tom moody

New Century Modern Surface Magazine

From Josh Kline's essay of that name in Paddy Johnson's ongoing IMG MGMT series:

Even with syndicated reruns of Japan’s 1990s lost decade playing to a captive audience in the States, pixelated glass shibboleths are still under construction all over Manhattan Island. Computer-aided Contemporary Modern architecture, art, and design continues to flood the worlds of aspiration and luxury. The flows of wealth initiated by the Bush administration (RIP KIT BFF 2001-2009) determined the tastemakers. Surface Magazine sold them on an updated Phillip Johnson lifestyle and the neo-con beneficiaries decorated their new privacy-optional lofts accordingly. Millions of Americans are experiencing culture shock in their own country and they are seeking refuge in the past. What looks good on those walls? Your Safe Institutional Nostalgia Shrine, brought to you by West Elm, Wallpaper, GWB, DC, PW & CR, the Internet and 9/11. Feel better, New Century Modernism.

The essay considers the appeal of Mad Men in an era of downturn and social fragmentation and notes that both our corporate barons and impoverished net-heads are time-traveling to the same era of high design and political incorrectness. Well, you can have the early '60s, uggh.

My own more simplistic take is that period admiration comes in 30-year increments: the '80s looked back to the '50s (Reagan, Memphis furniture), the '90s emulated the '60s (bell bottoms, "emo"), and the '00s enshrined the '70s (Dharma Initiative, Paperrad).

As for the fascination with gleaming, artificial surfaces in architecture: it's easy to see why these buildings get built: contractors can slap together metal and glass much more simply and cheaply than crafting buildings of solid stone with intricate marble facades. As Kline suggests, computer aided design just twists the same old glass box:

Photoshop can change the color of the Barcelona Couch to match the grayscale conceptual painting on the wall and a 3D modeling program can take the gleaming Mies van der Rohe crystal building and twist it into a pleasing shape that evokes “movement” and fractals. The Titanium Macintosh iComputer, “designed in California”, rests in peace easily on top of the glass desk designed for Herman Miller. The Modern surface is back in force.

Except the cliche of the Modern surface has been with us for a few decades and not everyone wants it. Historic preservation of brick buildings, cultivation of greenspace, Palazzo Chupi (yes!), and the yurts and sweat lodges of neo-hippiedom present strong countervailing urges. Beige desktop PCs still dominate in offices (except now they are black) and the true aristos prefer an anonymous or classic style to the soon-to-be-dated "high tech" sheen of Apple and Oral-B toothbrushes. Some artists even prefer animated GIFs of "shitty art from the '40s" (thank you again, troll) to the vaguely sickening Steve Jobs smoothiverse.

- tom moody

October 22nd, 2010 at 10:35 am

Posted in general