A couple of months ago a number of Atlanta bloggers were asked by the editor of Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles to write a paragraph or two on the subject of "What's Modern Now?" for the June issue. I posted my contribution last Saturday and I find, having made my statement, I'm still thinking about it and the cliches that hover around the subject.
Coincidentally, I've been reading the charming and insightful Good Taste Costs No More, written by Richard Gump and published in 1951. The book is of its time – beautifully so –especially in its idioms, anecdotes, admonishments, bons mots, and slightly heavy-handed jocularity. The author does a good job of skewering pretension, both traditional and modern.
"If a friend dropped over one evening wearing knee breeches and a rash of lace at the throat and cuffs, we would hasten to summon the happy wagon. 'Poor old Jim,' we'd say, 'slipped his trolley.' But if he invites us into a room dressed entirely in the same period, no one raises an eyebrow. The detailed period habitat is no more wacky today that wearing the habit. It's playing Napoleon with the environment."
"Someone else may declare, 'I only like modern. Antiques, you can have 'em.' And we pay little attention. But if he said, 'When I travel, I only go to Oslo,' we'd think he was a little soft in the filbert. Yet entirely modern interiors reflect the same sort of limited viewpoint."
"The unyielding sticklers for the modern and functional are as pretentious and ridiculous as someone with a one-track period complex who is Queen Anne queer. Those who insist that everything before the Bauhaus is bunk, in getting back to what they call "fundamentals," would ignore or toss out three quarters of the beauty of the past. Their enemies, a fence apart, who are no less sure that design stopped with the Biedermeier, would pooh-pooh the progress and development of the world of wonderful things. Small-pasture jackasses, both of them."
So, in a round-about way I come to Frank Lloyd Wright - an architect whose glamour I've never really understood or whose buildings – and I have been in quite a few – have never struck me as the most comfortable to inhabit. Oh, I know the stuff about compression and release but seeing that formula in action in the house, Kentuck Knob, seen below, led me to wonder, as I have over the years, how much of what we read and hear is really The Emperor's New Clothes Redux.
That perhaps is a discussion for another day but I can say that the house we visited after Kentuck Knob, Fallingwater, began to change my perceptions of Frank Lloyd Wright - so much so, I realized many of my ideas about him had just been prejudice. I too had been a victim, if that is the word, of the FLW industry... but in the sense that it had put me off.
Kentuck Knob is beautifully situated in a forest planted, in the main, by the Hagans, friends of the Kaufmanns of Fallingwater, who commissioned the house from Wright. The day we were there the exterior of the house was raked with dappled light through trees that marched right up to the walls and overhung the roof. The motor court, because of that dappled shade, though humid and hot was the perfect place to listen to the introductory spiel from a balletic and breathless docent, to muse and sop views of the radiant and fully-leafed forest. America the beautiful, indeed!
Photographing the surprisingly diminutive and cramped interior wasn't permitted, which is a shame, for the house felt as if it were still lived in - bric-a-brac, photos of the late Princess of Wales and of the present owners, Lord and Lady Palumbo, helped to strengthen that impression, though that apparently is not the case. What I did see, to my delight, was a collection of what I think was Bernard Leach pottery. In my youth I once visited Leach's home in Cornwall overlooking the sea and just down the road from Barbara Hepworth's studio. I digress.
Coming back to what modern is today. When I mention the Frank Lloyd Wright industry I'm really talking about how celebrity, advertising and aspiration create our perceptions of what our world, our modern world, is like - in other words, what's modern today.
Within the two broad categories of traditional and contemporary, many attitudes in the name of style are struck - think of minimal, white walled contemporary architecture furnished with low-lying furniture bereft of curve and color, and consider too of the other end of the continuum, a draped, shadowy, befringed and buttoned evocation of the Second Empire. What lies in between, a varied mix of contemporary and traditional, high and low, is where the majority of the population live.
Modern, then, is what one is persuaded to need, nothing more.
These romantic steps off one of the paths weaving through the sculpture garden led to yet another sculpture and what I named Frankie's barbie.
Photographs courtesy my iPhone.