Editor’s letter, March/April 2014

Editorial Staff Opinion

The photographs by Charles Marville in this issue and on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art strike me as an important early chapter in the story of our modern lives. Marville’s job was to photograph Paris before and after Baron Haussmann erased its centuries old densely wound streets, replac­ing them with the broad new avenues and alluring vistas that seduce us with life’s limitless possibilities. Marville’s street scenes are mostly absent of humanity, in part because capturing people during the long expo­sures required of early photography made populous scenes unlikely. But the photographer does seem to have intuited-or else I am making this up-that the freedom promised by modernity would come at a certain cost and that we might not always be at home on the vast boulevards of the future. To my eye these vistas (both before and after Haussmann) look a little like crime scenes; they hint at how life will feel when people have to struggle with a world of constant upheaval, something we now know all too well. Marville’s work is indeed an early chapter in a familiar story. Every day brings a new episode, most recently in the effort of New York developer Aby Rosen to pluck Picasso’s painted curtain Le Tricorne (1919) from its hallowed place along the corridor of the landmarked Four Seasons restaurant in New York’s Seagram Building and replace it with the contemporary artists he collects-perhaps Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. There has been a great outcry of course; Le Tricorne has been there at least since 1959 and is loved by those who admire the modernist restaurant interior created by Philip Johnson and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Moreover the Landmarks Conservancy has declared Picasso’s curtain as fragile as a potato chip, adding another element to the good fight. Aby Rosen is nothing new, just one more fellow eager to stick his fist through the wall of history, and thus entirely familiar. If he has anything to distinguish him it may be this: he has managed, for the moment at least, to make Picasso look old. We are reminded once again that there is nothing so modern that it can’t be modernized. Being at home in a world where nothing feels permanent is no easy matter. I am drawn to people, places, and artifacts that strike inventive accommodations with endless flux. H. Peter Stern, cofounder of Storm King Art Center, whose house is featured here, is one. Creating a great contemporary sculpture garden at Storm King, preserving vast amounts of the surrounding landscape in New York’s Orange County, committing much of his time to the preservation of world monuments such as Angkor Wat, all suggest that for Stern community in the largest sense of the word is a healthy antidote to the anxieties of change. Elsewhere in this issue (and on the cover) we show some elaborate invitations from New Orleans’s golden age of Mardi Gras. Strange and wonderfully exuberant, they speak of a city that still considers community a matter for celebration and preservation-something we all can applaud.