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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Phaidon and ET Modern

Walking around SoHo, the West Village, and Chelsea the other day, a couple spaces unbeknownst to me caught my eye: the Phaidon Store on Wooster Street and ET Modern, at the corner of 11th Avenue and 20th Street.

[Phaidon Store | photo by archidose]

Phaidon's third store (the other two are in London) -- open since May -- is located in a cast iron building's lofty ground floor one block west of publisher Taschen's own store. Unlike Taschen's Philippe Starck-designed trendiness, Phaidon opts for minamilism, with white cube displays inserted into a painted white space. The books, most large-format, stand out from the colorless context.

As much as I like many of Phaidon's books, this sort of store just isn't as good as an old fashioned bookstore built for browsing. For one, the books are all Phaidon, of course, so the surprise quotient is close to nil; one basically knows what they'll find at the store. And because of this limitation, the store is aimed more at tourists and other shoppers in the area, not bookstore shoppers. I didn't see a sale section, but that would be one thing that would make repeated visits worthwhile, or maybe Phaidon Atlas giveaways or book signings. This store, like Apple's numerous spaces, is a branding coup instead of a truly valuable place to shop, but of course that's about all the SoHo rents allow for these days.

Here is as good a place as any to mention Phaidon's redesigned web page, which now features an agenda and editorial content as well as the requisite information on their books and sales for those who want to pay full price. The site appears to be built from Wordpress, and combined with its black, grey and white palette, it looks like many other sites these days. Some of the better architecture-related content is in the Picture Galleries which feature projects by architects or coverage of events, like the Venice Biennale.

[ET Modern | photo by Edward Tufte]

One block north of Jean Nouvel's 100 11th Avenue is ET Modern, the new museum/gallery devoted to the work of Edward Tufte, who is best known for authoring and publishing four books on analytical design. As the photo above makes clear, this is not a gallery solely of graphic art from Tufte's books (though some is on display and for sale) but also his sculpture and photography, many centered upon his 165 acres in Cheshire and Woodbury, Connecticut. From across the street I saw the distinctive illustrations from his books and ventured over, expecting a gallery showing large-scale pieces from the books. Upon entering I quickly learned the truth from a gallery guide, and then I immediately thought of Richard Meier's sculpture hobby: in both cases from the same hand but formally disconnected from what each is known for. While I imagine Meier's hobby to be a release from his otherwise strictly rational architecture, Tufte's sculptures conceptually have a more direct connection to his books, be it 3-dimensional "escapes from flatland" or different ways of conveying things less tangible than information.

After a loop around the spaces Mr. Tufte happened to be there and introduced himself to me, telling me about the gallery/museum and his artwork. He was very willing to speak about many other things, such as his land in Connecticut (he hopes for it to become a Storm King some day), his dogs (ET Modern is dog friendly), and opinions about Frank Gehry's IAC Building a couple blocks south (it's like a bathroom tile that looks good by itself but not when it's combined with a few hundred more). Tufte gives tours of the space on Saturdays and any other time a handful of people come in the front door. The inaugural show, Multiplicity, is on display until November 27, 2010.

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