifications of Childhood Misdeeds, 1930, by Minka Podhájská. From the exhibit Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000, at the Museum of Modern Art. Opens Sunday, in Midtown. (Image courtesy of Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague.)

  • S.F.: Naoya Hatakeyama, Natural Stories, at SFMOMA. Opens Saturday.
  • L.A.: Nature, Science and the Divine in Art, a group show, at Koplin Del Rio. Opens Saturday at 5pm.
  • Houston: Alvin Baltrop, Dream Into Glass, at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston. Through October 21.
  • NYC: A Long Awaited Tribute: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian House and Pavilion, at the Guggenheim Museum. Opens Thursday, on the Upper East Side.
  • NYC: Lyrical Color, a group show, at Pocket Utopia. Opens today at 6pm, on the Lower East Side.
  • NYC: Pandemic Gallery is doing a big-ass, all-day paint jam with Cost, Darkclouds, UFO 907, Keely, Royce Bannon and many more. Sounds like fun. This Saturday, from 2-10pm, in Williamsburg.
  • Watermill, NY: Mike Kelley: 1954-2012, at the Watermill Center. Opens Saturday at 6pm, in the Hamptons.

Calendar. 06.27.12.

Tinica, 2004, by Fikret Atay. Part of the exhibit Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Opens Saturday. (Courtesy of Galerie Chantal Crousel.)

  • L.A.: Invoking L.A…, at Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art & Design. Opens Saturday, in Westchester.
  • Cleveland: Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Opens Sunday.
  • NYC: Gusmano Cesaretti: East L.A. Diary at Anna Kustera Gallery. Through July 13, in Chelsea.
  • NYC: Signs & Symbols, and Oskar Fischinger: Space Light Art — A Film Environment, at the Whitney Museum. Opens Thursday, on the Upper East Side.
  • NYC: Wendy, by HWKN, at MoMA PS1. Opens Sunday, in Long Island City.
  • NYC: Earth Works: Ten Artists on Land and Industry. Opens Thursday, in Chelsea.
  • NYC: World on a Wire, a group show, at Bitforms. Opens Thursday, in Chelsea.
  • NYC: Dogma, at Metro Pictures. Opens Thursday at 6pm, in Chelsea.
  • NYC: Rineke Djikstra: A Retrospective, at the Guggenheim Museum. Opens Friday, on the Upper East Side.
  • NYC: The Third Meaning II, a group show, at RH Gallery. Through September 6, in Tribeca.
  • NYC: Size Matters, Rebecca Chamberlain, Ted Gahl, Michael Zelehoski and others, at Dodge Gallery. Opens Thursday at 6pm, on the Lower East Side.
  • Lima: Pablo Hare, Monumentos, at Galería Revolver. Through July 7, in Miraflores.

Photo Diary: California Design at LACMA.

OMFG, yes: lobster swimsuits by Mary Ann DeWeese, on view at LACMA as part of the California Design show.

The Avanti, designed in 1961 by Raymond Loewy. I would wear my lobster swimsuit while I drove this around.

A pamphlet advertising the City of Lakewood — L.A.’s first planned community. Speaking of which, if you haven’t read D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, then get on it. He covers this very subject.

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In Fashion: American High Style at the Brooklyn Museum.

Oh Those Sleeves! A 1969 evening dress by Madame Alix Grès, made from taupe silk paper taffeta. (Photos by C-M.)

I’m not someone who is known for her fashion sense (my entire closet is one long, jazz-like riff on jeans and sneakers). But that doesn’t mean I can’t drool over a beautifully-constructed frock when I see one. And the American High Style exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, dedicated to chronicling the museum’s costume holdings, offered plenty to salivate over: Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristobal Balenciaga, to name but a few. Of particular interest is the extensive collection of pieces by master cutter Charles James (1906-1978), whose Diamond Evening Dress (shown after the jump), made for heiress/philanthropist Dominique De Menil, is truly a wonder to behold.

Overall, this show is a winner — beautifully and cleanly presented (unlike its sister show at the Met, which is supposed to be a hot mess). The only bummer is that the curators decided to pipe in a lite music soundtrack of operatic ahhhhhs that seem to have been taken from a Disney musical (from the part of the film where the princess wakes up). It not only made me grit my teeth, it made me want to commit random acts of violence on small animals. My advice: if you truly want to enjoy this exhibit: pack an iPod.

The show is up at the Brooklyn Museum through Aug. 1.

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