Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mid-Century Modern California at LACMA

Among more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California taking part of the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980” exhibiting the influences in design from Southern California artists, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) does it’s part with the current exhibition displayed through Sunday, June 3, 2012.  I highly recommend visiting the museum’s Resnick Pavilion to view the latest installation, “California Design,1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way” which explores the influences our state had in shaping the material culture of the country during the mid-century, as California symbolized the good life in America. 

Charles and Ray Eames,  DCW (dining chair wood)

This exhibition is the first major study of California mid-century modern design. With objects—furniture, ceramics, metalwork, film, jewelry, fashion and textiles, architectural drawings, and industrial and graphic design—the exhibition examines the state’s role in shaping the material culture of the entire country. Organized into four thematic areas, the exhibition aims to elucidate the 1951 quote from émigré Greta Magnusson Grossman that is incorporated into the exhibition’s title: California design “is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions…It has developed out of our own preferences for living in a modern way."  Dedicated to specific areas of focus, the exhibit is broken up into “Shaping Modern California”, “Making California Modern”, “Living California Modern”, Selling California Modern”.

The exhibit explains “in the boom economy of the 1920s, California experiences extraordinary population growth.  As aerial views of Los Angeles demonstrate, millions of new denizens flocked to the state’s urban areas.  All these people needed housing and furnishings: the “Shaping: section focuses on the 1930s because that is when buildings and their contents started to be made in modern ways and in modern styles, even ones on-the-go like the Wally Byam industrial designed Airstream.  In his backyard, the lawyer-turned "How-to" guru Angeleno created his first "Airstream Clipper"  which would become the model to follow for designs to come.

By the onset on World War II, homes and their furnishings were characterized by a particular kind of modernism rooted in California culture and conditions.  The general qualities associated with the state (optimism and democracy, fearless experimentation, and a love of new technology) and those specific to design (an affinity for light and brilliant color, an openness to Asian and Latin influences, and an advocacy of fluid spaces and cross-disciplinary approaches) made California’s best products distinctive.

Richard Neutra, Kaufmann House, 1946
While championing new technologies, innovative materials, and simplified geometric forms, California modernists retained the individuality of the earlier Arts and Crafts movement, the sense of being particular to a place, and a connection to nature.  In contrast to the stern moral dictates of the European international Style, a more humanistic modernism emerged here, one that fully embraced comfort and leisure, and responded directly to the environment.”

After 1945 a burgeoning, newly prosperous population—intoxicated by the power to purchase after the deprivation years of the Great Depression and the wartime rationing of goods—turned the state into America’s most important center for progressive architecture and furnishings. This exhibition explores how the California of our collective imagination—a democratic utopia where a benign climate permitted life to be led informally and largely outdoors— was translated into a material culture that defined an era.  The show features more than 350 works by leading designers including Charles and Ray Eames, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra.
Detail "California Design 10"
Work was collected from various museums and personal collections to create this exhibit.  One of the works on loan from the Pasadena Art Museum (Norton Simon Museum) was an exhibition catalogue from 1968 by designer Robert Ellis.  “California Design 10” was just one of the many catalogues produced to showcase design exploring new advances in technology and design in community-planning approaches as well as in industrial design methods.  It is a catalog from the last exhibit held at the Pasadena Art Museum before moving in its entirety up-state for the new California Exhibition  that ran from July 1-September17, 1968.  "The Guide to the California Collection" catalogs ran from 1955-1984 with archives found at the Oakland Museum of California. 
Detail "California Design 10"
The “California Design 10” catalogs, three in total, are packed with juicy renderings and photos of mid-century modern design and architecture in the triennial survey of the best California had to offer.  Below is a snapshot of one of the inside sections entitled, “Atomville, USA” conceived in 1950.  “The Atomic Age with its high technology of electronics, engineering, communications and transportations, has placed a new burden on us to upgrade our cities and our installations which have been and still are being planned on the last-century concepts.”  The homes and factories created through this movement were designed primarily for a nuclear attack, “Primarily, Atomville gives our people and our production facilities protection from atomic attack.  This undeniable, as primitive versions of this construction have already been endorsed in certain types of installations such as warehouses where weaponry is stored, shelters for the President of the United States, and for Pentagon leaders.”
Opco Company, Ice Gun, c. 1935
Other fun and exciting objects of design included a whacky ice crushing device.  Meet form and function working together: The Ice Gun!  Created in 1935 for a post-prohibition hungry public where the cocktail bar served more than a cocktail, but an array of bar tools with a modern flair. 

Overall, the exhibit is a fantastic overview of the attributes of creatives in California that left a major impact on how we communicated with culture.

The exhibition is organized by Wendy Kaplan, Curator and Department Head, and Bobbye Tigerman, Assistant Curator, of LACMA's Decorative Arts and Design Department.

Check out this free app for iPad and iPhone includes:
  • Access to original video interviews with California Designers.
  • Superb high-resolution images of more than 100 highlights.
  • An interactive map featuring notable locations in the history of California midcentury design.
  • An essay from the curators about the making of the exhibition.
Related Pacific Standard Time Exhibitions Now Open
The House that Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985 Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens | huntington.org

The Golden State of Craft: California 1960–1980
Craft and Folk Art Museum | cafam.org

Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design MAK Center | @makcenter.org

Eames Designs
A+D Museum Opens | aplusd.org

Indoor Ecologies: The Evolution of the Eames House Living Room
Eames House Foundation | eamesfoundation.org

In Words and Wood: Sam Maloof, Bob Stocksdale, and Ed Moulthrop
Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts | malooffoundation.org

San Diego’s Craft Revolution—From Post-War Modern to California Design Mingei International Museum | mingei.org

Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945–1975
American Museum of Ceramic Art | amoca.org

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