Architect Peter Marino has one golden rule: never work with lawyers. Understandable when you’ve collaborated instead with the likes of Andy Warhol and Alain Elkann, who asks Peter about art, style, France, mediocrity and motorcycles. One should never mention personal friendships in writing an interview, but Peter Marino is a special case as, with Andy Warhol, I was one of his first clients in New York in 1975. Peter was 25 years old, just out of Cornell University and had short hair, a proper suit, a white shirt with a bow tie — not how most people know him today. He had a little office and he went around town with a huge bag full of drawings, pictures and samples of materials, tiles, carpets.
We chose him to help us not only because he was considered good, but also because he was asking very little money and at the age of 25 we had almost none. Peter was very precise in his taste, very patient and listened carefully to what we really wanted. Then — because we really had no money — we went to the Salvation Army to buy a couch and an armchair. We did one apartment in the Upper East Side together and then a little Victorian house in the country in Alpine, New Jersey.
Thirty-eight years have passed since and Peter is still working in the Architects & Designers building at 150 East 58th Street in New York, but he now has three floors that look like a museum. Everywhere there are paintings by Kiefer, Richter, Warhol and Clemente, mixed with antique Asian sculpture and bronzes (Peter is one of the most important bronze sculpture collectors). This is not even the largest part of his collection: that is in his apartment on 57th Street. He is proud of his new look: a sort of antique Roman leather chest fitting, large leather bracelets, leather trousers, motorcycle boots, silver rings and a silver chain with little knives hanging from it. He has a very well-trimmed beard and his hair is shaven in a Mohawk.
THE PETER PRINCIPLE
The salon in his office has very high ceilings because he took two floors, so it looks like a classical temple, although with ‘Empire’ or ‘Retour d’Égypte’ furniture mixed with German pieces. On the walls hang Warhols of Vesuvius and Pompeian wall paintings. Everywhere there are bronze sculptures from Giambologna onwards, and around the dining table paintings by de Kooning.
‘I saw my first show of de Kooning when I was still in school; my teacher was against it, but I liked it,’ he recalls. ‘At first I followed my teacher’s point of view but in the back of my mind I thought that my teacher was wrong. In 1990 I bought some de Kooning at a very reasonable price and I think I was right.’ (De Kooning’s record is $137.5 million in a private sale.)
He took to rebelling. ‘In the Sixties and Seventies there was so much distraction around, but it was a very important cultural moment and students felt it all over the world, and it was time to change. Before we were not very much into rebellion.’
‘I always hated to be banal. What is important is to be honest with yourself. I need to see things clearly. I love everything to be clear. Lies do not work. I don’t have the energy and I need it all for my creation.’
‘Andy Warhol made me understand that good art defines the entire society in which it was created. If you look at a Vermeer you know everything about Dutch society of that time.’
‘If you look at an Elvis Presley by Warhol on a silver screen, you know everything about American celebrity mass production.’
‘The reason why I look at artists when I do a new building is because they are outside of society and they are futurists. Contemporary architects are not as fast as artists and fashion people.’
‘I have more than ten Kiefers. They are perfect for my house in Aspen. From the large windows I see the landscape of the Rocky Mountains, and inside, against the walls, the Kiefer paintings match perfectly with the landscape. I have so many because of the design of the home, and they are tough enough to challenge the mountains!’
‘I still draw: on white paper, 8½in x 12in, with a black Bic — always the same for 32 years. I like the lines.’
ON HIS STYLE
‘You would recognise a Peter Marino building because of its modern architecture with the use of very elegant and beautiful materials. I use a lot of natural light and space. I stay away from orange, which I find vulgar — and violet. I like all the rest.’
‘I like to look at the Italian architects of the early Renaissance, like Alberti and Brunelleschi, who were also artists. Or Carlo Scarpa, who was a medical student. But I should say that my work comes from the fact that I was a painter.’
ON BEING GLOBAL
‘Many of my clients are from foreign countries and I learnt a lot travelling, visiting them and especially working in so many different places, and with so many different types of people. I spend 50 per cent of my time between Asia, California, the Middle East and Europe, but I only travel for work. I work in so many different countries, but my base is New York.’
‘I only like very high and very low. I hate the middle and often I reject clients for mediocre projects. I like visual people and that is why we have one rule: we never, ever work for lawyers. They are only interested in words; they cannot see things.’
‘I like the way the French discuss things: every person has an opinion on everything. Americans in general are horrified and they think that French people are mean. I find it refreshing that French people tell you things to your face.’
‘I have seven, one for everyday — a KTM — and in the country I have Harleys. For me, riding my motorcycle is a way of meditation, a way of feeling free from my work and daily stress. I especially like to ride in the summer with some friends.’
‘My daughter suggested to me that for next Halloween I should wear a suit — because nobody will recognise me!’
First published in Issue 34 of Spear’s Magazine.
Why not visit spearsmagazine.com and never miss another article with their RSS feeds: http://www.spearswms.com/rssfeeds.html
- World record art sales as super-rich snap up Freuds, Koons, and Warhols (theguardian.com)
- Warhol painting fetches record $105M at NY auction (bostonherald.com)
- Warhol car crash painting pops artist’s sale record (theguardian.com)
- Francis Bacon Artwork Sets Auction Record in NY – ABC News (abcnews.go.com)
- Christie’s Nets $691.6 M. at Contemporary Sale, Auction Record, With Bacon, Koons in Front (galleristny.com)