Miniature in the Mail #31: "Methods of Modernization"

"Methods of Modernization," 4x6in., oil on masonite

Today's mini is a depiction from the back of a building's innards somewhere in northeast L.A. Note the covered dumpster to prevent divers. If there's a bathroom nearby, it's most certainly locked, unless you're a customer who's been given the key. If there's a bench, it's painful to sleep on.

L.A. is design city in the most peculiar sense. Architects like Frank Gehry like to take all that is normally concealedthe HVAC, support beams, and security—and barf them out, so that they are foregrounded and made motifs of the design. Rather than file down the rough edges of the urban environment, make it more beautiful or more democratic, Gehry and Co. mimics it. So instead of innovative public squares or bike lanes, we get thoughtfully considered "dumb boxes," homes with gangster facades that belie sumptuous interiors, dropped into neighbourhoods like soldiers in camouflage.

In previous styles, of course, architects took for inspiration not the hard streets but the soft, flowing wilderness of the romantic, or the idealism of the classical world.

The artifice has always struck me as wrong. If you want nature, there's nothing like going out into it, rather than experiencing it vicariously through art. If you want Athens or Greece, more immersive than the exterior of the White House is the era's poetry, or even a museum. And if you want the streets, the most genuine act is to walk in them, receptive and uncomfortable as anyone else.

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