Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Design for sunshine

The exhibition California Design, 1930–1965: "Living in a Modern Way" at the Lynda and Stuart Resnik Exhibition Pavilion at LACMA is part of Los Angeles' Pacific Standard Time, a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions in southern California celebrating the birth of the LA art scene.

This exhibition features mid-century modern design for living - the objects, graphics and structures that were part of everyday life. For people my age, these designs are not just art - they are part of our memory, because we lived them. As I walked through the displays, I was overcome at every turn by how familiar this was, personally, to me.

The show encourages these rushes of memory, as it includes not only fine works of design but also everyday things like kitchen utensils, record album covers, toys and even cars - a classic Avanti is among the many displays.

As soon as you enter the exhibition, you encounter a polished and gleaming Airstream trailer - the "Clipper," designed in 1936, its aerodynamic shape and construction inspired by the airplane industry.

Colorful California pottery

As you move through the exhition there are showcases filled with items, including colorful examples of pottery from California-based firms like Bauer and Catalina.

Lounge furniture, with coffee-table planter
 There are examples of furniture, even entire rooms - which make me long for the long-lost Heywood Wakefield dogbone dining room set I remember from childhood. (Mom and Dad let Brother Three have it, and now it's gone......)

Sombrero-inspired fabric design

On one wall, examples of textiles are displayed, some patterned with sputniks, squiggles and boomerangs, others with cowboy hats or sombreros.

Play-sets, sundresses and other apres-swim leisure attire
 California was also the home of leading designers for leisure wear and swimwear, with manufacturers Catalina and Cole of California producing apparel in downtown Los Angeles.

Austrian fashion designer Rudi Gernreich settled in Los Angeles after fleeing from the Nazis, and pioneered the use of elastics and knits in clothing - like this knit dress that still looks fashionable today. I like this much better than Gernreich's notorious topless bathing suit.

Barbie's Dream House - so hip!
Even kids toys are embraced as both contributions of California designers - like the Barbie doll, invented in El Segundo - and as echoes of popular culture, shown by Barbie's mid-century modern Dream House.

Mid-century architects like Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler shaped the landscape of California, and there are photos, drawings, and blueprints of residential architecture that range from the iconic, like Julius Shulman's photo of the Case Study No. 22 house, to more modest middle-class house designs - some look much like my own house, built in 1963.

Certainly not a Neutra, but we like it
There's a very special treat here, hidden among the photos and magazine covers and Danish furniture. Since the Eames Foundation is restoring the flooring in the historic Eames House in Santa Monica, they have lent the entire contents of Charles and Ray Eames' living room to the curators of this exhibition. The Eames' living room has been re-installed right here in LACMA, just as it was at the time of Ray's death in 1988. Since the house is only rarely open to the public, this is a real treat to admirers of the Eames' iconic style. No photos are allowed, though.

The entire show is a wonderful exhibit, and it will surely bring back memories if you are of a certain age. Or if you're young, it shows you the roots from which modern hipster style sprang. Either way - after going through this show, you'll look at grandma's attic differently - and treasure those starburst clocks, boomerang ashtrays, and Heywood Wakefield dogbone chairs. Mom had pretty good taste!


Jen on the Edge said...

I adore Airstreams. Whenever I see one, I smile.

I wished I could get out your way to see the exhibit. My husband and I are fans of MCM. There are a few pieces of furniture that I hanker for, although I do at least have a Nelson Marshmallow sofa.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

I KNOW! Airstreams, so cute, so space age! I want one!

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

What a fantastic exhibit. I would love to see this. As for Airstreams, in Sarasota every year there is an Airstream Rally. Old, new, big, small, Airstreams of every variety. Very cool.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Oh, and I want that coffee table with the planter.

Anonymous said...

My mom always longed for an AirStream trailer. Instead, we squeezed a family of 6 (and a port-a-potty) into a tent trailer.
Some of that furniture looks familiar in my memories.