Entries in New York Magazine (3)

Tuesday
Apr052011

New York Magazine's "The Apartment Issue": Seinfeld Syndrome 

‘Seinfeld' (1990–98) Jerry Seinfeld: 129 West 81st Street, Apartment 5A

KATE BUSH: TOP OF THE CITY

SYLVESTER: LIVING FOR THE CITY

"TV shows have been stunted purposefully, so as to favorably highlight the commercials they're designed  to showcase. While these commercials have developed into a meta art-form, surreal and even funny, sitcoms have barely wavered from the anemic model drawn up by The Honeymooners: witless plots, stupid jokes, and preposterous canned laughter. Since television's invention, its shows have languished in a stare of condescending mediocrity.

In the early 1990s, however, a program of unprecedented charm and intelligence appeared, designed expressly for middle-brow tastes. Called Seinfeld, it was immediately discernible as distinct from the rest of the primetime pack. Set in NYC, it followed the misadventures of four friends who just hung out a lot.

The jokes on it were actually funny, and the writers omitted the requisite life lesson from each episode's conclusion. As opposed to traditional television, which condescendingly instructed the audience as to their correct point of view, Seinfeld was like TV's programmers, the ruling class, talking to their own. Leading men "Jerry" and "George" joked with us as one would with a buddy on the golf course.

After decades of televised abuse, viewers responded warmly, even lovingly, to programming that didn't seem to assume their idiocy. After a few rocky seasons, Seinfeld assumed its rightful place at the top of the Nielsens heap, and the people rejoiced; finally, good had triumphed over evil."

‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s' (1961) Holly Golightly: 167 East 71st Street, Apartment 2

"Following Seinfeld's appearance on network television, urban centers across the country were stunningly "revitalized": property values soared, chain stores invested and the bourgeoisie scrambled to infest the broken mettopoli they had previously shunned. Coincidence? No. Unbeknownst to Seinfeld's faithful, they were exalting a show with a mission.

Seinfeld was designed expressly to rehabilitate the blighted American city, not only as a place desirable for white people to live (the characters on the show, all white, bear the last names Costanza, Bennes, Kramer, Seinfeld, representing a pancaucasoid alliance), but as an amoral upper-class playground, where no one need act responsibly or nicely - an anti-community. On the show, the city is advertised as a place where sex is plentiful and always transmogrifying, owing to the self-replenishing flesh pool that every urban center offers up; Jerry's sex partner, for example, changes with each episode.

‘How to Marry a Millionaire' (1953) Pola, Loco, and Schatze: 36 Sutton Place South

"Seinfeld's characters, each more loathsome than the last, indulge in a selfishness unimaginable in the suburban milieus of their televised predecessors. Due to the anonymity that the city provides, there is no culpability for their actions. The program's conspiratorial tone of intimate confidentiality stems from its function as proxy mouthpiece for the ruling class through which to speak to its bourgeois counterparts.

The lack of an overt "message" in Seinfeld reflects capitalism's code: individualism and self-interest reign supreme. In one episode, when Jerry ruminates over a "black and white" cookie, he spoofs a message of racial harmony. "Look to the cookie," he says; ironically, the black and white cookie depicts a segregated world, as opposed to fudge swirl ice cream, for example."

‘Sex and the City' (2008) John Preston and Carrie Bradshaw: 1010 Fifth Avenue

"Of course, Seinfeld's characters are supposed be read as the four principle psychological components of one person, with Jerry as the ego, Kramer as the id, George as the unconscious, and Elaine as the rationalizing superego.

The cityscape in this psychological interpretation is their projection of reality, with foreign bodies as irritants, each one enforcing the conceit that humanity, except in the role of sex-toy or clown, is contemptible: an enemy agent.

Seinfeld was given the explicit approval of NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who even deigned to appear on the show. In the aftermath of the show, we must consider that Giuliani's notoriously reactionary policies were almost certainly constructed in collusion with the Seinfeld program.

Seinfeld, a half-hour situation comedy, which proudly proclaimed itself to "be about nothing," transformed the urban environment completely. The American city had been abandoned by the bourgeoisie as beyond repair: now it was "fun" and "cool" again. This phenomenon, called "Seinfeld Syndrome," is a watershed of our time."

‘Friends' (1994–2004) Monica Geller and Rachel Green: 90 Bedford Street, Apartment 20

"When NBC aired the lowbrow copy show Friends, the fate of the city was sealed, as a whole new strata of morons emigrated to its fabled dating pool.

After the Sein-Friends had finished celebrating the city's sexual appeal, a program called The Sopranos appeared, also designed for the middle class. This show proposed the suburb as teeming with vulgarian mobsters and their tacky molls: no place for Martha Stewart! The preppie migration accelerated.

The cable serial Sex and the City helped sway the final holdouts. The triumvirate of shows, Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex..., appealed to distinct and specific sub-segments of the desired target audience but were united by the singular theme of hawking the city address as a sexy and indispensable accouterment if one were to be presumed carnal and exciting."

‘Party Girl' (1995) Mary: Chinatown

"The so-called rehabilitation of American urban centers, which was predicated by the appearance of Seinfeld, was in fact a calculated arrack on the city, led by the ruling class and fought through its minions in the suburbs, who had laid siege to embattled urban residents for a half century. Like a pillaging army, suburban shock troops laid waste to all they found, precisely recreating the sterile scrip malls that characterized their homeland.

As the suburban pre-fab landscape encroached further toward the city centers, the diversity that had characterized the metropolitan center vanished, unable to resist the virulant weapons of wealth, conformity, and mediocrity. Soon, the city itself was extinct, enveloped completely by its imperialist neighbors.

The colonial arrogance of the suburban bourgeoisie was in fact indistinct from other imperialists through history: the Starbucks they constructed on every corner were echoes of the cricket fields the English had once smeared across Burma.

The city had historically been the enemy of the ruling class. Its serpentine paths and multifarious holes provided the perfect settings for 19th century Bakuninites to raise hell. To protect government from possible insurrection, bucolic cowtowns were often chosen to house the precious innards of the various regimes: Versailles, Vichy, Bonn, Washington, Brasilia. But during the years of France's Second Empire (1851-70), Louis Napoleon appointed Baron Haussmann to construct a new, more policeable Paris, which would be the template for the 20th century city."

‘The Cosby Show' (1984–1992) Cliff and Clair Huxtable: 10 Stigwood Avenue, Brooklyn

"The "Haussmannization" of Paris eradicated two-thirds of the old crowded, asymmetrical, medieval city and replaced it with a place of promenades and parks for the bourgeoisie to stroll and shop. Paving stones, the rioters' weapon of choice in the revolutions of 1789, 1830, and 1848, were covered in modern pavement, streets were widened, and slums were disassembled.

Paris's broad boulevards and defensible circles were vaunted as revolution-proof, designed for easy deployment of artillery and cavalry, and its model was enthusiastically copied, particularly in the new world. But even in the safety of the new city, the working class was still unpredictable, often radicalized, and despicable to look at.

The rise of the Paris Commune (1871) showed that strategic city planning was not a cure-all. With the opportunities presented by WWII's economic upheaval, the ruling class moved to conclusively isolate their ancient proletarian nemesis."

‘Klute' (1971) Bree Daniels: 443 West 43rd Street

"In the late Forties, the "Big Three" of Detroit, fat from war contracts, bought and demolished the nation's urban bus and light rail systems in a lightning campaign to ensure the population's total sub-servience to their "motor carriage." Lobbying Congress to build the interstate system as a tax funded "defense" device, they smashed the country's train system. From these insidious origins, the decentralized, suburban American landscape was born.

As the bourgeoisie moved from the newly desolate urban husks, the black proletariat who'd been lured north by wartime industry was economically abandoned, and "urban blight" set in. Riots, actually symptoms of this fiscal terror, were instead blamed as its root cause, as the now-dysfunctional city's wealthy refugees indignantly laid blame on the victims.

"White flight," a term designed by Madison Avenue, was marketed by the auto industry to sell cars after contriving this scenario of interracial warfare. Successful "flight," of course, was contingent on ownership of a reliable car. The so-called middle class became tourists in their own country, who motored about as self-satisfied voyeurs: "I wouldn't wanna run outta gas/break down in this neighborhood," was their mantra as they peep-showed the institutionalized poverty.

The construct of race terror had worked its paranoiac magic in prompting the population to comply with the new unspoken rule: mandatory automobile ownership. Meanwhile, the ruling class's paranoia of the compressed proletariat led them to recreate the city as a concentration camp; instead of Zyklon B, alcohol, heroin, and eventually crack were administered cheaply and efficiently to the inmates. This ensured the modern American city's new role as social scapegoat and tawdry freakshow, a place disfigured by poverty and crime: phenomena that were in turn inferred to be synonymous with "blackness." This new race construct of "black" person as marginalized social pariah incapable of rehabilitation was a psychological breakthrough for the ruling elite, useful as invocation for social control."

‘Do the Right Thing' (1989) Mookie and Jade: Stuyvesant Avenue near Lexington Avenue

"Generations were weaned on this orthodoxy, indoctrinated via TV serials such as Sanford and Son, Good Times, What's Happening, and their suburban white counterpart programs The Brady Bunch, Three's Company et al. The miscegenation that would rarely occur on these shows always underlined the essential conditions incurred by race; the black children on Diff'rent Strokes were poor and from the "inner city," while the white father was a blue-blooded Park Avenue CEO (the Eighties version of a plantation owner). All the urban comedies were predicated on the idea that the city was a miserable place, the black man's inherited burden to bear. Later oddities, such as The Cosby Show and Martin, were merely portents of the approaching gentrifiers.

In 1989; after seventy years of capitalist attrition, the Soviet Union began its collapse: this meant that, in the US and internationally, political discontents were psychologically isolated, radical ideology was extinct, and the threat of the working class no longer raised executives' eyebrows. Meanwhile, with industry exported overseas, there was no need to retain an urban black "underclass" as racial foil to control and manipulate the American proletariat. In the same year, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld began work on the pilot for The Seinfeld Chronicles, the show that would emerge as Seinfeld. Coincidence? Once again, no...

The bourgeoisie's abandonment of the city and subsequent return had coincided precisely with the parameters of the Cold War. The suburbs had been presented as a futurist utopia by big oil and GM at the '39 World's Fair, were constructed feverishly under Truman and Eisenhower, and then were suddenly shunned under Clinton, upon the dissolution of the USSR and with the appearance of Seinfeld."

‘Taxi Driver' (1976) Travis Bickle: Address unknown

"Though it was promoted as a sitcom, Seinfeld was really a commercial designed to promote the city as the rightful home for the elite. With the threat of class war vanquished, the rulers determined the city to be the most effective device for delivering goods, showcasing products and inculcating the population with "the Joneses" - the desire to live up to the standard set by the fashion, beauty, and luxury industries.

The city was reborn as the super mall, its allure augmented by its storied history, born of the diversity which would be abolished. Cheap white labor, in the form of aspiring artists, could be lured via this history, mythologized in books which marketed the city through the very idiosyncratic or marginal character its advertisers had helped to systematically exterminate.

The city's new privileged inhabitants would wear their city's outlaw image as a badge of honor and even venerate it with fervor, fiercely proud of a history they had never experienced, let alone contributed to -like suburbanites living on a Civil War battlefield and boasting about Pickett's charge.

In a sense, though, they earned bragging rights: the city's premium rents and boutique prices came with this fantasy narrative. Ethnic cleansing would be accomplished via eviction: the mass deportation that had worked so well on the Native Americans.

The indigenous city people, who had survived urban blight, gangs, systemic unemployment, police brutality, the state-sponsored crack epidemic, and PCP, finally met their match when faced with Seinfeld Syndrome."

ESSAY TEXT, "SEINFELD SYNDROME" BY IAN SVENONIUS, TAKEN FROM THE BOOK THE PYSCHIC SOVIET, DRAG CITY, 2006; ALL IMAGES AND CAPTIONS VIA NEW YORK MAGAZINE, "THE HOME ON SCREEN" BY DAN KOIS, APRIL 3, 2011



Tuesday
Mar222011

Jeremiah Goodman & Thomas Persson in Conversation: Acne Paper #11

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[2]

"The elegant brushstrokes of Jeremiah Goodman have dazzled art directors, decorators, designers, and the rich and famous for almost seven decades. Growing up as an impoverished Jewish butcher's son during the Great Depression, Jeremiah's dream of more glamorous surroundings was brought about by this rare talent for capturing the spirit of an interior, skillfully reflecting the personality who shaped it. By creating numerous remarkable covers for Interior Design magazine and countless illustrated advertisements for Lord & Taylor, a department store for which his style was a signature for 35 years, the commercial artist became a one-of-a-kind celebrity portrait painter of rooms. On a recent trip to new York Jeremiah welcomed us into his stunning uptown apartment to show his new paintings of artist's studios, especially made for this issue, and to talk with us about the imaginative mode of his interiors, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, the struggle of making it against all odds, and how, at 87, he still gets his creative juices flowing."

MODEST MOUSE: PEOPLE AS PLACES AS PEOPLE

Jeremiah Goodman working in Haiti, 1947

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[4L/4R]

"Thomas Persson: Jeremiah, it is so nice to finally meet you properly. Jeremiah Goodman: Thomas, if we met fifty years ago, we would have met improperly. TP: [Laughs] I've been thinking about our last phone conversation when you quoted Mae West, saying: "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough." Looking back, you've had a pretty amazing life... JG: Yeah, I did. But I don't know how to embellish it more than that. It just moved along. Now, unfortunately, I'm going to be 88 and I still feel immature. TP: Because you are young at heart. JG: It's the only place left. TP: I hope I'll be in as good shape as you if I ever get to be 88. Now, let's talk about your house in the East Hamptons where you used to have a great studio, a beautiful room that you have painted in this portfolio. Your friend Dean told me you bought the house in a derelict state. JG: How simplistic shall I make it? TP: In any form or tone you want. JG: Well, I was on the beach with friends in real estate and a mutual friend of ours, Kate, said she knew of some great barns that were available. I bought it for 18,000 dollars. This is in 1957. TP: Was it a house you used especially for entertaining in those days? JG: Yeah, it was great but I don't think I should go any further on that subject [laughs]. Well, I can say that the mighty Hermione Gingold was staying with me. while she was appearing in the theatre there. So, of course, all these social women and men wanted to meet her. They got to be so sticky about it that I decided to throw a party for her. I invited 100 guys and named the party "100 men and a girl". TP: [Laughs] Your studio there looked so elegant, white and spacious, full of books... JG: The studio was almost too clean for most people. It certainly wasn't like Francis Bacon's. I ended up doing my Lord & Taylor ads there. I used to go there in spring and stayed until September. It was wonderful. TP: Looking at the selection of artwork in your book, Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision, I wonder how you read a room when you enter it and how you translate its atmosphere into a painting. JG: Well, the truth is that it's more about a private memory in my mind than the actuality of it. That's always been the way I have thought of rooms - their spirit – and yet to give the information of the room and not going into total abstraction. TP: You master it very well because you get the details of the furniture, you get the texture of the fabrics, and with only a few brushstrokes you can evoke a very elaborate object, like an opulent chandelier. But then there is this incredible sense of mood, the feeling of being in the room that you manage to create. In a way you belong to a tradition of artists who have made their careers painting rooms and interiors, such as Alexandre Serebriakoff who did drawings of the Hotel Lambert in Paris, for instance. But these drawings are more like an account of a room - a description, which is very different from your style. JG: Well, they are done without emotion and that's not my interest. I mean, what do you want to see? It's ten times better if Yves Saint Laurent does a sweep of a drawing than somebody else drawing all the buttons up the back. My interest is the feeling of light and again, the romantic quality of the picture. That's the thing I'm trying to do. And, hopefully, that the person who sees them receives them in that spirit. TP: You have· a particular fondness for a Brazilian word, saudade meaning a mysterious longing. You have said that this word is an inspiration to your work. JG: Yes, it is the most marvellous word. We don't have that word in our vocabulary. It is about a feeling of having been somewhere before. It is similar to dreams and you feel that you had another life because it is so foreign to your actual life, and that the reality of your dream bewilders you. Saudade means a longing for something that you can't quite put your finger on. Like a longing to go back to Venice and walk along one of those strange streets in the fog and hoping that something very exciting is going to happen to you. Exactly what, you don't know. But secretly, you do, but you can't print that. TP: [Laughs] It reminds me of something Mr Pearl talks about in this issue, about walking in the streets of Paris and feeling the spirits, feeling the people that have lived there before. JG: Yes, Paris can have that feeling of mystery and romance. Have you been to the Camondo Museum? It is something you should reintroduce in your magazine. The Camondos were a Sephardic Jewish family who owned one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire and became enormously wealthy before the First World War. Comte Mo'ise de Camondo had a son, Nissim, that he adored, but who was killed during the war. At the time, Camondo was building this incredible mansion for his son to give to him on the day when he got married. Nissim never got that chance, but his father finished the house and then closed it up.You can go there today and everything is exactly the way it ~ould have been if his son had returned. It's the most elegant house. TP: Talking of elegant houses, when I look at the drawings you did of rooms from when you were as young as 14 you were already remarkably skilled, so close to being a fully developed illustrator. Your parents must have been aware that they had something very special in you. JG: Yes, to the extent that when my dad had a chance to get a job, which was in another city, and not anything well paid at all, they stayed on in Buffalo because I had this opportunity to go to an art high school. They stayed on for me to be able to do that, which was amazing."

Edward Albee's loft, New York City

 

"TP: Tell me about your parents. Your father was a butcher. JG: Well, yes. My mother and father met in New York City, then went to the coal mining section of Pennsylvania. They both spoke Polish and Russian, and my mother also spoke some German. At least she said she did. They had a general store and became impoverished, because, during the coal mine strike, they let people charge food and supplies at their store, and they got busted, went out of business and moved to Niagara Falls where they opened a small grocery store – a meat market. TP: And when you were nine you and your family moved to Buffalo where, by coincidence, there was a very good art high school. JG: Yes, with no fewer than five art teachers, all first class. One of them was an incredible American/German teacher called Elizabeth Weiffenbach and she did something so ahead of her time, even for now. When we started our classes she asked us what our ambitions were. I said that I wanted to be a Hollywood set designer. and after that I was permitted to carry out all my art projects with that in mind. If the assignment had to do with Scotland, I would design stage sets for Macbeth. That's how I began to acquire the skills to paint interiors. I wanted to go to Hollywood and be a set designer. That was my goal, always, right from the start. TP: This was during the Great Depression. JG: Oh yeah, and I was crazy about all these escape things. When I was about ten years old I saw a movie called Broadway Melody. It was about two small-town girls who came to New York City to become Broadway stars and they ended up as chorus girls. At the last moment, before the opening night, the star of the show couldn't appear. So one of the girls got their chance. After the show, the girl who suddenly became a star is asked out by a playboy. After being out all night she goes back to her room, to her girlfriend who is weeping alone in her bed. She undresses, gets into bed, and lets her arm fall over towards the other girl, and there's a huge diamond bracelet on her arm. And I thought, "Isn't that neat! To go out for one night and get a diamond bracelet!""

Jeremiah Goodman's studio, East Hampton

 

[5L/5R]

"TP: And when you were 18 you "greyhounded" to New York City to try your luck yourself. JG: Well, you know, for some reason I had in my head that I would survive all the unfortunate things that were in my way, such as getting a job, which was hard to get at that time. But somehow I put little pieces together and got going. It was a certain naivete that I think came from seeing Hollywood movies, such as this story of the chorus girl. I think I always had that thing embedded in me - that something wonderful would happen. Sometimes people would say, "Oh don't bother going there, they are not hiring people" or "You are not the son of person they are looking for". Quite often, I did go anyway, I wasn't aggressive but I always hoped some magical piece of luck would come my way, TP: And it did ... JG: Yes. And other times it didn't. I can tell you I did a lot of crying privately. A lot of dreadful things happened to me - huge disappointments. But New York has changed tremendously. When I came to the city, to see a black person in a department store was a shocker. The big thing about New York now is the ease and acceptance of everyone. Much, much more than it was before. I distinctly remember telling my relations that I was going to apply for a job at one of the department stores, and they said, "Don't bother, they don't hire Jews," It was always this attitude of, "Why do you try? You are not going to get there." It always amazed me how mean people could be, for no reason at all. I found that there could be a lot of bewildering resentment, in many ways, about a person. The only good thing about all the bad things that happened to me was that I lost a lot of weight and I thought that was worth all the torture. TP: I think as creative people we are often very vulnerable and it makes such a huge difference meeting people who see you for what you are and help you because they like you and think you are talented. Meeting people like that is a very positive upward spiral and suddenly one feels that life can be quite magical. For instance, when you met the British actor John Gielgud in the late 1940s he invited you to England, It was a trip that changed a lot of things for you. JG: Oh, absolutely. What amazed me in England was that even though I had so many strikes against me - being American, being gay, being poor, being Jewish, being whatever, not connected - so many people were wonderful to me there. I think that English people had much more respect for talent. Through John I met so many people who made their houses accessible for me to 'paint, They all seemed to' love houses and being illustrative. TP: When you did your paintings of rooms back then, you used to sit there in the actual room painting the interior portraits. JG: Yes, in the beginning I did. My first go of painting in England was very difficult because there wasn't much electrical lighting in these places. And if you did use lights it could blow the whole thing up. And also the damp weather created a different technique for me. That part has held me in good state because I sort of naturally paint according to the atmosphere of the climate of the place. TP: And when you came back to New York you meet Harry Rodman, the marvelous art director of the department store Lord & Taylor, where you began your career illustrating their newspaper advertising. JG: Yes, and Harry Rodman was absolutely unique - unique and a blessing. He was the dream person that just doesn't happen. He truly believed in getting his artists to express themselves. He probably had seven or eight separate artists working at Lord & Taylor, like Dorothy Hood for fashion, Carl Wilson, who was a brilliant men's fashion illustrator, and he had Arnold Hall who did interiors, and his wife. Helen Hall, who was a fashion illustrator and very important, particularly known for doing young people's fashions. When Helen and Arnold went away to Europe on vacation, I somehow had the opportunity to step in, and I never left."

[6L/6R]

Picasso's studio, Vallauris

 

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"TP: You were with Lord & Taylor for 35 years, and during those years, illustration was still a big part of the advertising world. JG: Yes, and Harry Rodman had this very incredible idea to not be specific about a dress or an object. TP: Why? JG: Because they felt that if a woman came there and didn't find the dress in the ad, they didn't want her to walk out. They wanted her to feel that if that dress didn't fit her, there would be something else because the illustration presented itself as a look that she would think grand or wonderful. It was the mood that counted. TP: Harry Rodman said: "Jeremiah, there isn't anything that you can't do if you just put your mind to it." JG: Yes, and it was just so wonderful against the experience of Conde Nast where everyone felt that they couldn't keep their job unless they found a flaw somewhere in your drawings. I was very fortunate to have met him, to have that amazing bit o fluck. TP: How important do you think luck is in life? JG: Well, I think you have to know when luck does come your way. You have to be able to recognize it. I think it's about not closing the door but always leaving it open. TP: I feel very lucky to have met you, Jeremiah. Thank you so much for this interview and for the beautiful portfolio of work that you have done especially for this issue of our magazine. JG: You know, Thomas, I keep being conflicted by people saying, "For Christ's sake, give it up!" But I can say this: I am 87 years old and I'm still doing it. I really feel alive when I do. Not that it's easy for me to get to the drawing board, but I do get certain energy from it. I'm so amazed at how things can still happen. It's like the mail. It can be weeks of just getting dreary ads, or even a notice that you have to do jury duty. But then you suddenly experience something that respects your talent, and that to me is the wonderful part."

Picasso's studio, Vallauris

ALL IMAGES OF WORK BY JEREMIAH GOODMAN TAKEN FROM ACNE PAPER #11; INTERVIEW WITH JEREMIAH GOODMAN BY THOMAS PERSSON, ALSO TAKEN FROM ACNE PAPER #11; PHOTOS OF JEREMIAH GOODMAN'S NEW YORK APARTMENT, [1-4, 7-8] BY HEATHER CLAWSON FOR HABITUALLY CHIC, SEPTEMBER 28, 2010; [5,6] BY WENDY GOODMAN FOR NEW YORK MAGAZINE, AUGUST 27, 2010

Friday
Dec312010

The House & Garden Blues, New York Magazine, April 28, 1975 [ORG. POSTED 9.19.10]

"The House & Garden Blues" by Joan Kron, ©1975, reprinted here with the kind permission of the author:

“Come the decorating revolution, the first big furniture-mover to “get it” might be Mary Jane Pool. The radical unchic will break down her eight-foot high office door, lacquered mercury gray (Benjamin Moore); put their feet on her gray (Formica) Parsons table (custom made); defoliate the Reigar begonias (Jean-Jacques Bloos); empty the wicker hampers (imported from Colombia); dump the potpourri (imported from San Francisco) on the gray wall-to-wall; scribble “Down With Ambience” on the mirrored screen (Sutton Glass); and detain this curly-headed (Kenneth) \ pen pal of the National Association of Manufacturers in a lock-up with old plumbing and a view of a trailer camp.

But the editor-in-chief of House & Garden will not live decoratively impoverished for long. If Mary Jane Pool could survive working under Diana Vreeland at Vogue, she can make over a jail. Before you can say “the positive power of color,” it will be “pretty, pretty, pretty.” Cells will become “living-baths”; beds will become “banquettes”; floors will be stenciled with bitter coffee; cracked plaster walls will be called “the timeless art of pargeting”; everything in sight will be slipcovered somehow; trees will be grown indoors; and classes will be given in basket-weaving.

When the transformation is complete, she will make a deal (her specialty) to have Horst (her favorite photographer) take pictures. And as always, he will keep taking them until Mary Jane Pool says they are right. Then, to avoid a fate worse than death (letting the pictures fall into the hands of House Beautiful, the New York Times Sunday magazine, or Architectural Digest), she will escape down a rope of flowered sheets (smuggled in by her average readers-38.3-year-old suburban women) and hurry back to her office, because as anyone in or out of Conde Nast can tell you, Mary Jane Pool doesn’t trust anyone else at House & Garden to decide which of the 400 photos to use.

Welcome to fantasyland. The tasteful, wasteful, wonderful, knife-in-the-back-page world of the shelter magazines. Perhaps you’d recognize them if I called them decorating magazines, since they’re devoted (in the religious sense of the word) to the aesthetics of the home. How to decorate your lean-to by emulating the palace of Versailles.”

“I’m not laughing at the shelter magazines. I’m laughing at myself for loving them so. Other people have their detective stories, sci-fi, or skin magazines. I prefer a penthouse to Penthouse. My favorite escapist literature is a shelter book. But I’m particular — I like to look at high-priced spreads. That’s why the “mass” shelter books, like 60-cent Better Homes and Gardens (circulation 8 million), 60-cent American Home (circulation 2.6 million), 75-cent Sunset (circulation 1.3 million) and 95-cent Apartment Life (circulation 550,000) don’t grab me. They are too affordable.

Give me the “class shelters”: $1 House Beautiful (circulation 871,000), $1 House & Garden (circulation 1.1 million), and the even classier, rejuvenated Architectural Digest (circulation 150,000), which is so toney it costs $2.95 and is sold only in high rent districts.

My shelter magazines and I have been through twenty-odd years of trends together: dark green walls, beige wall-to-wall, earth tones; Shibui; Frank Lloyd Wright; Robsjohn-Gibbings; the living kitchen; pattern-on-pattern, super graphics; family rooms; dining areas; his-and-her baths; and innumerable how-to’s that I still don’t know how-to. And now I am preparing to integrate the Bicentennial look into my all-white banquetted living room.

A prurient interest in decorating is called “nesting voyeurism” by anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell. He uses about ten shelter magazines in his course at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “We analyze houses,” Birdwhistell says. “If there’s anything important in the species, it’s nest building. Even if it’s fantasy. Most of the houses in those [decorating] magazines are no more for people than the clothes in Harper’s Bazaar. They’re metahouses. Not real. It’s folklore, like Emily Post.”

I’d better not seat Birdwhistell next to House & Garden editor-in-chief Mary Jane Pool at a dinner party. “We at House & Garden are reporting about living in America. Living, living, living,” she says.

Nor will I seat her next to an important decorator who says, “The shelter magazines are managed fantasy.” But it’s no figment of anyone’s imagination that Americans spend $21 billion a year on furniture and appliances. And they buy more than basic survival furnishings. They buy, or try to buy, what sociologists call “impression management.” Status. Each according to her insecurity — often above her means. Keeping up with the Armstrong-Joneses.

To integrate all these purchases into our lives, we need decorating advice. “The houses in the $1-and-up decorating magazines,” says Birdwhistell, “are for the insecure upper-middle class who have never learned to nest, just to live on a stage. They have departed so far from the original nest that now nesting is almost by prescription.”

And the prescriptions are being written by the editors’ of the decorating magazines.”

“Missouri’s Mary Jane Pool rules the roost at Conde Nast’s’ House & Garden. Forty-five and holding, she looks a bit like Elsa Lanchester. Small boned and fair skinned, she’s up to the minute, as her Elsa Peretti belt buckle and curly hair prove. She understudied for years at Vogue (also a Conde Nast publication), where she started in 1946 after being runner-up in Vogue’s Prix de Paris. She went from art to merchandising to promotion director to executive editor.

Pool-watchers say her executive style is in the tradition of Vogue-the Queen Bee school. “She goes to the furniture markets like the goose with seven goslings behind her… she’s insecure. She wants no identification for her editors. House & Garden is one of the few books that don’t use by-lines on decorating features. She doesn’t want any of her people to have clout in the market. She makes every decision. The editors are always saying, ‘I’ll have to ask Mary Jane.’ She hires talented people and locks them up. She wastes them because she’s afraid of competition.”

To her credit, it’s said that when she came to House & Garden in the late sixties, she uncluttered the look of the rooms in its pages. “In those days,” said one shelter buff, “the look in decorating was pattern-an-pattern. There was so much of it, you could have slashed your wrists.”

Nowadays, H. & G. is strong on decorating, food, entertaining, and how-to. And of course, since 1946 it’s had its House & Garden color program which ties in with hundreds of manufacturers. Get ready for the pale look. It’s on its way, says Mary Jane Pool.

Ms. Pool is known to be extra opinionated about more than color. “She has a fetish about banquette living,” says one Pool knowledgeable. “She was instrumental in promoting slipcovers. She also likes diagonal furniture arrangements, fat pillows that match the sofa, baskets, purple, and cool, crisp cottons. Which isn’t bad,” says the informer. “It’s just not the only look.”

But it’s come to be called the House & Garden look. “There is no such thing as the House & Garden look,” says Ms. Pool. “For years we’ve been telling people to do their own thing, and now they’re doing it.”

House & Garden has more opportunities to editorialize (“We don’t preach”) about design because it has its own photo studio (unlike House Beautiful and Architectural Digest). Editors do room mock-ups to push merchandise tie-ins with manufacturers. Freed from the constraints of real homes done by idiosyncratic decorators, the H. & G. decorating squad can synthesize ideas that they’ve picked up from the professionals. The end result is a book that holds together graphically, but it might be compared to eating chicken a la king four days out of seven. H. & G.’s studio rooms are often soft, puffy, and pale, or one color. The same favored accessories are used over and over. H.& G. comments on art by what it leaves out. You’ll see more pictureless walls in its pages than in any other decorating magazine. (Behind the art policy is Conde Nast’s Alex Liberman.)”

House Beautiful is a Hearst publication. Editor Wallace Guenther is a 45 year-old Hugh Hefner look-alike. But he’s very cordial. A sophisticated hayseed, he runs the H.B. show from behind a cluttered Herman Miller desk. Guenther calls himself “a beige person.” He took over the 79-year-old magazine in 1969. He came direct from Los Angeles, where his career progressed from copyboy to sports writer at the Los Angeles Daily News, and, at the Los Angeles Times, from copy editor to editor of the Sunday Home magazine.

“People care about religion, politics, and decorating,” says Guenther. So these days H.B. is stressing decorating, remodeling, and table settings. Under his leadership, H.B. has retired pattern-an-pattern (“The readers told us they didn’t like it”). Instead, he’s giving them Eclectic (“which people can’t pronounce”), renamed “The Mix” (which they can), The New Romanticism, and Country Chic.

It’s hard to figure out what H.B. is against decoratively. It shows the work of more designers than H. & G., especially the lesser knowns. This contributes to the generally fluctuating level of taste in the book. Shelter-watchers define H. & G. as society-oriented and H.B. as celebrity-oriented.

Architectural Digest is both. A typical A.D. mix might include a baroque castle, an Italian palazzo, a few fabulous penthouses, some celebrity digs — recent choices were the Robert Redfords and Barbara Walters. “Your name keeps coming up,” I told 41-year-old A.D. editor Paige Rense. “Yes, I know, we’re the hot one.” Fifty-five-year-old Architectural Digest, a bimonthly, has put heavy emphasis on interiors for the last twelve years.

“When I was growing up at Hollywood High,” says the vivacious Ms. Rense, “Billy Baldwin was my hero instead of Alan Ladd.” Rense did her basic training in advertising, public relations, and freelance writing. When she came to the Los Angeles-based A.D. five years ago, she was considered just a “little editor,” until she started biting into the other shelter magazines’ readership and pushed circulation from 55,000 to today’s 150,000. Its readers, “an affluential audience,” have a median income of S37,970 a year. A.D. is so toney, editor Rense calls H.B. and H. & G. “mass” magazines.

“Our objectives are different from theirs,” she says. “My aim is to be like a European art book, like Connaissance des Arts. We don’t do how-to stories, or predict trends. No Architectural Digest blue this month. We show what the top designers in the world are doing.”

And they’re not doing budget jobs for the most part, although, Rense says, “We won’t show houses just because they’re expensive. I turned down about twenty million-dollar houses in the past year.” But no matter who the celebrity or how expensive the decor, Rense, like Pool, has pet hates. “I’ve seen all the Boston ferns I care to see. I won’t show leopards on the floor. But I can’t fight the zebras, there are too many of them. My most hated color is bilious green. I won’t run shag rugs, and I crop out all little white ceramic frogs, porcelain cheetahs, and acoustical ceilings. One got in once, but it won’t happen again. We’ve changed art directors since then.”

You can’t be too demanding in this business. Well-designed houses are to shelter magazines what blood is to vampires. “The magazines,” says one shelter-watcher, “are as empty as paper bags looking for something to put inside.”

“But special is hard to find. “I rejected five or six hundred homes last year,” says Paige Rense. If decorating magazines reject so many homes, how do they find the right places? Generally, the magazines find houses before they’re finished, via word of mouth and scouts.

House Beautiful and House & Garden, which are edited in New York, have scouts all over the country. Architectural Digest has six scouts in New York-photographers, writers, social butterflies, architects, and designers. And just to make sure she’s not missing out, Rense comes east herself two or three times a year to pop in on the “New York interior-design who’s who”; they give her guided tours of their latest work. “I prefer the resident not to be home when I come looking,” she says. “It’s ghastly when the owner is there with the tea and cakes and you can see it means so much to them.”

Mary Jane Pool makes European and cross-country tours as well. Like Paige Rense, she inspects homes that have been staked out by scouts beforehand. But you don’t need 007 to tell you that when Pool heads west, she heads for San Francisco designer Michael Taylor.

House & Garden seems to have the Michael Taylor franchise,” Paige Rense says. “But there’s enough of his work to go around.” Let’s hope so, because to make matters more’ complicated, you’ll never see the same house in two shelter magazines if the editor can help it. Getting the best house is paramount, and virginity is a prerequisite. “We like fresh material,” says H. & G.’s Mary Jane Pool. “Our policy,” says H.B.’s Guenther, “is, we don’t want any other decorating magazine to have the rooms first.” A.D.’s Rense says, “We must be the first in the world to show it.”

The exceptions to that rule are Interiors and Interior Design magazines, small-circulation trade publications. Another exception, under certain circumstances, is the New York Times Sunday magazine, which publishes two pages of “Design” each week. “I can’t take those two black-and-white pages in the Times seriously,” says A.D.’s Paige Rense. But she won’t use anything that was shown first in the Times’s once-a-year decorating supplement. H.B. and H. & G. have similar attitudes.

Vogue and Town & Country compete too; both show expensive residences in their pages. And the shelter magazines forbid previous publication of their homes in these magazines as well. It’s enough to make a designer a nervous wreck.

The interaction involved in placing a home in the shelters takes the footwork of Fred Astaire. Then why suffer?

Because there is no better way to certify your taste and acquire status than by getting your home published in one of the shelters. Especially for decorators and designers. With designers, it’s publish or perish. They need the certification more than the clients. Even Mrs. Onassis allowed her den to be published for the sake of her designer, Harrison Cultra.

So why not your house?

Let’s say you just completed your living room. It’s divine, if you say so yourself. All your friends say it’s pretty enough to be in House Beautiful. Unless you were born with a dramatic imagination or have hired one, your chances of getting your house published are slim. The rule is, don’t call us, we’ll call you. But if it’s really good, they’ll all call. Then you have to choose just one magazine.

Okay, the match is made. If the house is promised to Architectural Digest, the designer or owner has to pay for the pictures himself and supervise the shooting with an A.D.-approved photographer. (They pick up the tab, however, on celebrity homes.) But if it’s going into H. & G. or H.B., the publication sends the photographer and foots the bill. (With the Times it depends.)

If the house is promised to House & Garden, there may be some changes made-just a little artistic license. First, enough plants and flowers to open a florist’s are brought in. Then some throw pillows .are added; napkins enough for a year of dinner parties; assorted coffee-table knickknacks; some paintings, preferably abstract; and no fewer baskets than the gross national product of some emerging nation. Somehow, when H. & G. gets done, it has its look.

“Do you make major changes in a room when you photograph it?” I asked Ms. Pool. “Very seldom,” she said without batting an eyelash.

House & Garden is not the only magazine that pins leaves on trees-it’s standard procedure. But the consensus is that House & Garden has raised the practice to an art.
Now they’ve taken the H.B., A.D., or H. & G. picture. The famous approved photographer has spent the day, or two or three, shooting from every angle. The fact that a hole has been burned in the carpet is quel dommage.

You’ve survived the photo. You sit back and wait impatiently for the issue. Let’s say you gave your house to House & Garden. Chances are they’ll be back to rephotograph. Mary Jane Pool has a reputation for finding something very small in the corner of the picture that turns her off. It’s often the flowers. “She used to love amaryllis,” insiders say. But one day, the story goes, the amaryllis in the photo was listing to the side. “Amaryllis is supposed to stand up,” she reportedly said. “Reshoot it with narcissus.”

But even· if Ms. Pool approves the flowers, H. & G. could still stage a comeback. Maybe editorial director Alex Liberman nixes the art. So they reshoot the picture with a new painting. And another truckload of fresh flowers, etc. Again you wait for the issue. Actually, they were never crazy about your house, but they didn’t want anyone else to have it. Or maybe the interior designer has fallen from grace. Who knows? You’re still waiting.

Even when the shelter magazines do print the pictures, there are complaints. “They reduce your work too much or just use part of it” is the standard cry. That’s why so many people want to get into Architectural Digest, where each home gets star treatment. A.D. won’t run just one room.

Graphically, each magazine has its own style too. Graphic designer Milton Glaser describes A.D. as “discreet … no excess … like an art book. I’d like to read it.” Glaser says House Beautiful’s layout is “busy, cluttered, confused. One picture is mortised into the corner of another. Words are overprinted on photos. Confusing change of typefaces. Shopping information is separated from the pictures, making it virtually unavailable. Hard to read.”

And ditto for House & Garden, he says. He’s equally unsparing of the covers. “A disaster.”

But Mary Jane Pool is not worried about her covers. What she’s worried about is Architectural Digest. According to the grapevine, House & Garden is about to get a major overhaul by Alex Liberman. It’s not that sales are slipping. It’s not that ads are slipping. What’s slipping are the best houses — into the hands of Paige Rense and the pages of Architectural Digest. Now the knock-out Firestone house by designers Easton and LaRocca is going to A .D., and that’s the last straw basket.

There is one way for Mary Jane Pool to get even. Paige Rense wants any of Truman Capote’s houses more than anything in the world. Will Mary Jane beat her to it? Tune in for the next twelve months.”

 

ALL TEXT TAKEN FROM “THE HOUSE & GARDEN BLUES” AS WRITTEN BY JOAN KRON, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, APRIL 28, 1975; ALL IMAGES TAKEN FROM THE OCTOBER, 2010 ISSUE OF ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST