Sunday, June 04, 2006

Oh God No, Please No

My headline refers to this one from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Want to live in a Kinkade painting? It's possible.

From the article: "The California artist, beloved by middlebrow America but reviled by the art establishment, has signed a deal with developers in this resort city to help design five lake-view houses that are copies of homes in paintings such as 'Beyond Autumn Gate.'" The houses are going to be in Idaho.

Thomas Kinkade the guy who became a millionaire selling his paintings of cozy cottages in shopping mall galleries calls himself the "painter of light," and claims his brush is guided by god. There is recent news to the contrary, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times. He was ordered to pay $860,000 to some former gallery owners who claim he defrauded them, but that's not the interesting part. What's interesting is his apparent fondness for strip clubs and booze:
"In an interview, Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Mr. Kinkade's company, recounted a trip to Orange County in the late 1990s for the artist's appearance on the 'Hour of Power' television show. On the eve of the broadcast, Mr. Sheppard said, he and Mr. Kinkade returned to the Disneyland Hotel after a night of heavy drinking. As they walked to their rooms, according to Mr. Sheppard and another person who was there, Mr. Kinkade veered toward a nearby figure of a Disney character and decided to 'mark his territory.'"
He was also accused of groping a woman at a party.

So now the hallowed Kinkade brand is coming to the housing market. Is that such a good idea … financially? Chicago real estate expert Mark Nash says no. "The Kinkade art style has never been positioned as a luxury one … It might be a stretch to make a Rolls-Royce out of a Buick brand. But money has not always been able to buy you taste."

The Associated Press couldn't get a comment from the busy Thomas Kinkade, so they sought another expert: Reuben Kinkade, the self proclaimed "painter of stuff." Some readers may remember Reuben Kinkade as the wacky manager of a certain singing Partridge family. Alas, it's only a parody: writer Robert Niles made the "Reuben Kinkade, Painter of Stuff" website, which shows the Lucky Charms leprechaun frolicking around Thomas Kinkade's paintings. It's a remarkably good fit. The Associated Press really did ask Niles to comment. He wasn't kind.

This reminded me of a recent development in Minneapolis: Le Parisien Flats, a curiously placed (Uptown) apartment complex that is equals parts Kinkade and Euro Disney. Developer, Mark Dziuk's goal of bringing the best features of French neighborhoods to Minneapolis is laudable, but its realization is tacky. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the thirteen units will go for $295,300 to $477,700, but buyers will have to finish them using a contractor approved by Dzuik.

It's not just the development that I find so creepy, it's the gauche marketing. Take Le Press Kit, the bundle of information the developers put otgether for the media, for example. Dzuik tells a story about how he toured Paris, snapping hundreds of digital photos of everything while retracing the steps of Joseph Campbell. He was taking both a personal journey and a civic one, the latter for the benefit of the people of Minneapolis -- or at least for the suburbanites his development will attract. Ironically, Le Press Kit (I'm not joking about that -- that's what he calls it) takes pains to point out how authentic the complex will be:
"Specifically, he wanted to create an environment for people like himself who loved European lifestyle but wanted to live in the Twin Cities. It’s important to note that Dziuk was after more than mere mimicry of French architectural details. He was adamant that his project not be infused with easy, Disneyesque theming."
And yet there it is. The City Pages saw it -- they grudgingly gave Le Parisien a Best of the Twin Cities award in spite of how it reminded them of "the French village at Epcot Center or the Paris Casino in Las Vegas (both elaborate efforts to capture the real deal in places that are nothing like the eternal City of Light)." The City Pages liked the development's environmentally friendly and innovative design.

And I do to, but why does it have to be so gingerbread-like? Why not just design it well and leave out the French theme park? I would argue that combining the thoughtful design, fancy French flooring, and solar heat with the faux-French trappings and sealed noise-proof walls plays to two opposing audiences: an urban liberal and a suburban conservative.

Though Thomas Kinkade may not agree -- even while one god-guided hand paints and the other grabs thy neighbor's ass -- contradictions (and discordant architecture) are what make urban life more interesting.

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