Saturday, May 26, 2007

Collapse of Florida condo boom a harbinger of things to come in overbuilt Madison?

Real estate is cyclical everywhere, but nowhere more so than in Florida, where the boom-bust cycle has always been more dramatic than elsewhere and where, when the market bottoms out, the low can have all the ferocity of a tropical depression whipping up a hurricane. So, Florida isn't necessarily a good example of anything except the fact that it's a wild and crazy place. Still, the report in today's NY Times is enough to make you stop and think.
As dozens of condominium towers conceived during Florida’s real estate boom near completion, investors who snatched up units in the preconstruction phase in hopes of turning a quick profit are increasingly trying to break contracts, even walking away from fat deposits.

“Motivated” sellers are flooding online forums like Craigslist with advertisements for condo units still months or years from being finished. And lawyers have been inundated with calls from people hoping to avoid closing on units they bought during the speculative craze of 2004 and 2005.
Madison's housing economics are far different from the speculative frenzy that grips the Florida coast from time to time. However, some parts of the article do have a familiar ring.
“When you drive by in the daytime, they are gorgeous,” Mr. McCabe said. “But when you drive by at night, there’s no furniture on the patios and only one light on out of 10.”
Hmm... Couldn't happen here, could it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Condos after Dark: 100 Wisconsin Avenue


One of Madison's most spectacular condos, the Mullins Group's 100 Wisconsin Avenue has also been one of the most successful, in part because of its location on the Square with stunning views of the Capitol. You might say it feeds the Overture Center's condo magnet.

The connection was made explicit a couple of years ago, when the Art League of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art took guests inside some of the condo's luxury units in its Art & Architecture Tour. It was a fundraiser for the MMoCA and a way to maintain a downtown art presence while the museum was closed during the later phases of Overture Center construction. Madison magazine provided a preview.
Indeed, the view was one of the main selling points for Karen Claffey-Koller. She and her husband William were thinking of downsizing from their 6000-square-foot lakefront Shorewood Hills home when they first heard about the then-proposed building at 100 Wisconsin. They agreed that if the project materialized, they would consider moving to the square. After all, downtown was becoming more of a destination before Overture Center was even on the horizon. Other condominiums were cropping up, and new restaurants were drawing the couple downtown long before they lived there.

When 100 Wisconsin got the green light, Claffey-Koller says they knew they had to act. "It was now or never," she says. So they chose an eleventh-floor unit on the south side of the building. "We thought living on the square with a view of the capitol was on par with living on the water."

Once inside Claffey-Koller's new home, it is hard to argue with that logic. Looking ahead from the foyer, the capitol dome occupies nearly the entire field of vision. Like the bright screen in a dark movie theater, this visual commands your eyes and refuses to let you look away. Move closer and the rest of the square comes into view, as do two patches of Lake Monona. Nearly every vantage point in the 2200-square-foot condominium is amazing -- even the exercise room has a view of Lake Mendota, but it is that first glimpse of the capitol that will stop you in your tracks.

"It's pretty cool," Claffey-Koller agrees. "The capitol view was number one for us."
Have you always harbored a secret desire for a high-altitude view of the Capitol? More information about 100 Wisconsin Avenue is available at their website.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Edward Hopper: Shadowed by the light


Edward Hopper, “Sun in an Empty Room” (1963) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Step back from an Edward Hopper painting, or just squint your eye, and it could almost be a color photograph. You also get the effect if you simply reduce the scale. Type "Edward Hopper" into Google's image search, and the small thumbnail images scroll down the screen like color slides.

It's tempting to think of Hopper as a photographer with a brush instead of a lens. But look more closely, and you'll see they're photographs of scenes that never were or never could be. Hopper never painted from photographs, and the "photographic" illusion produced by his paintings is just that -- an illusion. Their apparent realism is the realism of dreams, not photography's more literal realism. For example, in "Sun in an Empty Room," the crossbar in the window frame casts no shadow (contrast the real photograph of a real window, below).

Nevertheless, Hopper has always fascinated photographers and stimulated their imaginations. There are a number of Hopper groups on Flickr, filled with photographs by people like Yannick Vigouroux. Paris, avril 2007 by Vigouroux is posted in two of these groups and his photo page has links to them: HOPPEResque and WINDOWS (a tribute to Edward Hopper & Henri Matisse...) The photos by members of these groups are inspired by Hopper or are homages to him. Look closely, and you'll get a sense for what is painterly in Hopper's work and distinguishes it from photography and yet what, at the same time, continues to haunt the photographic imagination. So many Edward Hopper paintings look like stills from movies in his mind -- often establishing shots, just before the action starts.

It's all about the light -- a certain kind of light that we've come to think of as Hopperesque. Outdoors, it's the slanting light of early morning or late afternoon, raking across the picture plane. Indoors, it's the dreamlike, incandescent glow of urban alienation set against the encroaching darkness, the light of film noir. And where no light falls, the shadows are photographic in their opacity.

In his NYT review of the new Hopper retrospective at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Holland Cotter considers the light.
A certain slant of light was Edward Hopper’s thing. And he made it our thing, hard-wired it into our American brains: white late-morning light scraping across a storefront; twilight, plangent with heat and regret, settling over a city; slabs of late-night lamplight chilling the walls of Lonely Hearts Hotels everywhere.

Hopper once said that, as an artist, the only thing he ever aspired to do was to paint “sunlight on the side of a house,” and that, in essence, is all he did.
Carter writes of "light breaking the world into squares and rectangles, dark and bright, exposing it, hiding it, before moving on" as being central to Hopper's art.
This is the essence, the only drama, of “Sun in an Empty Room,” the last painting in the show. Done in 1963, four years before Hopper’s death, it is what it says: an image of contained space. There’s a window; the trees outside it look wind-whipped, but you can’t hear the wind. Inside is all blank walls and wheat-and-honey-colored sunlight, the two things Hopper loved best and felt comfortable with. He doesn’t strain for a story here, or a sentiment, or skill, or completion, which all but the best of his art tries too hard for. Maybe that’s why this is the least gimmicky painting in “Edward Hopper,” and the only happy one, and the most lucid.
Lucid, yes, but I'm not so sure about "happy," which seems to strip the painting of its emotional resonance. It's known that Hopper originally planned to paint a seated female figure, as in some of his other window paintings, but that he changed his mind. "Sunlight in an Empty Room" seems haunted by a sense of absence and the artist's sense that the light he loves will endure, but he will not.

Gail Levin commented on this touch of melancholy during a 1996 interview when she published her critically acclaimed biography, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography.
One of my big discoveries is the meaning of light for Hopper. People love the way he makes so much of sunlight and of illumination at night. When a handyman the Hoppers had on Cape Cod died, Edward was quoted by Jo as saying, "Poor Tommy Gray. He can't see the sunlight anymore." And he would say this about different people. And I began to realize that the sunlight was the life force for Hopper and therefore when he paints sun in an empty room, it's very poignant. The depiction of light is fundamental to being alive for Hopper.
"Edward Hopper" is currently showing at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts before moving on to the National Gallery in Washington and the Art Institute of Chicago. The show runs through Aug. 19 in Boston, and then travels to Washington (Sept. 16 through Jan. 21, 2008) and Chicago (Feb. 16 through May 11, 2008).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Composite Image of Stencil Graffiti


Madison -- On our Sunday bike ride, we passed these stencil graffiti on the Wingra Bike Path. They're actually from two different walls about a quarter of a mile apart, joined in Photoshop to create a sort of imaginary landscape. The one on the left is at the entrance to the underpass under Olin Avenue, heading east, while the one on the right is at the entrance to the underpass beneath the railroad tracks near Olin Park, again, heading toward the park. Art, crime, or both? Art Crimes is a graffiti site with lots of links to graffiti art around the world.