Albert Maysles with his first camera, 2014. Photo: Kit Pennebaker.
AL HEARD I WAS GOING TO RUSSIA and asked if he could come along. He had gone there on a motorcycle with his brother a few years before and wanted to go back. He said he’d made a film in a mental hospital there. How he had managed to get into a Russian mental hospital to film intrigued me.
I was going to make a film on an American trade exposition designed by George Nelson with Charles Eames and Bucky Fuller that was going to be set up in a park in Moscow. This was 1959, when hardly any Americans had been allowed to spend time or film in Russia. I had planned to make this film by myself, which was a really crazy idea, armed with only a windup camera and a windup tape recorder. When I told Al that I’d love to have him help me but hadn’t raised any money and couldn’t pay him anything, he didn’t seem to care. He wasn’t looking for a job. He was in love with going to Russia. Right away we became friends. I could see we were going to be partners, not just traveling companions.
So I arranged for his visa and flew to Munich to pick up a small Arriflex so we could each have a camera. You couldn’t buy Kodachrome film there, so we brought a trunk full of hundred-foot rolls, which we would have to bring back to the States for processing—no processing there either. We would never see what we’d shot until we got back home. I had made a short film, about the elevated trains in New York, but never a long one like this. How we were going to do it was a mystery, but the idea of making it on our own and in Russia was enough. And having Al as a partner seemed like a gift from the gods of filmmaking.
Early in June our Russian adventure began—four months, filming everything we could find in Moscow and beyond that we thought interesting. The Moscow beach with bathing-suited Russians strewn about, the racetrack with everyone betting like mad, the circus with the world-famous clown, Oleg Popov, Sergey Obraztsov’s puppet theater for adults, local bands playing perfectly arranged Benny Goodman music from the 1930s, and even legendary Galina Ulanova doing her famed Swan Lake, which, when we filmed it with our noisy windup Kodak, got us thrown out of the theater.
Al hadn’t had a lot of experience with either the Arriflex or the Cine Kodak Special when we started, but in a few weeks he became expert with both of them. He had a great eye. And he could watch something that interested him forever. He was a natural filmmaker.
As we focused on people we saw at the exposition and around Moscow, we made a discovery. Our film, Opening in Moscow, was turning into a documentary, but we needed to hear conversations and see people having them. We needed sync sound. My windup recorder had a hard time getting that, and by the time we had returned home we had determined what would be our next step. And when we had figured out how to get sync sound and made our own homemade cameras for it, Al and I filmed Primary (1960) with Kennedy and Humphrey, Eddie Sachs racing at Indianapolis, and Al and his brother David had filmed Salesmen (1968).
Somehow it seems to me that a lot of what followed for both of us came out of that summer, our Russian summer and the film we made there.
D.A. Pennebaker is a documentary filmmaker based in New York. Since 1974, he has partnered with Chris Hegedus in Pennebaker Hegedus films.
Jane Wilson in front of her painting, The Open Scene, 1960. Photo: John Jonas Gruen.
Jane Wilson’s Water Mill studio on eastern Long Island, where she painted for some fifty years, was the second-story hayloft of a carriage house that she and her husband, the photographer and critic John Gruen, purchased in 1960. Spare and smaller than one might expect given the inherent expansiveness of her canvases, the space was not unlike the studio her fellow artist Fairfield Porter had fashioned for himself in a stable hayloft behind his house on Southampton’s South Main Street, where in the summer of 1957 he painted Wilson’s portrait.
By contrast, her New York City studio was jammed with paintings and at a far remove from the storied light of the East End. One senses that Wilson didn’t need to be constantly reminded of nature, that it was indelibly imprinted on her consciousness by what she called a bred-in-the-bone sixth sense about the vagaries of weather, a legacy of her upbringing in the wide-open spaces of rural Iowa. A brief film clip of Wilson painting (undated but likely from the late 1990s) shows the artist moving deliberately about the cramped studio, from painting table to easel. It’s hard to believe that these ethereal canvases, which look as though they materialized effortlessly out of thin air, are the result of layer upon layer of paint, applied with large, loaded hog-bristle brushes, in a full-throttle approach that can only be described as attack. There is nothing subdued or restrained about Wilson’s encounter with the canvas, buttressed by an energy and boldness of gesture more often associated with Abstract Expressionist paint handling. Wilson achieves that same allover treatment of the canvas while alluding to the rudiments of reality, enabling the viewer to intuit a horizon line.
For Wilson, the landmark 1961 Rothko exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art was a revelation and a talisman. Some thirty years later she recalled that within the rectangle of his canvas was a vast world that made her “think about landscape in the sense that it was basically a horizontal series of balances and floating volumes . . . a density of air,” adding: “These are paintings where there is no scale trigger, not a house, not a tree, not a person. Whatever scale is determined by ourselves being a vertical in front of them.”
In Wilson’s paintings, the horizon hugs the bottom of the canvas, giving way above to the full play of light and color that is the true subject of her work. Even with the specificity of time, place, climate, or season conveyed by her titles (End of Winter Water Mill, Midnight: Foggy Moon, Rain: Heavy at Times), the paintings transcend the particular to intimate the universal. Jane Wilson will be long remembered for the power and grace of her art, palpable yet ineffable, that essentially reinvented the language of landscape painting in the late twentieth century.
Alicia G. Longwell is the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator of Art and Education at the Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, where she is organizing an exhibition for the fall of 2015 titled “Jane Freilicher and Jane Wilson: Seen and Unseen.”
Ricardo Porro, 2007. Still from the film Unfinished Spaces by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray.
“One had of course to be a nationalist, while trying to be a vanguardist at the same time. . . . It was something of a tall order, since all nationalism is founded on the cult of tradition, whereas vanguardism, by definition, implies a severance from tradition”
THE “NORMALIZATION” OF US-CUBA DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS will undoubtedly lead to more architectural tourism, ending the ignorance of Cuban architectural culture that exists in the US and revealing key episodes in the Caribbean nation’s history to foreign architects and scholars for the first time. In the late 1950s, a debate prevailed among the very talented group of young Cuban architects around the question: Should Architecture express the cultural values of the nation or should Architecture express the universal values of an international civilization?
Mario Romañach, Max Borges Recio, and Frank Martínez stand out among the larger of the two groups, which was committed to the rationalist or universal thesis. The nationalist side was taken by Ricardo Porro, with his ideas of Cubanidad and the need to assume a new national identity based on the prevalent Afro-Cuban culture, in opposition to the dominant Spanish colonial urban legacy. Porro’s essay “El Sentido de la Tradición” argued for an architecture rooted in indigenous Cuban culture and history—“una arquitectura negra”—a position influenced by the architecture of his master Eugenio Batista and also the paintings of Wifredo Lam, a Chinese-Cuban artist whom Porro had befriended in Paris in 1950 while studying at the Sorbonne in the Institute d’Urbanisme (the pioneer of Venezuelan modern architecture, Carlos Raúl Villanueva, had studied there, in 1937). In Paris, Porro became a Marxist, and this epiphany furthered his ambition to express in architecture a poetic synthesis of Lo Tropical and Cubanidad. He wished his architecture to be tectonic syncretism. While teaching in Caracas at the new Facultad de Arquitectura designed by Villanueva in 1957, he met two Italian architects, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi, who had studied in Milan with Ernesto Rogers and were influenced by the rural vernacular architecture built throughout Italy that Giò Ponti published in the magazine Domus during the war-torn ’40s.
Porro began his career during the booming economy of the ’40s and ’50s in Havana. He belonged to the second generation of modern architects there who had the opportunity to build as soon as they graduated, along with such peers as Clara Porset, Mario Romañach, Frank Martínez, Nicolás Quintana, Manuel Gutierrez, Rafael Portuondo, Gabriela Menéndez, Aquiles Capablanca, Max and Enrique Borges Recio, Jose Novoa, Pablo N. Perez, Mario González, and Hugo D’Acosta-Calheiros. At the same time, many foreign architects were practicing in Havana. Perhaps the most notorious building that emerged from a foreign practice during this era was the concrete-and-glass American Embassy, 1950–53, designed by Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz, architects of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In 1953, this embassy was exhibited in “Architecture for the State Department” at the Museum of Modern Art. It was one of the first of a string of commissions given by the State Department to the best American architects.
Against this kind of “official” architecture, in his early houses Porro used curvilinear walls referencing the “Mambo Modernism”  prevalent in Cuba during the ’50s by way of Morris Lapidus or Oscar Niemeyer. This popular circular motif became the norm in the late ’50s. Frank Martínez’s brilliant project for the National Aquarium in Sibarimar, 1959, and his circular supermarkets built on the outskirts of Havana are the best examples of this moment in the city.
Although he left in 1958 to teach in Caracas, Porro returned to Cuba in January 1959, when he was assured of the success of the revolution. His dream job, to help build architecture in the spirit of the new, socialist Cuba, began in 1961, when Fidel Castro put him in charge of the design of a new campus for the national art schools, to be built on the grounds of the Havana Country Club in the western suburb of Cubanacán. The five schools were conceived during this romantic phase of Castro’s long regime, when the impossible and the fantastic seemed to become real possibilities for his political disciples, goals to be pursued for the inspiration of the very poor. Porro immediately recruited his Caracas colleagues, the Venice-born Gottardi and Milan-born Garatti. The three architects undertook the design and construction of five separate buildings for the art faculties—note that a school for architecture is missing from the program. Porro’s two schools, the fine arts school and the school for modern dance, advanced the idea that vernacular construction, using traditional reinforced concrete, brick, arches, vaults, and domes, would create an arquitectura negra (Black Architecture) capable of expressing a poesy of light and space yet built by the common laborer without the use of imported technology.
Soon after the Seventh Congress of the International Association of Architects, held in Cuba in 1963, an emphasis on building low-cost housing using Soviet-style standardization threatened the poetic ideology of Porro’s Black Architecture that was so beautifully represented by the art schools. Architectural historian and critic Roberto Segre accused Porro of being an elitist, whose work exhibited a “narcissistic and egocentric bourgeois formation.”  The admittedly arrogant Porro had several enemies, and Antonio Quintana, in charge of architectural design for the new Ministry of Construction, saw his organic expressive forms as decadent. Quintana managed to convince Castro to abandon the project in 1965. Of the five schools, only two are still active; the others are overgrown by the abundant urban tropical plants natural to the fertile soil of the former golf course. In 1966, Porro and his family moved to Paris, where André Malraux helped him find shelter and work. Most of Porro’s French projects were built in banlieues of Paris and did not fulfill the promise exhibited by his radical schools of the arts in Havana. He taught architectural history and theory in Paris, Lille, and Strasbourg, and he never returned to live on his native soil.
Ricardo Porro, School of Plastic Arts at the National Art Schools, Havana, 1965. Photo: Revolution of Forms: Cuba's Forgotten Art Schools, by John A. Loomis, Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.
Ricardo Porro, School of Plastic Arts at the National Art Schools, Havana, 1965. Photo: Flickr user travfotos.
Vittorio Garatti, School of Music at the National Art Schools, Havana, 1965. Photo: Revolution of Forms: Cuba's Forgotten Art Schools, by John A. Loomis, Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.
1. Eduardo Luis Rodriguez, The Havana Guide, Princeton Architectural Press, 2000, xxv.
2. John A. Loomis, “Obituary: Ricardo Porro, 1925-2014,” Architectural Record, December 29, 2014. archrecord.construction.com/
Carlos Brillembourg is a principal of Carlos Brillembourg Architects, based in New York City, an editor-at-large for architecture at BOMB Magazine since 1992, and teaches in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.
Edgar Froese on Lanzarote, 2002. Photo: Bianca Froese-Acquaye.
WHAT IS CALLED DRAMA in musical terminology is frequently valued but often overrated: too often associated with the operatically overblown or the whining catgut of suspense. Watching the nail-biting sequences in William Friedkin’s unjustly forgotten, jungle-juggernaut movie Sorcerer (1977), with its monster trucks teetering on rope bridges above a torrential Amazon in full spate, you’re struck by how much the background music—a gray, insistent hornet hum of synthesized sound—helps ratchet up the desperation of the scenario in a ruthlessly restrained manner that’s nothing like the Wagnerian meltdown you’d expect in such a scene from the Hollywood of today. Friedkin later said that if he had discovered the German musicians responsible sooner, he would have asked them to score The Exorcist (1973). The director had stumbled upon them performing in a derelict church in Germany’s Black Forest. They were Tangerine Dream, and their chief synthesist, Edgar Froese, died suddenly this January in Vienna, age seventy.
Born on D-day, 1944, Froese settled with his family in Berlin after the war and studied piano as a teenager. By 1965, he found himself leading a psychedelic band called the Ones, at one point performing at the request of Salvador Dalí at his home in Cadaqués, Spain. Two years later, Froese founded a new group with Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler called Tangerine Dream (after the British psych band Kaleidoscope’s debut LP). Their first, landmark album, Electronic Meditation, was recorded in a Berlin factory space in 1969. It’s a gas giant of a record, votive and solemn in mood, cosmic in scale, yet built of recognizable materials: Mellotron, analog rumbles, and amplified flute. Somewhere between improvised music, contemporary classical, and the future direction of progressive rock, the early Tangerine Dream revealed themselves clear-sighted as to what was to come.
Tangerine Dream continued as a working unit right up until Froese’s death, releasing over one hundred albums, touring all over the world, and contributing to more than sixty motion-picture sound tracks, including Michael Mann’s Thief (1981) and The Keep (1983) and Paul Brickman’s Risky Business (1983). For nearly five decades, Froese remained the group’s lone constant, holding them on course through continual sea changes in synth technology and audience expectations. The group’s watershed moment came in 1973, when Richard Branson signed them to his Virgin imprint, and their sound became incrementally less organic than on previous records such as Alpha Centauri (1971), Zeit (1972), and Atem (1973), the payoff being that they were suddenly exposed to a substantially larger international audience. The final incarnation of Tangerine Dream took great literature as its launchpad, from the Dante-inspired Divine Comedy series (2002–2006) to the group’s last major recorded statement, Eastgate’s Sonic Poems (2011–13), a series of tributes to writings by Joyce, Meyrink, Kafka, Poe, and others.
Froese himself hated his music being defined solely as “electronic,” considering the term too redolent of arid experiments. Instead he favored resonant, sacred locations for his concerts, notably one in 1975 at Coventry Cathedral, which had been razed to the ground by German bombs during World War II then rebuilt as a modernist shrine. Exorcising the wartime ghosts of bitter enmity, the concert was broadcast to a live television audience. “Thirty years ago they came to bomb the place; today they come with synthesizers,” Froese quipped at the time.
Tangerine Dream: Live at Coventry Cathedral in 1975.
Tangerine Dream played inside many of the cathedrals of Europe over the years, and Froese’s music—sometimes filed under “new age”—could be seen as a counterpart to the so-called holy minimalism of composers such as Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli, and others, made by channeling electrical power instead of orchestral forces to feed its expanding universe. Humans, he once said, are “lost . . . in cycles that span hundreds and thousands of years,” but were blind to the environmental fate of the planet because they were too constrained by their own tiny life-cycles. Both sonically and philosophically, Froese was always seeking the biggest possible picture.
Rob Young is a writer, critic, and contributing editor of The Wire. He is currently writing a biography of the German group Can.
Jon Jerde. Photo: Joe Pugliese. Courtesy, The Jerde Partnership.
RAY BRADBURY, the science-fiction writer, lived most of his life in Los Angeles but never learned to drive. No wonder he wrote essays lamenting the lack of a town center. In 1970 Jon Jerde, a Los Angeles architect, read an article in which Bradbury described how a town square in the sprawling city might be organized. Jerde arranged to meet Bradbury over lunch, and the two men became friends. A few years later, Jerde was asked to design a mall in a derelict section of San Diego. Bradbury told Jerde that “one of the joys of travel is being lost in a great city and loving it,” and he recommended that Jerde design a place “in which people would be lost but safe and filled with joy.” The result, a mall called Horton Plaza (1985), has been called a “collaged fantasy land, where Spanish piazzas collide with Moorish souks” and a “carefully curated kind of trash.”
With Horton Plaza’s success, Jerde’s reputation grew. So did the size of his projects, culminating in Minnesota’s gargantuan Mall of America (1992) — some might think the name redundant. A few architecture critics might use the title of Bradbury’s 1962 novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, to describe Jerde’s work, in which fake town centers replaced real ones. Still, Jerde was, according to one writer, the most copied architect of the last century. If that is so, it may be because his ersatz city streets, made with cheap materials and crude details, were easy to knock off, unlike the work of another Bradbury acquaintance, Frank Gehry, who also started out as a mall designer. (Gehry’s Santa Monica Place  competed, unsuccessfully, with Jerde’s Universal CityWalk  and Glendale Galleria –and was finally renovated by the Jerde Partnership in 2010.) Meanwhile, in a twist, Bradbury’s longtime home in the Cheviot Hills neighborhood of West Los Angeles was torn down in January, angering preservationists; the architect Thom Mayne is building a new house on the site. But Cheviot Hills is pure suburb, and nothing Mayne does will give it (or the city around it) any kind of center. That was the job of Jerde, who died on February 9 at seventy-five, having helped America trade city walks for CityWalk.
Fred A. Bernstein is a writer based in New York.
Rex Ray. Photo: Miriam Santos-Kayda.
I KNEW REX was going to be instant family. He had a big rubber smile, and an endless stream of wit, warmth, taste—and a bottomless knowledge of Warholiana. It was the mid-1990s, and I remember thinking, This is why it’s great to be an adult: because you get to know people like Rex Ray. Oddly, the night we met Rex said, “If you’d met me three months ago I would have been bitter, and you wouldn’t have liked me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was working as a clerk at City Lights books, and I was the world’s bitterest clerk, and I decided one day that I’m not going to be bitter anymore.”
I found it difficult to believe that anyone as social as Rex could be bitter, but he said, “No, it’s a decision, and I decided to stop.”
Rex’s decision to stop being bitter coincided with his first big show of works in San Francisco. It was a charged event—everyone knew something special was being born; it was the new, unbitter Rex Ray with his first exhibition of works that would come to be known as his mature style. I thought to myself, You know, sometimes it’s just wonderful to see something effortlessly new in a gallery, its newness curling down off the wall like dry-ice fog.
After that first show, I only ever saw Rex blossom. He was a tree that only knew spring, and his work became bigger, more complex and more ambitious, and his studio grew with this drive. Everyone who knew him shared such unjealous happiness at his success.
And then it stopped. I don’t know if Rex always knew it was lymphoma or if he had a misdiagnosis at the start and then only learned the truth later. We had a dinner at Zuni near the end, and he was so embarrassed to be so frail, to have his feet hurt so much just from walking from the curb to the table. He looked at me and said, “I’m Mr. Burns!” And he made light of it, but it was impossible not to see the pain. Sometimes you say good night to people, and it only means good night, but sometimes you say good night and you know it’s actually good-bye, and that was how it was that night.
I miss the way Rex called you darling. I miss the way he analyzed Britney Spears’s career trajectory. I miss going into Jonathan Adler and seeing his new works on the walls—and there was always new work. Rex had more drive than any artist I’ve ever met, and he started so much later in life. He was a lovely human being, and why do they always go first? Idiots go on forever. Rex, darling, we all miss you very, very much, and say hi to Andy.
Douglas Coupland is a writer and artist based in Canada. He is currently artist in residence at Google’s Paris Cultural Institute.