José Esparza Chong Cuy on the Hearst Castle

The executive director of Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City waxes poetic on the rumored inspiration for Xanadu.
Esparza Chong Cuy Photo By Ana Hop Bw

José Esparza Chong Cuy is the executive director and chief curator of Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City. Arabesque, the third of four exhibitions in the organization’s Building Cycles curatorial program, is the Center’s most recent show. Courtesy Ana Hop

Built between 1919 and 1947, the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, by architect Julia Morgan is one of the most mythologized buildings of its period. With a larger-than-life reputation comparable to that of its owner, media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, this lavish building is ingrained in popular culture (it is said to have inspired the setting for Citizen Kane) and has come to represent the idiosyncrasies of American wealth and power.

Morgan was the first woman to receive an architecture certificate from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1902. While she was there, French architectural historian Jules Bourgoin, who had traveled extensively through the Middle East, taught a course on ornamentation. This historical juxtaposition forms the basis of Storefront for Art and Architecture’s exhibition Arabesque, by Lebanese artist Rayyane Tabet.

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Courtesy Claude R. Faw, official photograph from California Highways and Public Works, State Department of Public Works, Division of Highways, Sacramento, California/Mayo Hayes O’Donnell Library Photograph Collection

Though the Hearst Castle was eventually overshadowed by the clean, cool Modernism promoted during the years of its construction, Morgan’s mastery of classical styles and ornate details, mixed with a Bay Area sensibility and bizarre patronage, makes it one of the most quintessentially American buildings of the 20th century.

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Categories: Arts + Culture