March 25, 2009, - 4:29 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
You gotta love the story of Arakawa and Madeline Gins and what they were spending their Mad(off) Money on before the Madoff bubble burst.
It’s a great example of New Age nuttiness at its, well, nuttiest. The Village Voice calls my ridicule “Madenfreude” (a combination of Madoff and schadenfreude). Cute.
So, am I gleeful that nuts like those lost their money because they couldn’t see the real world. No. Well, kind of. I just think these people epitomize the fantasy world and myopic views of so many Madoff investors. Look at this slideshow of their house. It’s like a mad scientist’s carnival fun house on steroids. I call it, “New Age Psychobabble, The Building.”
Of all the dreams that were crushed by Mr. Madoff’s crime, perhaps none was more unusual than this duo’s of achieving everlasting life through architecture. Mr. Arakawa (he uses only his last name) and Ms. Gins design structures they say can enable inhabitants to “counteract the usual human destiny of having to die.”
The income from their investments with Mr. Madoff helped fund their research and experimental work. Now, Mr. Arakawa, 72 years old, and Ms. Gins, 67, are strapped for cash. They closed their Manhattan office and laid off five employees.
The pair’s work, based loosely on a movement known as “transhumanism,” is premised on the idea that people degenerate and die in part because they live in spaces that are too comfortable. The artists’ solution: construct abodes that leave people disoriented, challenged and feeling anything but comfortable.
They build buildings with no doors inside. They place rooms far apart. They put windows near the ceiling or near the floor. Between rooms are sloping, bumpy moonscape-like floors designed to throw occupants off balance. These features, they argue, stimulate the body and mind, thus prolonging life. “You become like a baby,” says Mr. Arakawa. . . .
“Their research is a milestone in the history of conceptual art,” says Alexandra Munroe, senior curator at the main Guggenheim Museum, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where the couple’s work is currently on display. She says many of their supporters don’t literally accept the couple’s message on immortality but appreciate it in a “metaphorical” way.
Wow, I’ve never heard so much well-packaged bullcrap in my life.
To the artists, eternal life is a real possibility. “This is a great chance for the human race,” says Ms. Gins.
Things appeared to be going well for the couple before Mr. Madoff’s arrest in December. They completed a park, an office building and nine “reversible destiny” lofts in Japan. The lofts, finished in 2005, cost about $6 million to build. Five of the nine lofts, which rent for $1,700 to $2,300 a month, have tenants.
A typical apartment has three or four rooms in the shapes of either a cylinder, a cube, or a sphere. Rooms surround a kitchen-living room combination with bumpy, undulating floors and floor-to-ceiling ladders and poles. Dozens of colors, from school-bus yellow to sky blue, cover the walls, ceilings and other surfaces.
At least one tenant says he feels a little younger already.
Quick, book me a roundtrip ticket to New York so I can sell him some land under the Hudson River and some bottled snake oil as a house-warming gift.
Nobutaka Yamaoka, who moved in with his wife and two children about two years ago, says he has lost more than 20 pounds and no longer suffers from hay fever, though he isn’t sure whether it was cured by the loft.
A-ha! See Bernard Madoff actually saved lives!
There is no closet, and Mr. Yamaoka can’t buy furniture for the living room or kitchen because the floor is too uneven, but he relishes the lifestyle. “I feel a completely different kind of comfort here,” says the 43-year-old video director. His wife, however, complains that the apartment is too cold. Also, the window to the balcony is near the floor, and she keeps bumping her head against the frame when she crawls out to hang up laundry, he says. (“That’s one of the exercises,” says Ms. Gins.)
Last year, Mr. Arakawa and Ms. Gins’s first U.S. home, which resembles the Tokyo lofts, was completed in East Hampton, N.Y. It took $2 million and eight years to construct, and has a listing price of $5.5 million.
Many scientists see the couple’s work as part of a futile, age-old human aspiration to live forever. “Longevity salesman is the second-oldest profession,” says S. Jay Olshansky, a researcher on aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This would be the worst possible house you could build for an older person,” he says. To prolong life, he recommends building spaces that “lower the probability of falls,” plus a healthy diet and exercise.
Some transhumanists dismiss the couple’s architectural solution. “Human life has enough challenges in terms of our work and daily lives that we don’t need to invent new physical challenges for our bodies,” says Ray Kurzweil, a leading transhumanist figure in the U.S. In the future, humans will have microscopic robots in their bodies which will be able to regenerate cells, he says.
Yup, everyone in this “transhumanist” movement is transcrazy.
The couple’s destiny intersected with the Madoffs’ in 1994, when Ms. Gins met Mr. Madoff’s wife, Ruth, at an art gallery. Ms. Gins recalls that she later met the Madoffs at one of her art shows, and Mr. Madoff said he could help her by investing the couple’s savings in his firm. Lawyers for Mr. and Mrs. Madoff declined to comment.
Declined to comment because he carried out the largest Ponzi scheme ever in U.S. history . . . or because he’s embarrassed to have the wackiest clients ever in U.S. history.
Since Mr. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme came to light, the couple have been trying to sell their seminal work, the “Mechanism of Meaning,” a series of 84 8-foot-tall panels that took them 10 years to complete, for about $17 million.
“Museums in the U.S. and Germany would be the best candidates,” says Lisa Dennison, an executive at Sotheby’s who is trying to line up a buyer. “It’s an amazing work, but there are not many possible customers for it.”
Um, yeah, good luck with that.
Barring a sell-off of their collection, the couple fear they won’t realize their dream of building a “reversible destiny” village with homes and parks that would combine their theories of life into one community.
“Here was someone we thought was a supporter of ours,” says Ms. Gins of Mr. Madoff, “and he pulled the rug out from under us.”
You’ll excuse me if I’m not shedding tears over this great tragedy of this fantastic idea in architecture denied to America and the world.
Yes, it’s not wrong to say that some people’s loss through the Madoff swindle was a form of financial natural selection.
Oh, and one other thing. If you want to live uncomfortably to make your body adjust and live longer, they already invented a building that does that. It’s called a gym. Go work out, and you’ll likely feel uncomfortable and live longer.