"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: mark lamster

The Steel House


Over man in Texas, Mark Lamster, wrote this fascinating profile about an equally fascinating guy named Robert Bruno:

The house itself is unoccupied and has been since 2008, when Robert Bruno, the charismatic if somewhat mysterious sculptor who had made the house his life’s work, died at age 64 after a prolonged battle with colon cancer.

As meticulous as he was capricious, Bruno had built the house with virtually no assistance over the course of some 30 years, designing and modifying it as he went, frequently tearing out portions that no longer pleased him. On an apparent whim, he was known to jettison months of work. It was a process that seemed to take as many steps backward as forward and left friends and neighbors to wonder if he would ever finish. Indeed, after so many decades, they had come to understand that finishing was something that didn’t matter to him.

“The truthful answer is it was unimportant,” says Dudley Thompson, a retired Lubbock architect who was a longtime Bruno confidant. “I visited him frequently while he was doing it. It rarely came up. He just enjoyed doing it. … The doing it as he thought it should be done was his only priority.”

The work, not the end result, was the thing for Bruno.

[Photo Credit: Leaflet]

New York Minute

Here’s our pal Mark Lamster on the Seagram building:

Though it now seems an implacable and timeless monument, a bronzed monolith standing resolutely behind its well-proportioned plaza, the tower’s existence was by no means ordained. In June 1953 Ms. Lambert was a 26-year-old recently divorced sculptor living in Paris, a self-imposed exile from her native Montreal and from her domineering father.

It was then that she reeled off a missive to her father, a response to his own letter outlining plans for a New York skyscraper. She was not impressed with the undistinguished modern box his architects proposed and let him know: “This letter starts with one word repeated very emphatically,” she wrote, “NO NO NO NO NO.”

Seven more pages followed, in which Ms. Lambert alternately scolded, cajoled and lectured her father on architectural history and civic responsibility. There was “nothing whatsoever commendable” in the proposed design, she wrote. “You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society.”

[Photo Credit: IPhoneography]

Yeah, You Get Props Over Here

Our man Mark Lamster heads off to Big D. He’s The Man.

Ta Da


Here’s our pal Mark Lamster’s Q&A with Christopher Bonanos, author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid:

ML: One aspect of public relations at which Land was especially adept was in building relationships with artists. Because a Polaroid camera is a bit clumsy in the hand and hard to focus, because the saturation of the film is so idiosyncratic and rich, and because the format is so unique, Polaroid encourages, as you note, a kind of self-conscious artiness. It’s amazing what a broad spectrum of artists ended up working with Polaroid. I know when I started taking Polaroids, I was influenced by Walker Evans, one of the “house” artists.

CB: That’s somewhat true — though I’d say that it even more encouraged a kind of casual artless shooting that equates with what we do on social networks. The other day, I met an artist named Tom Slaughter who was a huge Polaroid user back in the eighties. We were going through his photos — he has thousands — and it’s striking how much each box of them looks like an Instagram feed. They’re the same kinds of casual snapshots that somehow also feel documentary and a little profound: people eating and drinking, sitting on the porch, whatever. And it’s even the same square format, which is not an accident: the Instagram guys explicitly pay homage to Polaroid in their logo, and have a display of old Polaroid cameras in their offices. On the genuinely arty end of things, though, it’s true that Polaroid opened up its own big niche. The spontaneity was valuable to some people, like Andy Warhol; the color was especially useful to others, like Marie Cosindas; and the unique technology was valuable to Ansel Adams and a lot of other people.

I’ll never forget my father’s Polaroid camera, the sound of it being unfolded, the pleasure in pressing the red buttom to take a picture (always a treat), watching the image come out. And then fighting with my brother and sister to see which one of us could shake the photograph until an image appeared. It felt like magic.

Oh, and it ain’t over

[Photo Credit: Sincerely Lola]

You Could Look it Up


Our pal Mark Lamster on the New York Public Library:

Sometime last year, the New York Public Library (NYPL) retired its pneumatic-tube system, which had been used to request books for more than a century. This change was made without ceremony or fanfare; I learned of it unexpectedly, when I walked into the catalog room prepared to deliver a call slip to a clerk behind a large wooden desk, only to find a notice directing me elsewhere. For a few moments, I stood there, unmoored, before moving along as instructed. That pneumatic call system had changed little since the library’s open-ing in 1911. You still filled out a slip, and you still turned that slip over to a clerk, who would load it into a metal cartridge. With a slurpy shoomp, the cartridge would be driven by air pressure to a station down in the stacks, where another clerk would retrieve your book, which was then sent back up to the call desk by a dumbwaiter. In recent years, this procedure would take about 20 minutes. In decades past, I’m told, it was closer to five.

The passing of a steampunk relic might occasion a fit of nostalgia and no more—in New York, the cycle of life is accelerated, which is perhaps why we are so attentive to our history—but in this case, something greater seemed to be at stake. One could hardly contrive a more blatant metaphor for the uneasy shift, in the world of letters, from the physical to the digital. The very future of the book, and the printed word in general, is uncertain. We’re at a moment of profound change in the way we consume information, and that change is shaping the kinds of information we value. It is also shaping the spaces in which we consume information. How does one even begin to think about designing libraries in a time of rapidly developing technologies and shifting programs?

[Photo Credit: Cat’s Eye View @ MLP]

New York Minute

Our good pal Mark Lamster had a long piece in the New York Times last Sunday. You don’t want to miss it:

IT sounds like something out of a dime novel, or maybe a Nicolas Cage film. Behind the mute facade of a largely windowless neo-Gothic tower lies an ingenious system of steel vaults traveling on rails. Within those armored containers, which have been in continuous use since the Jazz Age, are stored some of New York City’s most precious objects and, presumably, a good number of its darkest secrets.

This building actually exists, and you will find it on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of Second Avenue, just north of the end of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. It is the Day & Meyer, Murray & Young warehouse, and since it opened in 1928 it has been the storage building of choice for many of New York’s wealthiest families, most prestigious art dealers and grandest museums.

The company’s early client list reads like a condensation of the New York Social Register, with names like Astor and Auchincloss, du Pont and Guggenheim, Havemeyer and Vanderbilt prominent. The press baron William Randolph Hearst stored entire rooms bought in Europe there during the construction of his castle at San Simeon, Calif.

Congrats to Mark for the story, and another job well done.

Art of the Night

Manhattan in Moscow, via Mark Lamster…cause he’s got it like that.

Twice as Nice

Fresh direct from our man Mark Lamster’s Twitter feed this afternoon, a tourist shot of the Empire State Building from the 1940s:

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