Olgivanna Lazovich Lloyd Wright: Opinions & Perspective

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Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Actually, the Lunts, as they were usually called, Palli's feminism not having made any inroads at that time, appeared in a few movies dating back to 1923, and a few television appearances. I saw a Hallmark Hall of Fame performance (1965) in which they played Oliver Wendell and Fanny Holmes; they were very "stagey," as the saying goes. But they were of equal stature, whereas without FLW, Olga would have faded from memory entirely, a divorcee raising a daughter alone in penury.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

We criticize the influence of Olgivanna, and yet the time which he spent with her was arguably the most productive period in Wright's oeuvre.

I can't help but remembering the "Yoko broke up the Beatles" era, and how it took so many years for people to discover, (though she was no great musician), how important she was in her own right. Let's not forget that Yoko was an immigrant as well...

Is it possible, (while acknowledging her considerable shortcomings) that Olgivanna was Wright's Ono? Most of Lennon's most powerful work was produced in the Ono years.
Wright's life and career were in shambles. Did Olgivanna help pick up the pieces, then realizing her substantial power in the relationship, maybe take it too far, especially towards the end of his life and beyond?

Is it possible that Wright found himself exposed to some feminist tendencies and did not completely resist?

DRN
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Post by DRN »

peterm's Lennon/Ono reference is a good one. John really did grow as a musician/lyricist/thinker as a result of his relationship with Yoko Ono. She challenged him and stirred the pot... pun not intended.

The following has no foundation in fact or intimate knowledge with any backstories, but I theorize and ask:

If the murder and arson had not occurred in 1914, and Wright's life and work went on smoothly (with the possible exception of the depression) from that date, his career may have been very different...in positive and negative ways. He probably would have achieved "stability" earlier and possibly could have produced more large scale work prior to 1929, and would have been better able to resume that work as the '30's went on. He probably would have produced fewer houses as a result of the larger commissions, so his total output may have been less. The Fellowship probably would not have been formed, and Wright would have maintained a Studio at Taliesin organized more or less like Oak Park.

I wonder though, if the repeated shedding of skins of his personal life in the teens and twenties made Wright's work evolve in more radical ways than it otherwise would have. Would Wright have done the fortress like work in CA if there had not been the tragedy in 1914? Would the ASB's or the Usonians have been developed if Wright was focused on churches, hotels, resorts, or office towers? Would Mamah still have been the happily ever after for him in 1924,1934,1944,1954? Did Wright need change or conflict to keep him vital?

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

The partnership that was Wright and Olgivanna has to fleshed out from the accounts of many individuals. Olgivanna talks about Wright but I haven't found instances of Wright speaking of her or the relationship...now it isn't like I have been looking... so I am curious if others have some references from him.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I would have to agree that I've seen virtually nothing from Wright about Olgivanna, though there may be some little bit in the Autobiography
somewhere about the "loyal helpmeet" perhaps. . .? Or is that Catherine that I'm thinking of ? He seems to have had much more to say about the
women who came between these two, chronologically. . .

Among Peter's interesting comments, I find only one that stirs a response: I do believe that Wright was always, and would always have been,
devoted to the joyful and endless problem of the residence. Perhaps this simply reflects my own interest, but I can't see him neglecting that calling
in favor of larger projects -- for long. As to those, it's my own opinion that Wright's large works (often unbuilt) too frequently flirt with the very
"grandomania" that he claimed to deplore. The Larkin is for me the very best of these, and it's slowly but surely "downhill from there." The
crystalline distillation of the houses simply doesn't often expand convincingly under his hand, as I see it. But that's another topic ?

SDR

peterm
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Post by peterm »

SDR-

I agree about the residence; perhaps you were responding to DRN?

Weren't Johnson Wax and the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison both equal in quality to Larkin? I see no grandomania (I like this word...) in either.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Yes, I was reacting to DRN's post, not Peter's -- my bad.

I think that one constant that could be argued, as to the quality of the larger projects, is that "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." The
worst (if that 's the right word) are the late unbuilt projects, such as the Arizona State Capitol, and the Pittsburgh and the Middle Eastern work.
Price Tower (in my view) is clunky compared to its unbuilt progenitors, and Marin a stretched-thin ghost of Wright at his best.

To me, it's the size that dooms some of these projects. Unitarian Meeting House is almost residential in scale, by that standard, and doesn't belong
with the projects I'm addressing. Johnson Wax fails only at the exterior street-front extremities of the main hall, where curved corners fight with
square ones at the expense of the lower-level glazing -- a very minor flaw to a magnificently confident opus. The Guggenheim succeeds perfectly
(unless one is dissatisfied with its functional solutions to circulation or to the display of art); one can't fault the architect that the institution
eventually ran out of room and became desperate to expand on-site.

But, to me the genius of Wright occurs at the intimate scale. When asked to fill acreage with tens or hundreds of thousands of square feet of
enclosed space, he was no better than other architects, and perhaps inferior to a few -- although there may have been strokes of planning
genius in some of the above-mentioned works that have escaped me. One would expect, nevertheless, to find those well-wrought corners of space,
at human scale, that surpass all others in their magic.

There is no reason to expect that anyone, including Wright, is able to give the same meaning to architectural objects of vast and (by definition)
inhuman scale, that can be bestowed at the residential scale. Grand strokes visible at vast scale are really "styling" rather than "design,"
aren't they -- unless we're talking about objects like the Golden Gate or Firth of Forth bridges, which are engineering or industrial design feats
rather than architectural ones ? Wright was further from frank structural expressionism than were most of his peers, so that point is moot in his
case, as I see it.

But that's just the impression I have gained, over time -- surely one open to argument.

SDR

PrairieMod
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Post by PrairieMod »

As magnificent as Larkin seems in photos and on paper, it still isn't where Wright felt he finally grasped what Architecture (with a capital "A") could be and what mastery of space was about. I would say he reached his apex not at Larkin, but at Unity Temple a few years later. He himself held it as the yard stick to measure everything else against for the rest of his years.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Ah -- so those two projects from his early period, of somewhat comparable scale and a similar degree of opacity, both distinguished by a binuclear
arrangement of Served and Servant (Larkin) or Major and Minor (Unity) volumes, could be used to analyze where he came from and where he was
going ? I wonder if anyone has attempted that study already.

I wonder what about Unity satisfied or intrigued him in a way that Larkin did (or might) not (have) ? Was there a greater spacial complexity at Unity that Larkin did not possess ?

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

I agree Wright was not at his best in the largest of his projects. The Guggenheim may have had an advantage because of the length of time Wright had to massage and tweak it, and unlike the Price Tower, its grammar did not demand that it bristle with a lot of intricate flourishes. It is also true that you can lavish craft and detail on a 1500 SF house, but it is hard to keep the same level of detail when the building is pumped up to 30, 60, or 100,000 SF. Wright seemed to continually struggle with that issue as the projects grew in size at FSC. He seems to have achieved a balance with the Guggenheim.

Could Wright's lack of virtuosity when working at larger scales have stemmed from his relative inexperience at it? Had he done more, would he have gotten better? He seemed to be on that track in 1959.

JimM
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Post by JimM »

SDR wrote:I wonder what about Unity satisfied or intrigued him in a way that Larkin did (or might) not (have) ? Was there a greater spacial complexity at Unity that Larkin did not possess ?SDR
Unity was certainly an elaboration of what started at Larkin. There is an extreme difference in scale between the two. Even so, as is true with all his work, the illusion of greater space than appears occurred at Larkin as well. It was a very large building, which, IMO, still presented a graceful profile. Larkin is still important for air conditioning, wall hung toilets, cantilevered seats at the desks which swung away for easier floor cleaning, large plate glazing-and perhaps as a precursor of the now ubiquitous interior courtyard (think Embassy Suites) long before Portman came up with his.

When Larkin approved the extra $25,000 (!) to place the stairwells at the exterior corners, the articulation he wanted proved successful, and incorporated the volume similarity at Unity.

At Unity, I think the interwoven and seamless flow from the lower levels into the main room and the clerestory art glass panels without mullions or piers which appear to be the only thing supporting the concrete cantilevered roof, are major elements which gave a lightness to the structure than the more conventional method used at Larkin. The scale difference, again, I believe made this possible and those spatial qualities were honed throughout the remainder of his career.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Comparing Unity and Larkin is dicey. Unity is a pair of pavillions with a link. That's all there is to the piece, an opportunity for artistic expression above all else. Larkin is a complex design with a very specific program (see Quinan) which is masterfully enclosed in a seemingly simple envelope. Johnson is Larkin, updated. While Unity may be superior (even to FLW) aesthetically, the nature of the program makes that almost inevitable. Through the ages, nothing has impressed quite so much as places of worship, from Karnak on, mostly because of the singularity of their intent and simplicity of program.

One must also tread carefully when examining unbuilt projects alongside built structures. For instance, one can too easily critique the Cathedral for a Million People as a grandiloquent extravagance, a flight of fancy by a man with too much time on his hands. But look at Beth Shalom, which is the comparatively tiny offspring of the earlier project. What FLW in effect did was to scale down the project until he found the solution for the Synagogue within the Cathedral. Sort of like Michelangelo finding David by eliminating the excess marble. If you want to examine an unbuilt design, try National Life Insurance Co. (1924) for Arthur Johnson, a design he had reason to believe would actually be built (as opposed to the fantastical Cathedral). If it had gone up, it would have anticipated the post-WWII curtain wall buildings of Mies by two decades.

Olga and Ono? I think not. Yoko Ono was a performer before she met John Lennon, while Olga had done nothing even touching on any of the arts before running into FLW at the ballet. (I still think that meet cute story is a crock.) Nor was FLW a disaffected member of a quartet, but a resolutely singular artist, whose associations with others from time to time was only a matter of convenience and necessity. He did not mention Olga in his writings, because she had no place in his professional life. His relationships, especially with women, was bumptious, to say the least, but rarely if ever directly related to his work.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Roderick wrote:
"Olga had done nothing even touching on any of the arts before running into FLW at the ballet."

Ono and Olgivanna were both immigrant aristocrats from wealthy families, and it just is not true that she had done nothing in the arts.

From Wikipedia:

"She had begun her career with Gurdjieff as a student of sacred dance, which she later mastered."

From the Taliesin School of Architecture website:

"Trained first in a progressive private school where Olgivanna learned both French and Russian, she eventually came under the tutelage of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. This charismatic mystic created the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at Fontainebleau, outside of Paris. Based on his philosophy of spiritual development, Gurdjieff's school stressed hard work, self-discipline, sacrifices and suffering, self-awareness, and conscious effort, often through performance. Olgivanna excelled in music and dance, and she came to the United States ready to put her learning into practice."

Whether or not she had the quality of training or experience that Ono had is debatable, but she certainly had been exposed to and practiced some of the arts, especially music and dance.

Ono was a conceptual artist, not a musician,
Olgivanna was a dancer, not an architect

PrairieMod
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Post by PrairieMod »

Many (including Wright) have drawn the line from Larkin to Unity Temple (especially since they were designed very close together.) Much of the same thinking and complex space programming was evolving within each building.

Not sure UT could be (or should be) boiled down so neatly as "pair of pavilions with a link." One could label Larkin "4 corner stairwells with an atrium." Each is a masterwork in and of itself, but I would argue they are definitely siblings (just like Guggenheim is a distant younger sister to both).

Plus, wasn't Larkin designed to be a Temple for the worship of Work? ;-)

(pretty far off topic from Mrs. W)

Craig
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Post by Craig »

"Olga had done nothing even touching on any of the arts before running into FLW at the ballet."
It's my understanding that Olgivanna appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York (among other American venues) in staged performances of the Gurdjieff dances in 1924.

Not bad for someone with no experience in the arts.
ch

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