Thursday, October 04, 2007

RIP: Herbert Muschamp

Herbert Muschamp, the former New York Times architecture critic who died yesterday at the way-too-early age of 59, was brilliant and bizarre in equal measure. He loved the wonderful chaos of cities, but could care less what buildings did to their fragile human balance. He wrote a riveting, 6,000-word personal history of his experiences with Edward Durell Stone's 2 Columbus Circle (see my post), yet refused to advocate for the preservation of its facade; indeed, he opposed the whole idea of preservation on the grounds that it was a form of urban calcification. Muschamp was given to the kind of extreme pronouncements that make you involuntarily spit your morning coffee all over the newspaper, and yet there was no contemporary critic in any speciality who could fuse disparate ideas into such a fireworks of blazing insight.

Muchamp, a Philadelphia native who attended Chestnut Hill Academy and, briefly, the University of Pennsylvania, lived an amazing life. He was present at the ICA on the famous day in 1965 when Andy Warhol's first museum show opened and the artist was besieged by a wild crowd. He later became a friend of Warhol' and a denizen of the Factory, his famous art commune. Julie Iovine, who worked as Muschamp's editor at the New York Times, gives a good account of his over sized personality in the Architects Newspaper, and Verlyn Klinkenborg makes a stab at describing what made his work so intellectually thrilling, even when he was dead wrong.

In honor of this great critic, here's a teensy sampling of the most over-the-top, infuriating, certifiably mad Muschampian statements:

-On 2 Columbus Circle: "No other building more fully embodied the emerging value of queerness in the New York of its day."
-On perfume bottles and urban skylines: "Few new buildings, tall or short, match the aesthetic appeal of the flacons, vials and jars that crowd the perfume and cosmetics counters at department stores and duty-free shops all over the world. They are my favorite skyline."
-On Daniel Libeskind's proposal for Ground Zero:
From September 2002: It "attains a perfect balance"
From February 2003:, “Daniel Libeskind's project for the World Trade Center site is... a war memorial to a looming conflict that has scarcely begun.”
-On the Kimmel Center: "Rafael Viñoly's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the new home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, is precise, luminous architecture for lovers of rich, cultivated sound


Anonymous Steve Maczko said...

"Muschamp was given to the kind of extreme pronouncements that make you involuntarily spit your morning coffee all over the newspaper..."

Muschamp has always been one of my favorites.

Somebody should do a scholarly study of Inga. That sentence would be an appropriate prism through which to see her work.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His passing is a sad loss.

I hadn't realized he was a native Philadelphian.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ingrid, I like you. You truly put a smile on my face. I should cc: Brian T. but I don't know how.

I live in NY, but I am a PA boy at heart. I was lucky enough to read Herbert M.'s critiques for years. He put a smile on my face also.

We all should learn from his honesty and...brazenness. (Funny, as I was looking up the spelling of this word, I came across bellicose. "If the shoe fits...").

Thank you,


11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to school with Herb @ Chestnut Hill Academy back in the early sixties. I am saddened to hear of his passing. He was quite a guy, even back then. Extremely intelligent and witty. It's sad to see him go. 59 is way too young.

My deepest sympathies to his family.

Sandy Brown
Philadelphia, Pa
Chestnut Hill Academy
Class of '66

5:58 PM  

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