Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor in the architecture school at the University of Texas at Arlington. In 2017, he was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. A native of New York City, he now lives with his family in Dallas.
Most complaints in sixty seconds, a new world record. You’ve read the transcript. Now watch the video. (Or don’t. It’s really not that flattering.) But stay tuned. Our people are in discussion with their people. Records are made to be broken, and plans are in place for yours truly, the Evel Knievel of Whine and Wheedle, to break my own mark at some time in the near future—with all new complaints, of course. Would you expect any less?
First off, congratulations. I’m sure Michelle and the girls are very proud, as are the rest of us American citizens, and I suspect all citizens of this fine planet. That said, I do feel compelled to write as it has now been more than 24 hours since your inauguration and it is still not raining sugar plums. It was my understanding that it would begin to rain sugar plums immediately upon your taking the Oath of Office. Also, I was under the impression that all of my dirty dishes would be cleaned, my laundry would be folded, and that the unruly pile of bills I keep by my front door would be neatly organized (and paid). Someone mentioned something about how I’d also begin to defecate roses, but that seems entirely unnecessary, and also a bit uncomfortable. (I have some gastroenterological issues, though this is probably not the best place to discuss them.) Anyway, I’m sure the economy and Iraq and Afghanistan and a million other things have you occupied, and believe me, I’m sympathetic to your demanding schedule, but I was still wondering if either you or someone on your staff might let me know when I could expect the sugar plums.
Behold the cover for “Master of Shadows,” which releases this coming October. You’ll excuse me if I suggest it works beautifully; credit and major thanks go to designer Emily Mahon. The self-portrait, from 1623, was done at the request of King Charles I, of England—a Rubens fan. The artist was initially reluctant to paint it; he generally avoided self-portraits, and thought it immodest to send his own portrait to a king. There was no refusing Charles, however, and it’s a good thing. The picture is now a part of the royal collection at Windsor.
In this brutal economy, the Yankees have enlisted Prudential Douglas Elliman to help them move high-end seats at their new stadium. Yes, a ticket to the ballpark is now considered a real-estate purchase. More on this and some kitschy design features at the new stadium at YFSF.
Billy Crystal is one of those guests talk show producers adore, and if you were watching Letterman last night you know why. For a full segment—about seven minutes—he delivered a routine on rodent infestation at his Malibu home that required essentially no participation from the host. Just give him a quick set up, and get out of the way. It’s easy for the show, and a treat for the audience; the comic monologue is where Crystal is at his best. (I’m not a great fan of his nostalgia-driven films.) A Crystal routine is a catalog of New York Jewish comedy in action, full of the asides, the internal references, and the self-mortification that trace back to Vaudeville days, if not before. Watching him last night brought to mind an absolute master of this idiom: Woody Allen. It’s easy to forget what a brilliant comedian Woody was back when he was still doing standup, even though his films, including the dramas, are laced with gags and one-liners. He was not a “joke” comedian, however; he was a storyteller, a far more challenging—and to my mind, satisfying—kind of performance. Woody seemed a “natural” raconteur, but the apparent effortlessness of his act belied the great deal of work spent refining his material. Take, for example, his classic “Hunting Moose” routine. The early version above is relatively awkward: he minces around almost nervously, doesn’t nail his applause lines, and the kicker is kind of flat—there’s an almost palpable relief that he gets through it. Compare that to this later, far more assured delivery. The audience is clearly more engaged in the second version, their excitement building throughout. He has made a variety of subtle improvements, and the biggest comes at the end. The closing reference has been changed from the “New York City Golf Club”—which does not even exist—to the notoriously exclusive and easier to parse “New York Athletic Club.” Finally, there is the kicker: “And the joke is on them because they don’t allow Jews” (wordy, a little disturbing) becomes “And the joke is on them because it’s restricted” (short, funny, perfect). Practice and refine. That’s how a good bit—or a good anything—becomes something special.
The Baltimore Ravens look pretty formidable going into the AFC Championship game, but I wonder if this squad from Charm City could give them a run for their money. The offense looks a bit sketchy, but the defensive unit is stacked with stone-cold killers. You wouldn’t want to be a receiver going over the middle against that secondary, that’s for sure.
Owner: Odell Watkins
GM: Tommy Carcetti
Head Coach: Cedric Daniels
Offensive Coordinator: Lester Freamon
Defensive Coordinator: Bill Rawls
QB: Gus Haynes
RB: Jimmy McNulty
FB: Thomas Hauk
C: Jay Landsman
RG: Bunk Moreland
RT: Bunny Colvin
LG: Ervin Burrell
TE: Kenneth Dozerman
WR: Leander Sydnor
WR: Ellis Carver
Alternate WR: Kima Greggs
The complaint has always been my great metier, the form in which I am a non-pareil master. Last night I became an honest-to-goodness world record holder in my favored idiom. At the behest of Dan Rollman, the great mind behind the Universal Record Database, I set the new standard for Most Complaints In 60 Seconds, a feat documented by numerous officials, and witnessed by New York’s daily digest of record. A video of the proceedings will soon be available, but a transcript follows, for your reading pleasure:
“Just how much personal history do we require to truly understand an artist’s body of work?” That’s the question that launched my review of Nicholas Fox Weber’s biography of the architect Le Corbusier, which appears in the latest issue of Print. The more we get to know an artist, the better we appreciate their work. That Caravaggio and Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Pollock were famously tortured souls only makes their work more powerful, or at least emotionally engaging, for modern audiences. Architecture, a craft as much as an art, is a bit different—it is at once more abstract and less transparent. To paraphrase my review, you don’t need to know the details of Le Corbusier’s relationship with his mother to appreciate the radical nature of the Villa Savoye, nor can you easily detect the contours of that relationship in the villa’s white-washed planes.
Le Corbusier went to great lengths to shield the public from his private self, and it was a good thing too, for he was no angel. I can’t help but compare him to Peter Paul Rubens, the enigmatic subject of my own biography. Their personalities could hardly have been more different—Rubens was beloved by just about everyone who knew him, and dedicated much of his life to public service. Although knowledge of his personal biography is not essential to those who would understand his work, it is virtually impossible to fully grasp it without a grounding in the political and historical moment in which it was created. I think this is why we find the brooding Rembrandt to be so much more popular today than Rubens. In their own time, it was a different story.
I recently contributed an essay to a series celebrating the final year of Yankee Stadium on the website Bronx Banter. I’m in distinguished company: Jane Leavy, Pat Jordan, Bob Costas, Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer—more than sixty of us altogether. It makes for great reading. One thing that has struck me in following the series is how formative the bleachers, the subject of my piece, have been for so many of the contributors. The opportunity to sit in cheap seats close to the field, and to become a part of a community is very special. One of the things I find most troubling about the new ballpark is that this opportunity will be dramatically compromised. The new bleachers will be more expensive, separated from the field of play, and some seats will come with obstructed views. This is all part of the evolution of professional baseball from sport to entertainment event. I don’t know what this will mean for the next generation of baseball writers—we might already be seeing it in the detached, pitilessness “snark” that marks the worst of web writing and yellow journalism. Reap what you sow.