Saturday, December 6, 2008

The monumental modern

In the raw, windswept southern corner of Forest Hills, where the most recently dead lie, the stones are polished and cookie-cutter congruent in the current fashion, many with laser-cut photoreal reproductions of yearbook photos, glimmering crosses and Christs—and in one case, a chess set. In the larger, older precincts of the cemetery, however, stones and mausoleums come in a bewildering variety of styles, from the sentimental figures of the Victorian to neo-gothic arches to quiet slabs of neo-puritan slate. Rare among these are expressions of the out-and-out modern, like the art deco Lanza mausoleum below.

The Kinelly mausoleum below isn't really modern—more neoclassical by way of arts & crafts, it's in dialogue with the modern...

with a cast bronze door looks like a product of the Kelmscott Press:

Few modern monuments in Forest Hills are stones. The example below always catches my eye as I jog into the brushy western margin of the cemetery, where elegant topiary gives way to puddingstone outcrops and tall, swishing pines.

Aside from the sleek black stone and the ad-agency typography, the name it carries is striking. Is Melbourne Brindle a particularly stylish sub-breed of whippet, or perhaps a classic touring motorcar? This, it turns out, is an especially appropriate connection, as Melbourne Brindle was America's foremost automotive illustrator, with a special passion for the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Brindle died in 1995; he received an obituary in the New York Times.

An exhibition of Brindle's work appeared last year at Boston's Vose Galleries. His surreal-manque painting above illustrates the Stevens-Duryea, a motorcar built in Chicopee, Massachusetts in the twenties. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition explains that Brindle showed the car among ruins to express his nostalgia for the company, which closed its plant in 1932.

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