FREESPACE: Venice Architecture Biennale 2018

by Phillip Baldwin

Scandanavia (Norway/Denmark Pavillion)–Bio-Spheres


FREESPACE describes a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself. FREESPACE focuses on architecture’s ability to provide free and additional spatial gifts to those who use it and on its ability to address the unspoken wishes of strangers. FREESPACE celebrates architecture’s capacity to find additional and unexpected generosity in each project–even within the most private, defensive, exclusive or commercially restricted conditions. FREESPACE provides the opportunity to emphasis nature’s free gifts of light–sunlight and moonlight; air; gravity; materials–natural and man-made resources. FREESPACE encourages reviewing ways of thinking, new ways of seeing the world, of inventing solutions where architecture provides for the well-being and dignity of each citizen of this fragile planet. FREESPACE can be a space for opportunity, a democratic space, un-programmed and free for uses not yet conceived. FREESPACE encompasses freedom to imagine the free space of time and memory, binding past, present and future together, building on inherited cultural layers, weaving the archaic with the contemporary.” Yvonne Farrell + Shelley McNamara Curator of Biennale Architecturra 2018

Me thinking with my feet.


Soap Wall Extractor, in the Arsenale


I was at the architectural Biennale Venice today.  I have seen about a half a dozen biennales there at the Gardini and the Arsenal.  Whatever the utopian ideals, FREESPACE as a particular utopia curation this time, the joy of this event since the fascist years of Italy will always be the exuberance in miniature.  The elegant and decaying surroundings of both the Garden and the Arsenal are always joys to encounter.  It is always a joy to see ‘full scale’ models, in all of their utopian excess line the Arsenal.  I have only seen something similar to this in the Amerida colony of Con Con in Valparaiso Chile where the architectural students of Catholic University built full scale ‘utopian’ ideas on the beach.  Here it is in these two places of the ancient floating city of Venice.  This never disappointments.  The pompous utopian themes, especially in the ear of big capital construction for rich folks strikes–an immediate contrast:  ‘free space’?  Get a grip.

Once you are past the curatorial pomposity you have the pleasure of a hot day walking through (I spent six hours there) enormous sites which are the material aesthetic equivalent to the World Cup.  The Gardini, with its national agendas, or the flavor of the year, were not memorable except for the British pavilion. There was nothing on the inside of the pavilion, but a stairs going to the top of the structure so you could see, and compare and contrast the notion of Venice and Britain as (sinking?) islands.  Very ironic.  The rest of the pavilions were a series of pyramid scheme completions of ‘the best national architects.’  The Dutch pavilion was also clever with its trope of the ‘lockers’ that opened up  into sequestered spaces of the domicile.  Idealized.  It was hard to detect the ideas behind free-space in the other national pavilions.  Through these installations it was hard, yet delightful, to get around the ‘scenographic’ element in the spectacle based architecture.  As it should be.  I was sorry I did not have the time to attend one of the many dramas within these structures.


Grafitti Sculpture on a Wall


I soaked up the ‘scenography’ through the Arsenal though.  This place is always a joy of re-appropriation.  There is a complete and natural means of displaying the newness of thoughts in space in the sequence and the manipulation of space, as one walks through the prepared spaces, a projection, spectacle utopia, and interruption.  With this theatrical drift you get a processional aspect to the parade of utopian tropes.  The Chinese pavilion at the end of the arsenal never disappoints in this at the quiet corner miles from where you started; the sun was beating down hot and humid.  You are away from the tourist and with the die-hards here.   That whole experience of ‘culture wars’ between an international community, which started under Mussolini in the 30s, is at full tilt in the late ‘international styles’ of contemporary architecture.  The global real winner of these architectural culture wars is high capital, posing as beneficent Medici for building, though barely giving an urban population  ‘free-space’ in the form of parks.  These pavilions, exposing the best or the most clever commentary on their current society, would demonstrate their physical artifacts as ‘the best for their common people’, while under state agendas of building.  I re-write this on the edge of Hudson Yards, which are the opposite examples of ‘free-space’.  This is the next example of the rich, gated community where the poor weave in and out of this on the innovative, processional, high-line .

But what, within the sense of spectacle, is so different about this prepared spaces of spectacle which are supposed to dwelling spaces? What would be different if we showed demonstrated skyscrapers built design by someone other then graduate students? There they were on the outside not on the inside, the ‘youngish Asian countries’ demonstrating their best at the top of their food chain. There are pyramid schemes which anointed those who would continue on their spatial articulation working in vast architectural offices as worker bees. The Biennale represented a ‘free-space’ of ideation to most of the young designers.  It was a long and arduous walk. These spaces were very beautiful with a sense of an art installation as well.


Down the Arsenal


When I entered the arsenal, So many poets of space take this so seriously–as they should.  This is one of the only global communions on the topic of spatial utopia.  The pomposity of the curation should be taken with a grain of salt but not the agenda… it is serious. When they are under the sun and the ancient spaces of Venice, unfolding again, it is beautiful.   In that forgotten, non touristy corner of the city away from the bovine hoards we can appreciate that utopian project also in its failure:  Venice, and most of Italy, is living off of tourism:  the commodity of history.  It is good to see this new stuff in this context.

What was in it for me was to contemplate how a photograph could suture the rest of history back together.    It is important that I stapled together in that reality (History as a buffet brunch for tourists?) that no longer had the utopian agenda of the West:  fraternity, equality, and liberty.  The world is made up of eight billion people.  It is a photographic, scenographic, spectacle of spatial history, this Biennale.  It is a suturing of the present with the future. And then, one young gentleman turned to me and said: “No, there is no photographs in this place.”  Why that?  Free-space?

This is the joy of remembering a miniature utopian project.

Closes November 25, 2018

 All photographs by Phillip Baldwin

PETER HUJAR: Speed Of Life

by Kim Steele

Lynn Davis: Portrait of Peter Hujar

If the camera lens is the portal to the soul of the photographer, then this one is fuzzy – intentionally.  Peter Hujar often bragged about being on the margins of society, in his life style and his image making. 

Hujar had a brief stint as a magazine photographer, the last assignment shooting the Gay Liberation Front (the Stonewall demonstrations) included in the exhibit.

Peter Hujar: Gay Liberation Front, 1969

Hujar left that world to pursue personal work the rest of his abruptly shortened life. He suffered from a difficult childhood and essentially taught himself the craft of photography.  If fact, the prints in the exhibit, organized by The Morgan Library in New York, were all printed by him.  As a master printer myself, they are gorgeously executed, and lovely to behold.

I had the unique opportunity to meet him in the mid-seventies in New York.  Hujar is infamous as a retiring artist and often sabotaged his opportunities with incendiary behavior.   I was curating an exhibition for my Seattle Gallery, The Artist Space, on The Nude.  I visited New York to gather material for the exhibit.  I was introduced to him by Robert Mapplethorpe, after which I visited his studio and obtained a print.  Hujar offered me an image of a very well endowed man blowing himself.

This caused quite stir in Seattle, in fact the exhibit ran the same time as the King Tut show at the Seattle Art Museum, and my exhibit garnered more press ink than that show!

His work is very eclectic both in subject choice and perspective.  But there is a piercing vision and unabashed directness, that informs his work.  Hujar bonded with David Wojnarowicz, twenty years his junior, a performance artist, early on, and they collaborated on many shoots.  In fact Wojnarowicz is experiencing a renewed interest in his work now at the Whitney Musem of American Art until August 28th.

Both were very active in the HIV-positive political movement.  Unfortunately both succumbed to the affliction.  But this ‘outsider’ mentality brought a gestalt to the work for both of them.  When viewing the exhibition, on first glance, he photographed many seemly-unrelated subjects from animals, to buildings to landscapes and most importantly, people.  Hujar intended this approach, because of his eclectic interests and probably his lack of formal training.  It bode him well.

Peter Hujar: Nude Self-Portrait Series #2 (Avedon Master Class), 1966




Hujar’s education was at a high school in Manhattan, then titled School of the Industrial Arts, where he learned the fundamentals of photography.   He commented that his varied work was bound together by “Beauty and Smell.”  He did attend a Master class by the infamous Richard Avedon.




Peter Hujar: Susan Sontag, 1975










Hujar ran into Diane Arbus who said, “I know who you are,” inferring that he was encroaching on her visual territory.  He befriended Susan Sontag, the thinker who wrote the seminal book, On Photography that influenced all shooters.  She claimed, “Photography was Death.”  Hujar was influenced by her thinking, and also took a very revealing portrait of her clothed, lying on a bed. Equally revealing, his portrait of Fran Lebowitz, unclothed but covered, in bed.

Peter Hujar: Fran Lebowitz at Home in Morristown, 197














From this writer’s perspective, the portraits are by far the most compelling images in the exhibit. They seep sexuality and intimacy. One can see his obsession with light, both natural and artificial, and how it shapes the faces of his subjects.

William Burroughs, 1975

William Burroughs’ image is riveting. He took many hours to capture the intent he sought.  Hujar was reported to have visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral every Easter to study the light playing on the façade.  His most famous portrait was of the dying Candy Darling, a downtown icon. She posed in many ways, in many outfits, but the result is stunning, very posed and contrived.  There was not the intention of catching a ‘candid’ image as did many of his contemporaries: Mapplethorpe and Nan Golden.  Candy Darling was “camping” up. The glamour Hujar found was in Candy’s final reach for sublime artifice; he later wrote that she was “playing every death scene from every movie.”

Peter Hujar: Candy Darling on Her Deathbed, 1973

‘As Mapplethorpe’s reputation grew in the art world, Hujar became dismissive of his work: “Well, it looks like art,” he would scoff.’ From Peter Hujar: Eros, C’Est La Vie, essay by
Philip Gefter, in Peter Hujar: Speed of Life, the catalog published by Aperture and Fundación MAPFRE that accompanies the exhibition. A very handsome catalog indeed. There was icy competition between these artists that were tilling the same ground, but uniquely.

In fact, it was Hujar’s arched approach combined with his ‘marginal’ subjects that probably restricted Hujar’s success in the art world. He described his images as, “uncomplicated, direct photographs of complicated and difficult subjects,” capturing moments, individuals, and subcultures passing at the ‘speed of life.’

Peter Hujar: Ethyl Eichelberger










Hujar’s fascination of the camp and drag culture, now very much in vogue, was then not as welcomed in the scene.  Hujar shot his dear friend and renowned drag queen, Ethyl Eichelberger, titled, ‘Ethyl Eichelberger’  which is very striking and masculine.  Another of his most famous images is of his collaborator, David Wojarowicz, in a pose and lighting reminiscent of Irving Penn.  Here we see Hujar’s ability to light with artificial sources just as skillfully, as he does with natural light. No an easy task.

Peter Hujar: David Wojnarowicz, 1975






Peter Hujar: Rabbit, Westown,1978














I do not respond to his animals, nor his landscapes. The thinking goes that he expressed this interest due to his childhood on a small New Jersey farm, but they seem distant and uncommitted. His buildings are very compelling, especially the shot of upper Sixth Avenue, which I have been drawn to as a photographer and avid architectural fan.  Those buildings around the fifties, Time & Life, Exxon, McGraw Hill, etc. have always rung with corporate power and modernism.  Hujar captured that feeling of supremacy by “the Man.” It is truly the portraits where Hujar’s skills and insights shine brightly, despite their coming from the underground East Village.  They are as prescient today as they were in the seventies and eighties.

Peter Hujar, New York–6th Avenue, 1976

In the long run, though, “Peter got exactly what he wanted,” his friend Steve Turtell said. “He once said to me, ‘I want to be discussed in hushed tones. When people talk about me, I want them to be whispering.’” (From Peter Hujar’s Downtown, essay by Philip Gefter, in Peter Hujar: Speed of Life)

It is truly a remarkable exhibition and well worth a second visit.


Photographs courtesy of Peter Hujar Archive and the Berkeley Art Museum.


Silver Spoons & Syringes

by Sally Steele

It’s high time to pull my head out of the dark clouds and celebrate Boulevardiers, flâneurs,  strollers, loungers, saunterers, loafers, and of course, Faire du Lèche-Vitrines everywhere.

I’m smiling inside and floating away thinking about Gwynnes, Vanderbilts, socialites, and princes…

The Federalist: “The Boulevardier cocktail has a romantic origin tied to a particularly heady period in cocktail history. According to most sources, it was invented in the 1920s by American expatriate Edward Erskine Gwynne, Jr. Gwynne was a sort of Prohibition-era Kardashian who ran off to Paris to gad about, be mistaken for the Prince of Wales, get into fights in cabarets, and start a literary magazine to ape The New Yorker. It’s not clear that his Boulevardier magazine had any lasting impact on the world of literature, but Gwynne did lend the name to the fantastic drink he shared with Harry McElhone (of Harry’s New York Bar, located in Paris), who recorded it in his book Barflies and Cocktails. Gwynne went on to die a broken and forgotten man, but this drink, his true legacy, is by my lights the most enduring success he might have hoped to achieve.”

Edward Erskine Gwynne Jr., Boulevardier, on the right

theesotericcuriosa: “Young Mr. Gwynne is a member of the rich Vanderbilt clan by marriage, his mother being a cousin of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  For many years he has made his home with his mother in Paris and has become one of the best known and best liked figures in the large American colony which plays such an important part in Parisian life.

“Although possessed of considerable means Gwynne ostensibly works for a living.  His job is that of right hand man to Henri Letellier, the immensely wealthy French newspaper publisher.

“But the duties of his position are not arduous or confining enough to keep Mr. Gwynne from being nightly at the fashionable clubs and the most exclusive restaurants and dancing resorts.  Nobody knows better than he the proper hour for dropping into Ciro’s for a cocktail or when the correct time is for ordering dinner at the Ritz.

“Everybody likes this good looking young blond man – except the loud mouthed South American whom he knocked out the other evening, and doubtless that gentleman will when he becomes better acquainted with his fistic conqueror.  In spite of his youth Gwynne is already famous in Paris for his wit and for the spirit of gayety which he breathes into every party he attends.”

ca. 1925, Deauville, France, left to right, Jack Pickford, Erskine Gwynne, Mrs. Pickford (Marilyn Miller) and Mrs. Frieda Rossen, on the sands at this most fashionable summer resort. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The family is one of nature’s masterpieces… George Santayana


Paul-César Helleu, Portrait de Kiki Preston (Alice Gwynne), 1900, pastel drawing on wove paper


Kiki Gwynne




theesotericcuriosa: “Alice Gwynn, Edward Erskine Gwynne Jr’s sister, was described as a rich, charismatic beauty all shot through with scandal who even seduced the anti-American snob, Evelyn Waugh (and Rudolph Valentino).

“Society traces kicker extraordinaire, Alice “Kiki” Gwynne, who was later more commonly known as “Kiki Preston,” was born in 1898, in Hempstead, Nassau County, Long Island, New York.  Alice was the daughter of Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr. (1869 – 10 May 1904) and his wife, the former Helen Steele (d. 4 January 1958).”

Prince George, Duke of Kent

Wikipedia: “Alice Gwynne…the alleged mother of a child (Michael Temple Canfield (1926 – 1969) born out of wedlock with Prince George, Duke of Kent, fourth son of King George V. Known for her drug addiction, which earned her the soubriquet “the girl with the silver syringe,” she was a fixture of the Paris and New York high social circles, and a relation to the powerful Vanderbilt and Whitney families. Her life was marred by several tragic losses and her own mental problems, which eventually led to her suicide at 48.”

Michael Canfield (with Jacqueline Kennedy), son of Alice Gwynne, and alleged son of Prince George, Duke of Kent








theesotericcuriosa: “Born far out upon the fringes of American royalty, Alice’s father Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr., was the nephew of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife, socialite Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, more commonly known as “Alice of the Breakers” the name sake of the younger Alice Gwynne. Although far from what would be termed American gentry, the Gwynne’s themselves were a firmly placed, comfortable upper middle class family, Edward’s father, Abraham Gwynne of Cincinnati, was a lawyer and judge, while his mother Rachel “Cettie” Moore, née Flagg, was known as a very pious home maker.  Rachel was descended from the Trowbridge family, one the first English families to land in the new world. The Trowbridge’s first arrived in America in 1636 when Thomas Trowbridge, a wool merchant from Taunton, England, and his family settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts Bay colony. However, Thomas, finding the political and religious climate intolerant, moved his family to New Haven, Connecticut Colony, a few years later. Following the death of his wife, Elizabeth Marshall, he returned to England in the 1640s, where he would later participate in the English Civil War, on the side of the Parliamentary forces known as the “Roundheads” against King Charles I of England.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt–“Alice Of The Breakers!”


“One of the more glaring falsehoods about Alice Gwynne, is that even today she is often mentioned as a “Whitney heiress,” a point that is patently not true since she was not a Whitney by descent, only by marriage and distant at that.

“Greatness tended to blossom more on the maternal side of her family tree.  Alice’s mother, Helen, was a great-granddaughter of Justice Samuel Chase, one of the signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence, as well as a granddaughter of Joshua Barney, Commodore of the United States Navy during the American Revolutionary War. Further down the trunk, her Dutch roots were more apparent with her descent from Jean Paul Jaquett, the second Dutch governor of Delaware. Jaquett was a French Protestant who had fled from France to Holland to avoid religious persecutions; before his arrival in Delaware, however, he had resided in Brazil. The Jaquett’s lived on a farm, holding it from Jean Paul Jaquett, the first ancestor until the time of the celebrated Major Peter Jaquett, the last surviving officer of the revolution belonging to Delaware. This land was granted to Jaquett soon after the capture of Delaware by the Dutch, and it is now called Long Hook.

“On the surface of things and according to appearances, when Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr., and Helen Steele were married in Washington D.C., on March 25, 1896 both families seemed pleased with the match. Married from her parent’s home, there were but few guests, with a cousin of the bridegroom, Archdeacon MacKay Smith officiating. The bride was attended by her sister, Miss Annie Steele in the role of maid of honor, while the groom was supported by his friend, Mr. Carroll Brown, of Baltimore. Helen wore a Parisian gown of ivory and white satin.  At her throat she wore a magnificent sunburst brooch of diamonds, a gift of her husband’s Aunt Alice.  Atop her golden hair, was a beautiful diamond tiara, a gift from her new husband.  After the ceremony and wedding breakfast, attended by various Vanderbilts, Gywnnes and Shepards, the bridal couple left for a year of foreign travel, which included a journey to the Far East, before they made their home in Paris.

However, it was not long after that it became apparent all was not well. In fact, the marriage soon became a rocky one; with Edward and Helen quickly disillusioned with the other, separating at some point, before eventually reconciling.”

“Putting aside their differences and misunderstandings long enough they began to raise a family. Besides Alice, the Gwynne nursery also consisted of two sons, one being Edward Erskine Gwynne, Jr. (1899 – 5 May 1948). Erskine Jr., the publisher of the magazine Boulevardier, and a columnist for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Their other son, Edward C. Gwynne, joined the U.S. Air Force in his early youth, and was killed when his plane was shot down. As was typical for their time and position, Alice and her family resided at different times in Paris, France, Lawrence, Nassau County, New York and Park Hill, Yonkers in New York, especially between the years 1898 to 1904.

“As it turned out, although related by blood to many of the wealthiest families in the nation, Edward Gwynne was a socialite without regular employment.  Never a good position to be in, especially if you were Alice’s father, whose apparent lack of a steady income, coupled with him being described as a man that “had extravagant tastes, expended money lavishly and was without business employment,” produced disastrous results which led his family to legal troubles.  Whereas he might be known as a famous cross country rider, an expert golf player, member of the Calumet and Rockaway Hunt Clubs of New York and general social favorite, cash poor was cash poor!

“At the close of the century, the family’s financial situation started to unravel when in 1899, while in Paris, Gwynne obtained a loan worth several thousand dollars from Perry Tiffany. In February 1901, Gwynne transferred the interest in his property to his mother, Louise Gwynne. Sensing a ruse, the Parisian money lender filed suit against Gwynne in the fall of 1901 for an unpaid loan of nearly $50,000 for diamonds. Shortly afterwards, with his mother’s untimely death in June 1902, Edward Gwynne was forced to file a petition in bankruptcy, with liabilities of over $56,000 and assets of $57.00.”

The New York Times reported on June 4, 1902:


Nephew Of Mrs. C. Vanderbilt
Has $56,403 Liabilities & Assets of $57

“Edward E. Gwynne of Park Hill, Yonkers, who formerly resided at Lawrence Long Island, until May 1, has filed a petition in bankruptcy, with liabilities of $56,403 and assets of $57, due him by Perry Tiffany for money loaned. Mr. Gwynne is a nephew of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt.

“The petition was filed chiefly to get rid of a judgment which was obtained against him by Leopold Grinberg for $47,911 in Nassau county on September 18, 1901 on four drafts made by A. Reinac, a Paris jeweler, on November and December 1897, which were accepted by the petitioner and guaranteed by his wife Helen, when they were in Paris. Mr. Grinberg also obtained another judgment against Mr. Gwynne for $1,182 on a similar draft. Mr. Gwynne it is said purchased diamonds, pearls, and other jewelry from Mr. Reinach and the drafts were given in payment. Mr. Reinach was unable to collect the money in France, and the claim was assigned to Mr. Grinberg, who brought suit in Nassau County and obtained judgments.

“Mr. Gwynne owes the Baron St. Aubanat of Paris $4,000, balance on a note made in Paris in May, 1899. He owes $384 to four doctors for medical services; for shoes, $248; board, $141; food and drink, $100; wines $28; harness, $296; clothing, $750; haberdashery, $60; riding habits, $80; trunks, $30; coal, wood and hay, $317; and plumbing, $34. Mr. Gwynne,  farms at Bellefontaine, Ohio and Linneua, Mo. and some land in Cincinnati, the value of his interest being unknown.

Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr. obituary

“Two years later, on May 10, 1904, Gywnne died of acute kidney problems at the age of thirty-five, ironically on the very day that the case of the suit was to be brought upon the court. Alice was only five at the time of her father’s death.”

The Cincinnati Star Times Reported: “The news of the death of Edward Erskine Gwynne, a nephew of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt and a grandson of Judge Abraham E. Gwynne, one of the prominent attorneys of Cincinnati years ago, reached this city Tuesday. Mr. Gwynne, who was married in 1896 to Miss Helen Steele in Washington, had a rather strenuous career, having been at one time separated from his wife and passing through bankruptcy proceedings, in which he alleged that his liabilities amounted to $56,403, while his only asset was a loan of $57 to Perry Tiffany. His grandfather, Judge Abraham Gwynne, was one of the prominent lawyers of the West at one time and lived on Pike street in this city. He was the author of a work reference, Gwynne on Sheriffs, which was for years a standard. Mr. Gwynne was about 35 years of age. He had a small reversionary interest in property at Fourth and Main streets in this city and other property in Missouri, along with other heirs.”

Edward Erskine Gwynne, Jr., Boulevardier & musician

Chemicals, Casks, Crowns & Corks

by Sally Steele

Cork Trees in Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele

Depending on your perspective, as a Boulevardier, one of these might come to mind as a place to start perusing this post…

What contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?      ~W. Clement Stone

His heart danced upon her movement like a cork upon a tide.        ~James Joyce

What you learn after you are 40 is that it is just about plugging up holes in the boat. You just hope you have enough corks to plug enough of the holes.             ~George Clooney

I, of course, have a totally different cork profile–my spouse, Boulevardiers Publisher, Kim Steele, has many square feet of glorious cork in his studio. My appreciation for cork has always been abundant, I now further associate it with being able to share productive times, in Kim’s studio, looking at oh-so-beautiful images. (note: all images in this cork post are by photographer & Boulevardiers Publisher, Kim Steele, from a recent visit to the country where he spent 4 years of his childhood with his family, his father as U.S. Military Attaché)

Cork Trees in Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele

Back to business, and history.

Cork Harvesting in Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele

Cool Cork Facts & History from Wikipedia:

~Cork is used in musical instruments, particularly woodwind instruments, where it is used to fasten together segments of the instrument, making the seams airtight. Low quality conducting baton handles are also often made out of cork.

~Cork can be used to make bricks for the outer walls of houses, as in Portugal’s pavilion at Expo 2000.

~Cork’s bubble-form structure and natural fire retardant make it suitable for acoustic and thermal insulation in house walls, floors, ceilings and facades.

~The Cork Oak is unrelated to the “cork trees” (Phellodendron), which have corky bark but are not used for cork production.

~On November 28, 2007, the Portuguese national postal service CTT issued the world’s first postage stamp made of cork.

Cork Tree Harvesting, Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele





Cork is the outer bark of an evergreen oak known by the Latin name Quercus (oak) Suber (cork). Today, the center of the world’s cork oak forest is concentrated in Southern Europe; Portugal, Spain, Italy & France, which accounts for 67% of the cork oak production. North Africa has the remaining 33%. The total land surface occupied by this oak is 2.2 million hectares (5.434 million acres), of which Portugal and Spain represent 56%.


The sale of cork and cork products by producers, to the European and United States market, exceeds $1.5 billion annually. Of this value, the cork stopper is $1.1 billion, while the sale of agglomerated cork, cork flooring, and other related products is $400 million.

Cork Tree Grove, Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele

Wikipedia: The rare cork tree can live for 2,000 years. The cork industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly. Cork production is considered sustainable because the cork tree is not cut down to obtain cork; only the bark is stripped to harvest the cork. The tree continues to live and grow. The sustainability of production and the easy recycling of cork products and by-products are two of its most distinctive aspects. Cork Oak forests also prevent desertification, are a particular habitat in the Iberian Peninsula, and the refuge of various endangered species.

Cork is extracted only from early May to late August, when the cork can be separated from the tree without causing permanent damage. When the tree reaches 25–30 years of age and about 24 in (60 cm) in circumference, cork can be removed for the first time. However, this first harvest almost always produces poor quality or “virgin” cork (Portuguese cortiça virgem; Spanish corcho bornizo or corcho virgen). Bark from initial harvests can be used to make flooring, shoes, insulation and other industrial products. Subsequent extractions usually occur at intervals of 9 years, though it can take up to 13 for the cork to reach an acceptable size. If the product is of high quality it is known as “gentle” cork (Portuguese cortiça amadia, but also cortiça secundeira only if it is the second time; Spanish corcho segundero, also restricted to the “second time”), and, ideally, is used to make stoppers for wine and champagne bottles.

The workers who specialize in removing the cork are known as extractors. An extractor uses a very sharp axe to make two types of cuts on the tree: one horizontal cut around the plant, called a crown or necklace, at a height of about 2-3 times the circumference of the tree, and several vertical cuts called rulers or openings. This is the most delicate phase of the work because, even though cutting the cork requires significant force, the extractor must not damage the underlying phellogen or the tree will be harmed. To free the cork from the tree, the extractor pushes the handle of the axe into the rulers. A good extractor needs to use a firm but precise touch in order to free a large amount of cork without damaging the product or tree. These freed portions of the cork are called planks. The planks are usually carried off by hand since cork forests are rarely accessible to vehicles. The cork is stacked in piles in the forest or in yards at a factory, and traditionally, left to dry, after which it can be loaded onto a truck and shipped to a processor.

Old Cork Tree, Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele

Cork stoppers were found in tombs from ancient Egypt, tombs dating back thousands of years. In the Mediterranean, cork was used to make buoys to float fishing nets. The Romans, made beehives out of cork, because of its low heat conductivity. The Romans employed corkwood planks in the construction of their homes, a tradition to today in North Africa. Fishermen used cork to create life jackets.

Though the material seems simple in the sense that it needs no additives outside of its natural chemical compounds, cork is actually a highly complex material in its makeup, a complete package in and of itself. Cork has an incredibly unique physical makeup, as it is composed of closed cells containing air, suberin, and ceroids. This makes cork impermeable to gas and liquid, heat and impact resistant, hypoallergenic, and incredibly light weight. Cork’s closed cell structure gives it great versatility.

Cork Trees and Cow, Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele


 Despite its many different uses, for centuries the most faithful ambassador of cork to the world has been the natural cork stopper, that seal of exceptional quality that is still today preferred and demanded by the great wine producers. However, throughout History there have been numerous references to this product and its varied applications. In 3000 BC, cork was already being used in fishing tackle in China, Egypt, Babylon and Persia. In Italy remains dating from the 4th century BC have been found that include artifacts such as floats, stoppers for casks, women’s footwear and roofing materials. Also dating from that period is one of the first references to the cork oak, by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus who, in his botanical treatises, referred in wonder to “the ability that this tree has to renew its bark after it has been removed.”

Vintage Cork Cooler, made in Portugal, photograph by Kim Steele


Wine and cork are two products that have long been companions. Proof of this is an amphora from the 1st century BC found in Ephesus: it was not only was sealed with a cork stopper, but also still contained wine. Later, in the 1st century CE, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder made extensive reference to cork oaks in his celebrated Natural History. He explained that in Greece, the trees were adored as symbols of liberty and honour, only priests were allowed to cut them down. In the same work, he notes that cork oaks were consecrated to the god of Olympus, Jupiter, their leaves and branches were used to crown victorious athletes. In Pompeii, the Roman city destroyed by the brutal eruption of Mount Vesuvius, wine amphorae sealed with cork have also been found.



In the 18th century, while in England, the physician Robert Hooke obtained the first microscopic images of cork using a microscope that he designed. In France, the monk Dom Pierre Pérignon, treasurer of the Hautvillers Abbey, began to use cork to seal bottles of his famous Dom Pérignon champagne.

Portugal has been a pioneer in environmental legislation, the first agrarian laws protecting cork forests were enacted in 1209. Later, during the Age of Discoveries, the builders of the Portuguese ships and caravels that set sail in search of new worlds used cork oak wood for the parts most exposed to inclement weather. They claimed that the “sôvaro”, as it was called then, was the best wood for masts and yards–besides being exceptionally strong, it never rotted.

Venice 2017 and the Biennale

August 16, 2017

No matter how many times one is fortunate enough to visit Venice it is impossible to be blasé about the wonders of this most liquid of cities. This is especially true when, every two years, significant cultural capital is expended staging what is still the most venerated of Biennales, in an all out effort to […]

Read the full article →

Ivan Karp: An Eye for Talent

July 11, 2017

  Wearing sunglasses indoors is a pretense. Except if you are Ivan Karp. He paired this affectation, which he pulled off with aplomb, with an unlit cigar clenched in his teeth all day long. Ivan Karp lorded over one of the most prestigious and long lasting galleries in New York, situated in SoHo before it […]

Read the full article →

Larry Sultan: Close to Home

May 3, 2017

A thoroughly California product, Larry Sultan mined the Golden State’s sensibility for most of his career. After a degree in Political Science, he pursued a graduate degree at the San Francisco Art Institute.  He was immediately drawn to the conceptual dimension of picture taking and joined forces with a fellow conceptualist, Mike Mandel.  They collaborated […]

Read the full article →

Ohachimeguri (literally, “going around the bowl”)

March 6, 2017

2017…is a making me long for places I’ve been. A walk on our local path through the neighborhood park on a drizzly day, yet under a bursting cherry tree, made the dense clouds of 2017 disperse. Last weekend we saw the Japanese Photography show at SF MOMA. Last December, we were lucky enough to catch […]

Read the full article →

A Tale of Two Museums: Mexico City

February 8, 2017

On a recent end of year art pilgrimage to Mexico City, we set our sights on a visit to the Museo Soumaya in the city’s Nuevo Polanco neighborhood. The museum, which opened in 2011, houses the private collection of one of the world’s richest men, billionaire Carlos Slim, who built his fortune in telecommunications and now […]

Read the full article →

Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, New York

January 9, 2017

In this current milieu of political upheaval and rancor, these acerbic drawings of Guston’s strike a poignant cord with the American public.  These drawings were executed in Guston’s studio in Woodstock, New York, collaborating with the writer and friend, Philip Roth who had just completed a similar critical series of essays, titled ‘Our Gang.’ As […]

Read the full article →

ART BASEL Miami Beach 2016

December 10, 2016

As a neophyte, going to the largest art fair in the world now, was an eye opening experience.   It requires preparation, stamina and fortitude. I had the advantage of traveling with seasoned veterans who had visited there six times and who run a company, There are numerous venues scattered around the Miami area, ranging […]

Read the full article →

Danny Lyon: A Cult Figure

November 15, 2016

There is an aspect of my encounters with young photographers that seek rebellion and adventure – it comes with the territory. Danny Lyon personifies this dynamic. I had the honor of participating in a workshop he taught in the seventies and was very moved by his conviction to the medium, and his irreverence as well. […]

Read the full article →

Five Years of The Boulevardiers and the beautiful things along the way…

October 2, 2016

The goal of The Boulevardiers is to bring art to life in the context of culture and design.  Sometimes it has been humorous, sometimes very sober.  But the guiding force has been our view of beauty and how it sustains life.  There have been many assaults on art over the years, from many fronts.  Recent […]

Read the full article →

Greek Game of Thrones — Acrocorinth Castle

September 16, 2016

Who could resist the temptation whilst in ancient Greece to visit a mysterious site, the Temple of Aphrodite, at Acrocorinth, marked only with a lone column, where legend reveals that more than 1000 sacred prostitutes associated with the temple. Acrocorinth is the acropolis (the upper or higher town) of ancient Corinth. When The Boulevardiers arrived […]

Read the full article →

Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Landscape Designer Brillante

August 14, 2016

Photograph © Leonardo Finotti.

There was much trepidation as the 2016 Olympics approached; everything from security, Zika, to running water and accommodations. Several stories appeared in The New York Times about assaults, and robbery. As the date approached, the Torch Bearer was stoned and ridiculed because of all the offenses to the citizens of Brazil — the displacement of […]

Read the full article →

Advil on a silver platter…

July 31, 2016

One of the joys of life these days, and I know I am ultra-privileged, is that my life offers me the opportunity for international travel, with my learned and adventurous spouse, and, oh!, the places we go! I’m in London and Paris each year, and I’m determined to go to a Fashion Week show. The […]

Read the full article →

Josef Sudek – a passionate man: Jeu de Paume

July 10, 2016

Rarely does a photographer look so inward to create his or her images. In the many years I have viewed photography, I have not been so emotionally moved by the sentiments of a series of images depicting the inner sanctum of a visual artist. The range is extreme here in this retrospective: well hung and […]

Read the full article →

The World is my Oyster ~ artist Ahmed Alrashid

June 26, 2016

  The ‘Global Village’ is a clique. But in the world of design, be it architecture, graphic or product design – it is a global market. Jordan tennis shoes come to mind. Working from the Middle East, based in Kuwait and traveling to Dubai, Ahmed Alrashid, has struck a note that resonates throughout the world, […]

Read the full article →

Gem in the Desert, Museum of Islamic Art ~ Doha, Qatar

April 30, 2016

Approaching the cubistic building along a path of luscious palm trees, I knew there was something special inside this Museum. In my travels across the Mid-East, there was an alarming dearth of cultural artifacts. The National Museum in Kuwait City was appalling, and impossible to find, as well. The excuses for cultural artifacts were dark […]

Read the full article →

Saved by Ivana…

March 12, 2016

  From our Boulevardier & Publisher, Kim Steele: I shot a portrait once a week for Time magazine, Business section, in the 1980’s, and hit all the major players, including The Don. Trump was the most difficult, made me wait for hours, hurried me, until Ivana came in and said, “The reason you don’t like […]

Read the full article →

Biggest Scam in the Art World in a Century: Greed shows it’s teeth

March 4, 2016

  Forgery is not an offense under the law of Scotland, but here in the U.S. it has caused quite a stir. The distinguished Knoedler Gallery in Manhattan has shuttered it doors after one hundred and fifty years. Knoedler dates its origin to 1846, when French dealers Goupil & Cie opened a branch in New York, as […]

Read the full article →

Coralie Bickford-Smith — A Love Story

February 12, 2016

        The Boulevardiers have a new friend, Coralie Bickford-Smith ~ the book designer.  When you read about Coralie and her magnificent work, if you don’t know Coralie yet, you will be envious of our friendship. Don’t despair, it’s ok to fall in love, read on…!     In Coralie’s words from her […]

Read the full article →

DAVID IRELAND – San Francisco’s Most Famous Art Home

January 17, 2016

  The first time I had the honor to walk into the home at 500 Capp Street of the renowned artist in 2001, about whom I knew very little, I realized it was a special place. I was introduced by the Director of Crown Point Press, Valerie Wade, a friend of Ireland. Ireland was elderly […]

Read the full article →

Albertopoulis…the V&A…and an “extremely capacious handbag”

December 25, 2015

  Happy & Beautiful Holidays to all our Boulevardiers & Readers…thank you for another inspiring year!   The Boulevardiers recently did London, from top to bottom, Shakespeare to the Houses of Parliament, to Bond Street & Saville Row, to museums, many, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is really one of the wonders of […]

Read the full article →

MICHAEL HEIZER: The man who moves mountains

October 27, 2015

  THE MOST PROMINENT EARTH SCULPTOR IN THE WORLD, Michael Heizer has experienced a resurgence in his work, as evidenced by his recent exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York this summer, which The Boulevardiers had the pleasure of viewing. As a neophyte in art reviewing, just awarded my NEA grant as an ‘emerging critic,’ […]

Read the full article →

When in Milan … Expo 2015

September 19, 2015

The Boulevardiers have been to EXPO 2015. We were impressed, surprised, entertained, humbled, underwhelmed, treated to a world-class press tour of the Switzerland pavillion, in awe of the Korea pavilion, left with big thoughts, and big questions. Sustainability, the ifs ands and buts are resoundingly evident at EXPO 2015, more here. Does this drive all […]

Read the full article →

Flaming June, and other Pre-Raphaelites

July 19, 2015

“PAINT the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.” John Ruskin The Guardian, Friday, May 1, 2015: A remarkable study for Flaming June, one of the best known of all Pre-Raphaelite paintings, has been discovered hanging discreetly behind a bedroom door in an English country mansion. I […]

Read the full article →

John Heartfield…Abandoned in a field by his parents as a child…

May 29, 2015

  “I lost my parents in 1899 and thereafter lived as an orphan with different families.”   John Heartfield managed to rise to a distinguished career as a graphic designer after a very challenging childhood, founding a publishing house, Malik-Verlag in 1917, with the renowned artist George Grosz, one of this publisher’s favorite artists.  Both […]

Read the full article →

Emancipation & Esteem

May 27, 2015

65th Annual SF Juneteenth Celebration Commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation “The Journey Continues” Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas in June 1865, and more […]

Read the full article →

Save the date: May 9th, 2015 ~ Fondazione Prada

May 8, 2015

On May 9th Fondazione Prada, Largo Isarco 3, Milano, will be open to the public from 10 am to 9pm.     Once a former distillery, in the industrial south section of Milan–8,900 square meters, it is now the home of the biggest, and arguably, this city’s most exciting contemporary art space. The new location […]

Read the full article →

In the Studio: Photographs

April 11, 2015

  An ambitious exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue, curated by Peter Galassi, rustles up many issues. As Roberta Smith quoted in the New York Times: “…trophy-curators. Clout is definitely on display here, contributing to that heady combination of overt excellence and subtle vulgarity that may be something of a Gagosian specialty.” The […]

Read the full article →

“I would rather sleep in a bathroom than in another hotel.” Billy Wilder

March 8, 2015

    Just In Case The Raphael is Booked                                                      …by Jerry Bowles                                                                         There is nothing quite as deliciously self-indulgent or decadent as a great hotel. Hemingway wasn’t whistling Dixie when he said “Whenever I dream of afterlife in Heaven, the action always takes place at the Paris Ritz.” Papa loved the […]

Read the full article →