(title redacted)

Phil Ford

Alex Ross Justin Davidson* writes a post about architectural trend of refitting massive old grungy industrial-era buildings and turning them into art galleries and concert halls and such. The classic exemplar of this approach is the Tate Modern in London, which turned a brick Victorian power plant into  an ethereal, light-filled space. I visited there in summer 2001 with my wife and 2-year-old son, who ran up and down the long, gently sloping floor of the Turbine Hall for a small eternity. (It’s fun turning a 2-year-old boy loose on London’s great buildings. I have a picture of him trying to push open the Great West Door of St. Paul’s cathedral.) At the Tate, this architectural gesture is beautiful and impressive and oddly apt, and for this reason has caught on. Actually, it’s been going on at least since the 1970s, when artists started carving lofts out of old warehouses in New York City. As Virginia Postrel has written in the most recent issue of the Atlantic, loft architecture has become a new vernacular style in high-end domestic architecture. Developers are now building new lofts, which is kind of a contradiction in terms, and which of course is cheesy and fake and vulgar, though Postrel makes the point that lofts are really cool, so where’s the problem? But Davidson has another issue:

I have to admit to some queasiness about the current enthusiasm for
fitting out power plants, factories and warehouses as postindustrial
pleasure domes. Isn’t there something inherently decadent about taking
the means of production and transforming into the means of consumption
for the bourgeoisie?

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

When I used to program musical events for the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, I used to refer to the place as a rec center for bobos, which I still think is pretty accurate characterization of arts organizations in general — especially the ones found in what used to be sooty brick warehouses. The unpalatable truth of the arts world in America is that you have to learn to love bobos. Or at least not long to see them hanging from the lampposts of some post-revolutionary Artsylvania. Because, let’s face it, if you’re working in the arts, you’re not too different from the clientele. Hate on the bobos and you’re just hating on yourself. And middle-class self-loathing is so cliché.

* Oops. I thought this was by Alex Ross and it wasn’t. Which means I had to sacrifice what I thought was a pretty nifty post heading.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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3 Responses to (title redacted)

  1. bgn says:

    Minor note–but the post is by Justin Davidson, who’s filling in for Alex Ross this week.

  2. I think it’s also interesting to view these kinds of architecutural choices as a strategy for the Construction of Authenticity. Ever since the rise of the middle class in the 19th century, “authenticity” has been more and more equated with apparent middle or working class, and I think we can see part of post-industrial chic as the appropriation of industrial/working class artifacts and aesthetics in order to trade on its authenticity.
    Objections to the construction of “new lofts” make the construction of authenticity elitist — only people who live in lofts that are actual historical artifacts get to claim authenticity credit, and people who build new lofts are faking authenticity and thus not truly authentic. But of course buying a historical loft in SoHo for the sake of constructing authenticity is itself posturing.
    Of course remodeling industrial spaces as living spaces and art spaces is decadent, but it’s no _more_ decadent than building a complex like Lincoln Center, which is basically a modernized version of Greek architecture. Any architecture tries to construct authenticity — it’s just a question of what flavor of authenticity you’re going for.
    Plus, “taking the means of production and transforming into the means of consumption for the bourgeoisie” is actually the production of a good for consumption by the bourgeoisie, which happens all the time. By building a factory and having people work in it for a long time the owner has imbued it with “authenticity” equity, which can then be sold to the bourgeoisie who want to consume that authenticity.

  3. Lisa Hirsch says:

    I responded to Justin on this point as well.

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