Happily, I lead a dull life. I like to lie in my hammock swatting mosquitoes and then watch City Planning Commission hearings on CityTV, New York City’s own television station (which is the subject of a brilliant expose of its logrolling corruption by Tom Robbins in the current Village Voice). The Planning Commission is chaired by the late CBS boss William Paley’s stepdaughter, Amanda Burden, widow of Vanderbilt heir Carter Burden, former consort of Ted Kennedy (long ago) and Charlie Rose, and best friend of Mayor Forever Mike Bloomberg.
At the CPC hearings, Amanda is surrounded by various rubes and hacks from the outer boroughs (her fellow commission members) whose job appears to be holding up Ms. Burden’s chiseled face, which has the texture of a Brazil nut, by an invisible thread. Otherwise, they just rubberstamp architectural improvements for the rest of us, especially when a museum comes a calling, for the museum elites are the special familiars of Amanda.
Last week, French architect Jean Nouvel arrived to testify. He is so tall that he could hold up a giant turkey wishbone to God, make a wish and snap it, holding half a bone in his huge, meaty hand. And this is precisely what he proposes to build atop the Museum of Modern Art, a sinewy spinal column with galleries and condos as tall as the Empire State Building.
Far be it for the MoMA to give us all a breather to absorb the Taniguchi expansion, with its ominous indoor suicide leaps and mall-neutral gallery boxes. No, MoMA’s board must thrust this bony finger towards the sky, if for no other reason than to thumb its nose at desperate recherché institutions such as St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the University Club which, desperate for funds, have sold their air rights to MoMA to make Nouvels’ giant skeleton key possible.
Mr. Nouvel, resembling Gerard Depardieu and sounding like Inspector Clouseau, brought some fascinating drawings, interior photos of the proposed superneedle, which made its apartments look like cells on Devil’s Island, and a comely young male assistant to the CPC. Recognized by pal Amanda, Nouvel launched into an oratorical flourish about his influences, his spontaneous drawings, his love of the Manhattan sky, which was rather entertaining, when, after two minutes (120 seconds), Ms. Burden rang a bell and announced, "Your time is up."
A flustered Nouvel, still soaring like Le Petit Prince, loudly objected. "Those are the rules," Amanda primly replied. Indeed, those are still the rules of our oligarchic city: anyone may speak for just two minutes and another ugly edifice which no one wants will destroy a bit of midtown life forever.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).