Music & Architecture: a vantage point

I’ve posted a photograph of a page from the book Fashion & Art in the 1980s by the late Richard Martin and Harold Koda as an analogy to explain how I’ve arrived at a vantage point from which to consider music & architecture: rock’n’roll as a crucial component in the renewal of late modern multi-venue performing arts centres.

Richard and Harold were the curators at the Fashion Institute of Technology Gallery then, before they moved to the Metropolitan Museum. I was living in New York, nearby, in Chelsea. I’d frequently go and have coffee with Richard in his office, its floor space covered with precarious stalagmites of ephemera, catalogues and lookbooks and magazines. His particular interest was in connecting fashion and art history. But not in any kind of dry and dull way. He had a wild wit. Sometimes I’d tag along on tours of the exhibitions he was hosting for students. Other times he’d stop mid-sentence, describing something, and we’d go off into the library so he could show me what he was talking about: the detailing, perhaps, on Claire McCardell’s sportswear streamlined from a Madeleine Vionnet couture gown. This photograph reminds me of when we were both at a Romeo Gigli runway show being hosted by Bergdorf Goodman, and he was pointing out to me connections to Renaissance costumes.

I learned an intellectual rigour from Richard. How to have wide interests but channel them into something coherent. The photograph is from the catalogue of an exhibition called The Historical Mode:

“Perhaps it was in architecture among all the visual arts that the keen historical acuity of the decade was first manifest. Under the banner of ‘Postmodernism’, with its theoretical base born in architectural criticism of the 1960s, architecture in the late 1970s moved aggressively toward the display and assimilation of historical motifs. Consorting styles leapt from the drawing boards of the previous decade and established the rhetoric of historicism for the 1980s. The decade was marked, as well, by an acute historicising tendency in art.

This impulse to be of the past but in the present — to be in ‘the historical mode’ — also became clearly discernible in fashion. Fashion assumed a prominent cultural role much as it had at times in the past. Such historicist appreciation enabled it to defy the triviality and caprice customarily associated with la mode, placing it above vanity and making it an important artistic and cultural barometer for the 1980s. Fashion’s significance demanded consideration.”

Alexandra Lange’s essay on Postmodernism on Curbed a few days ago has reminded me that Postmodernism had a “restlessness of mind — not only Philip Johnson’s opulence, but John Portman’s hotel lobbies as future cities, Venturi, Scott Brown’s embrace of awkwardness. All of them wanted to wake you up, not calm you down.. I don’t even like the AT&T Building, and I shudder to think what its progeny might be. Nonetheless, it gets to stay. None of us, least of all architects, can escape the taste of the moment — but that doesn’t mean refusing to fight, even for design you don’t understand … Postmodernism should be preserved, but it is even more important to preserve its iconoclasm. Every -ism will eventually be overthrown. Without things to hate, you’ll never come up with something equally strong to love.”

How to revere the past but make way for something new is what fascinates me. The Opera House is wound mummy-tight in layers of preservation guidelines preventing great changes to the exterior and minimal interior revamps. The operational upgrades are staggered across time to allow the building to keep functioning but the resident Australian arts companies and rock’n’roll performers are using the building with a resourcefulness and ingenuity that doesn’t rely on perfect conditions.

Rock’n’roll within the Vivid Live and Graphic Festivals, programmed by Ben Marshall, is particularly interesting because they take over the whole building, or part of the building in Graphic’s case. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a wide variety of shows. Ben alerts me to shows that advance rock’n’roll as an artform and/or use the building in an unusual way. My focus goes beyond reviewing individual shows.

 

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