Julius Shulman’s iconic archictectural photographs capture California’s new sense of architecture, space and lifestyle.

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Returning to my coverage of the Pacific Standard Time art exhibit/extravaganza in Los Angeles:

LACMA’s sprawling multi-building expanse is a stop I make every time I am in LA. Their flagship PST show, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”, fills the new Resnick Pavilion with artifacts from an extraordinary era—architecture, furniture, ceramics, fashion and textiles, industrial and graphic design and accoutrements of a new style of living.

The scope of the show is broad and the ramifications over time of these designers are very clear in hindsight. California represented something quite different from the cultural epicenter on the east coast. In David Weinstein‘s review of a smaller and less ambitious show, Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury at Philips Andover’s Addison Gallery in 2008, some of that essence is described:

‘Cool’ meant art that, unlike the earth-shaking solos of bebop or the splatters of paint that seemed to burst from Jackson Pollock’s very soul, was rational and restrained, but deeply emotional nonetheless. In “the ethos of cool,” the show’s curator Elizabeth Armstrong says, can be found “a cerebral mix of seeming detachment and effortlessness.”

That streamlined detachment and effortlessness is what I remember from my California childhood in the 1950s. Everything was cool, not heated and overworked. Engaged and yet not. When I moved from California to New York City in the early 1970s, it was like landing in a place with a completely different set of cultural coordinates—intense, cerebral, serious, driven, etched into, worn through. At that time that was just what I needed.

Meanwhile California followed its own trajectory, and that legacy is so evident in this show. Hovering over all of these artifacts is the presence of Ray and Charles Eames, the husband and wife team whose designs became icons in the American mid-century landscape. One of the highlights of the LACMA show is the recreation of the living space from the Eames’ 1949 Pacific Palisades house. Named a National Historic Landmark in 2006, the house is currently in the process of being restored.

A few highlights from the show:


Installation view


Installation view


The Eames House Living Room, Charles and Ray Eames. © 2011 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com). Courtesy Antonia Mulas


Glen Lukens, Bowl. Photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA


Gertrud Natzler; Otto Natzler, Bowl. Photograph © 2010 Museum Associates/LACMA


Margit Fellegi for Cole of California. Photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA


Dan Johnson, desk. Photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Additional note to readers close to Boston: The last viewing of the film, Eames: The Architect and Painter, is showing at the MFA this coming Wednesday at 3pm.


Ray and Charles Eames at the Aspen Design Conference. © 2011 Eames Office, LLC

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