In her regular column for Metropolis, and also on her own site, Karrie Jacobs has been writing a good bit these days about beauty, that most slippery of concepts. A few months ago, she suggested that the Cooper-Hewitt's National Design Triennial was too busy being virtuous to be sexy. In a more recent piece, she worried that many young design types are entirely ambivalent about the idea. I can relate to that: there's something fascistic about the obsessive superficiality of our culture. On the other hand, I find much of today's politicized art and design a bit tiresome, especially in-your-face sexually explicit works.
It is, in fact, possible to create thoughtful and engaging works that are beautiful. Mike and Doug Starn's Big Bambu installation, on the roof of the Met, was one of the highlights of the year here in New York. Out inWashington State, Daniel Mihalyo and Annie Han, of Seattle's Lead Pencil Studio, recently put up a piece along the Canadian border that is stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful. [I have a story about it in the new issue of Icon.] To counter the visual clutter along the road into the United States—countless billboards of garish, cheesy advertising fouling a once pristine landscape — they've created their own billboard, a negative billboard that frames the ever-changing sky. The structure itself is an evanescent thicket of steel rods, left incomplete along the top edge so your mind can fill in the shape.
I've know Daniel and Annie for many years now. I edited Daniel's book, Wood Burners, a photographic documentation of the incinerators used by lumber mills in the Pacific Northwest to burn off their scrap. These were a vanishing breed back in the mid-1990s, made obsolete by environmental law and economics, but still poetic monuments to the region's industrial past. For their recent Maryhill Double installation, they constructed a scaffold-and-netting clone of a standing museum building, and perched it on a bluff overlooking the original, like some strange architectural phantom. There's often something ethereal in their work, a sense of aesthetic beauty that's more than skin deep. A few more images of the border project follow, for your viewing pleasure.