Chanel World in Central Park

Before you dismiss this as merely a New York problem, carefully consider Nicolai Ouroussoff’s response to the Chanel Pavilion, recently erected in Central Park. The Pavilion is a foppish extravagance in one of the great public spaces in America devoted to entirely to the worship of Chanel, a lux brand with no socially redeeming purpose whatsoever. To complicate matters, the exhibition was designed by Zaha Hadid, whose singular talents we would hope would be reserved for more worthwhile projects.  Ouroussoff writes bitterly, "if devoting so much intellectual effort to such a dubious undertaking
might have seemed indulgent a year ago, today it looks delusional."

Ouroussoff grudgingly admires Hadid’s design, but he can’t get over the impression that it’s something that’s designed to be worn over the shoulder of a feckless trophy wife strolling insouciantly down Park Avenue as millions of retirement accounts go up in flames across the country. "As with all of Ms. Hadid’s best work," he writes, "the forms are not just decorative
but also direct the pattern of movement through the site, collecting
the energy surrounding it and channeling it into the building." And yet, "[s]urveying its self-important exhibits, you can’t help but hope that the
era of exploiting the so-called intersection of architecture, art and
fashion is finally over."

As John Ruskin wrote in The Seven Lamps of Architecture, architectural forms have moral dimensions. They are, he declared, "the actual expression of some ultimate nerve or fibre of the mighty laws which govern the moral world." Ouroussoff clearly sees no moral purpose in undertaking your very own "personal journey" through Chanel World. There’s a Wobblyesque injustice to the spectacle of fashionistas mincing breathlessly through the Chanel exhibits while families across the country are being thrown out of their homes. You might as well go kick a homeless man.

"It’s not that hard to see why Ms. Hadid accepted the commission," Ouroussoff allows. "One of
architecture’s most magical aspects is the range of subjects it allows
you to engage, from the complex social relationships embodied in a
single-family house to the intense communal focus of a concert hall.
Great talents want to explore them all; it is what allows them to flex
their intellectual muscles." Yes, and what architect would turn down the commission to design a perfume exhibit right now? I guessing that commissions aren’t exactly rolling in these days.

If architecture is an uncertain profession even in the best of times, I’m with Ouroussoff in hoping that we’re finally rid of the vogue for exhibits that gleefully combine art and commerce into something that’s supposed to be hip–and not just a museum gift shop writ large. For instance, the 460
Degrees Gallery
in Chicago offered art lovers the chance to admire the works of prominent contemporary artists and designers while stepping around the 460, a Lexus model that was either 100 yards long or could park itself, I can’t remember which. The experience was supposed to be more cutting edge than a River North gallery, but despite the louche cool of the juxtaposition of contemporary art and assembly-line Japanese engineering, the gallery couldn’t shake the aura of being the brainchild some home-office marketing sharpie.

Let’s hope that the Chanel Pavilion is the last we’ll see for a while devised for people whose sole outlet for artistic expression is spending money.


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