Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Outrageous One is Back!

The Outrageous One is back!

Just when we thought we never hear from him again, Herbert Muschamp, the banished New York Times architecture critic, has managed to escape from his locked cubicle to pen a two-page opus on the history of 2 Columbus Circle, the Edward Durell Stone building that is facing a forced make-over by the Museum of Arts and Design.

The article is everything we've come to expect from Muschamp: vast verbiage, implausible premises, provocative assertions, and annoying stylistic tics. But his mad ravings are also punctuated by moments of breathtaking brilliance. Muschamp, who makes his own public coming-out in the article, begins with the jugular-grabbing claim that, "no other building more fully embodied the emerging value of queerness in the New York of its day."

Say what? Muschamp calls up so many architectural and cultural references over the next two pages that he almost convinces you he's right. Yet he also conveniently neglects to mention - ahem - that both the architect and the client, Huntington Hartford, were straight. The article is also pure, infuriating Muschamp in its failure to advocate anything specific. Having elevated 2 Columbus Circle into a historic totem of the gay liberation movement, Muschamp doesn't bother to argue explicitly for saving the facade from Brad Cloepfil's mediocre replacement. So what else is new? Muschamp also failed to argue for saving the so-called Lollipop building back on Nov. 24, 2003, when the issue first became a cause celebre for New York preservationists. That's when his advocacy might have made a difference.

What's the use of being a critic if you won't advocate anything? Our position is that the jaunty, Cold-War ere building looks better and better, and we'll rue the day that its white marble facade is stripped off. Muschamp is right that it represents an important moment of rebellion by a guy who helped introduce Bauhaus modernism to the American masses. Save this building now!

Still, after two years of measured, responsible and staid architectural journalism from Muschamp's successor, Nicolai Ouroussoff, I admit that I really enjoyed reading a newspaper story with so much intellectual heft I needed to go over it with a highlighter in hand, and mark up with repeated exclamation points!!!! If Herbert was writing this paragraph, the next sentence would of course be: Get me rewrite!

Oh, Herbert, we missed you so.


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