Germany 1923, by Volker Ullrich (Liveright): From his perch in the Bauhaus’s Weimar campus, Walter Gropius in 1923 dreamed of a new type of artist, one capable of creating a “new structure of the future, which will one day rise towards heaven from the hands of a million workers, like the crystal symbol of a new faith.” Meanwhile, across town, George Grosz was interested in something else, namely the painting of “drunkards, puking men, [and] men with clenched fists cursing at the moon,” in his own words. Such absurd extremities abounded in the Weimar Republic, which in that same year witnessed Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch and inflation that made a single American dollar worth four trillion German marks, give or take a few billion. Now, a century later, Volker Ullrich has written in Germany 1923 an intriguing study of what led to the Weimar’s madness, as well as what enabled it to outlast, though only for a time, the chaos of 1923. Here is a clear introduction to the time and place Stefan Zweig called the new “Babel of the world.” —LL
Brooklyn Arcadia: Art, History, and Nature at Majestic Green-Wood, by Andrew Garn (Rizzoli): Chartered in 1838, Brooklyn’s magnificent Green-Wood Cemetery was very nearly named Green-Wood Necropolis—which makes sense when you realize that, within just ten years of its first burial, the 26,000 bodies interred there roughly equaled the combined population of Brooklyn and Queens. But the project’s backers were after something else: “a Necropolis is a mere repository for dead bodies—ours is a Cemetery . . . a place of repose.” Following the example of Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery (consecrated in 1831), Henry E. Pierrepont, David B. Douglas, and other leading Brooklynites sought to create a resting place decidedly apart from the city, in the English landscape style—“surrounded,” as Washington Irving envisioned, “by everything that might inspire tenderness and veneration for the dead; or that might win the living to virtue.” The first major planned landscape of any kind in greater New York, the cemetery has a legacy far exceeding its raison d’être: quickly teeming with more living than dead, it inspired the creation of Central and Prospect Parks and could fairly be called the cornerstone of the city’s extensive network of green spaces. A lavish new illustrated guide by Andrew Garn, complete with informative essays, brings this landmark to the living room. —RE
Owen Jones and the V&A: Ornament for the Modern Age, by Olivia Horsfall Turner (Lund Humphries): An obituary in The Builder for the British architect Owen Jones (1809–74) hailed him as “the most potent apostle of colour that architectural England has had in these days.” Leafing through Olivia Horsfall Tuner’s new book, Owen Jones and the V&A, leaves the reader in no doubt as to the veracity of that claim. Jones, who pioneered the use of chromolithography to reproduce stunning details from his survey of the Alhambra, was determined to make the nineteenth century a colorful one—a tall order in Britain, where, as The Builder obituary says, “colour was as much feared as the small-pox.” That perhaps overstates the claim, for the interiors of the late-Georgian era were awash in the colors of the Continent, but it is true that Jones’s sense of color, so informed by Islamic Spain, was something different than a previous generation’s translation of the wall paintings at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Turner’s new book, with copious color plates, is a worthy introduction to a somewhat forgotten figure who did much to shape the interior of the Victoria & Albert Museum, that great temple to Victorian ingenuity. —BR
Tannhäuser, by Richard Wagner, at the Metropolitan Opera (through December 23): A fine Tannhäuser, reviving Otto Schenk’s no-nonsense 1977 staging, is underway at the Metropolitan Opera. Before last Sunday’s performance, the baritone Christian Gerhaher pleaded understanding as he felt under the weather; nonetheless, no slacking of energy was detectable in his portrayal of the faithful Wolfram, and he delivered a gorgeous, sensitive “O du, mein holder Abendstern.” In this production conducted by Donald Runnicles, Gerhaher is joined by the tenor Andreas Schager in the title role, the mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova as the fatal goddess Venus, and the soprano Elza van den Heever as the chaste Princess Elisabeth. Paganism and Christianity vie with one another across the battlefield of a man’s heart in this masterpiece from Wagner’s middle period. —IS
Peter Pennoyer Architects: City | Country, by Anne Walker (Vendome Press): Is it possible to respect the traditions of architecture without being “traditional”? For Peter Pennoyer Architects, such a practice begins in the library, “the core of our firm,” writes Pennoyer in the introduction to the new monograph by Anne Walker, Peter Pennoyer Architects: City | Country. In the library, Pennoyer finds the firm’s “wellspring of inspiration for architecture, design, scholarship, and advocacy.” And yet, he continues, “truly enduring design is neither a prospective quality nor a replicated form.” Drawing on the “art” of great architecture, rather than merely its “echo,” Pennoyer eschews “potted history” through this survey of nineteen of his firm’s latest projects, ranging from private homes to apartment buildings to the hanging clock in the new Moynihan Train Hall—all carried out since the first monograph on Pennoyer Architects of twelve years ago. Published by Vendome Press, this lush 304-page survey makes the case for a contemporary architecture that is for the ages rather than merely of the moment. —JP
“Brahms, all in,” by Jay Nordlinger. On a concert of the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
“The modern banner,” by David Platzer. On “Modern Paris: 1905–1925” at the Petit Palais, Paris.
From the Archives:
“The limits of universalism,” by Henry A. Kissinger (June 2012). On Burkean conservatism.