D-Critters Dance with Assorted Devils
Event: D-Crit Reading Night: “Evil”
Location: KGB Bar, 03.27.08
Speakers: Steven Heller — Author, The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? & Co-Chair, MFA Design, School of Visual Arts; Philip Nobel — Author, Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero & Columnist, Metropolis; Andrea Codrington — Writer, Editor, & Brand Strategist, Brand Building Communications
Organizers: MFA program in Design Criticism (D-Crit), School of Visual Arts
Courtesy School of Visual Arts
The School of Visual Arts (SVA) launches its Design Criticism (D-Crit) program this fall, seeking to strengthen links among journalism, academic critique, and design. Several months before classes begin, D-Crit is already striking an informal, edgy profile with readings at the literary nightspot KGB. By taking on vast topics like Home, Music, and Evil, D-Crit’s organizers aim to show up the breadth and flexibility of this area of critical writing. The latest reading also showed how evil can elicit both gravity and wit.
Steven Heller, author and co-chair of the MFA Design program at SVA, argued that a symbol can be wrenched out of its history and converted to a visual weapon dangerous enough to ban. Fascinated from youth with the Nazis and the swastika, Heller expanded this interest into The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?, explicitly “a polemical history, not a linear or narrative one.” He has considered arguments for rehabilitating the symbol because of its long pre-Nazi history in Hindu and Native American cultures, among others; yet, he is against ever normalizing it, voicing special scorn for Sid Vicious-style transgressive displays. Because of the unique pathology of Nazism as “a paradigm of how terror became official policy for a civilized state,” Heller says, a suggestion that time could ever decontaminate it “begs the question, ‘What is enough time?’”
Author and columnist Philip Nobel read from a Metropolis column that nearly got him fired: an open letter to Philip Johnson connecting washed-out aesthetics to fascism. Nobel took the “Dean” to the woodshed for cynicism, collaborationism (in his period of admiration for Hitler — something Johnson’s admirers ignored until critic Michael Sorkin unearthed some early writings), and the tendency to revel in a position of power out of proportion to his architectural gifts. Though Johnson’s “acerbic wit, deracination of Modernism, and endless pimping” defined contemporary architecture for several generations, Nobel makes a case that Johnson’s influence also constricted and warped it. Nobel’s potshots add up to a distinction between taste making and the ethical seriousness that informs deeper talent.
Andrea Codrington, brand strategist for Brand Building Communications, observed how Hollywood directors use Modernist design to connote menace. Commercial cinema mythologizes American domesticity and the associated homey building styles; the flip side, Codrington finds, is a tendency to portray Europeans, and their clean-lined buildings, in terms of “villainy and vanity.” James Bond, she notes, becomes increasingly endangered the closer he gets to the geometric lairs of the Dr. Nos, Blofelds, Goldfingers, et al., all “monomaniacal scoundrels with exquisite modernist taste.” Hollywood’s habitual demonization of Modernism, she concluded, eventually ran counter to reality: when genuine terror hit Americans on 9/11, the culprits were not the elegant villains of Hitchcock or Kubrick. They lived in caves.
Comments are closed.