Chastity in art selection

Alma Gropius (

Alma Gropius (i12bent.tumblr.com)

As many readers of this blog are aware, it arises largely as a vehicle to reprint my column published in The Providence Journal.  Readers can read the first few paragraphs of the column and then click on a link to the Journal to read the rest. (No need to do this for regular blog posts.) Inconvenient, perhaps, but procedurally necessary to maintain the stature of the copyright held by the newspaper. Because the creators who make the newspaper are paid by it, their work belongs to the newspaper, not the creator. This antedelluvian arrangement has its own internal logic, however mystifying.

That also applies to art chosen by this writer to illustrate his column. Today, for example, I wanted to run an old photograph of Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier sitting at a table in a Parisian cafe called Les Deux Magots. (An appropriate name, opined a friend of mine over lunch Wednesday. Why didn’t I think of that!) Anyway, they were sitting there, and at the next table, visible between the two modernist architects, was a woman. A website on which the photograph may be seen asserts that she is “Frau Gropius.” How delicious it would be if she were Walter’s first wife, Alma, whom he stole from the composer Gustav Mahler. Since what goes around comes around, she ended up marrying the artist Franz Werfel (again, after the obligatory affair). He ended up, sometime in the ’20s, with Ise Frank, to whom he referred as Frau Bauhaus. Maybe the woman at the next table is Frau Bauhaus, or some other woman with them (or not).

Anyhow, the owner of the photograph of the two maggoty architects, Getty Images, would not let me run it for free or a nominal price. A price of $240, down from $301, seemed insufficiently nominal to me, so I used a photo of Robinson Hall, where Harvard’s Graduate School of Design originated. It is a classical building by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White. How ironic that the coup against classical architecture was led from under the roof of a MM&W! It was, of course, replaced in 1972 by Gund Hall.

Anyhow, this reminds me of something I was going to post a couple of weeks ago after another attempt to use art owned by a powerful institution – Conde Nast. I tried to get Conde to let me use for free an old New Yorker cartoon by Roz Chast called “How the Old Penn Station Got Demolished.” I will describe it here and you, reader, may imagine it for yourself.

Three businessmen are sitting at a round table. One says, “I have an idea! Let’s tear down one of the most beautiful structures in New York!” The next man says, “And replace it with something REALLY CRAPPY!” The third man says, “It will take time and cost a fortune, but it’ll be worth it!”

So of course they (Conde Nast) wouldn’t let me use it for free, and who can blame them, since the artist should be paid for his work. Well, soon I will go to bed, put my head on my pillow and fall asleep. I hope my dreams are happy, and yours too, dear reader.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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