Thursday, October 6, 2011

California Design, 1930–1965: "Living in a Modern Way" @ LACMA

Last night we visited LACMA for the member's opening party of "Living in a Modern Way." This new exhibition examines California’s role in shaping the material culture of the entire country during the mid 20th century, and displays artifacts from all types of manufacturing, from textiles, to architecture. Sprinkled throughout the show are multi media posts that screen videos dating back to the period, highlighting the new production techniques that emerged during this time. My favourite was a clip of the production of the Eames fibre glass and plastic Shell Chair - so simple! 

The showpiece of the space though is the replica of Charles and Ray Eames' own livingroom, with 100's of actual artifacts relocated temporarily from their house in the Palisades to here in the Resnick Pavilion. I wasn't allowed to photograph it, but there is a great timelapse video of the move on the LA Times website - click here to view and read about the effort. One thing I was surprised about was how many knick-knacks the Eames had collected. While they built and designed with a particular structural and aesthetic philosophy, they believed that even modernist houses were to be lived in, and should reflect a homeliness that honours their residents.

The Eames living room in the original house....much of this now on display at LACMA. Photo courtesy of LA Times.
"California Design, 1930-1965" runs all the way through to March 25th 2012, but if you can't make it, feel free to enjoy my snaps below. Or, order the catalogue from LACMA, it's enormous and full of essays and photos. Keep an eye out for objects that we still commonly use, as well as what we now consider the most sophisticated in design. So much so that the recent trend towards mid-century styling has unfortunately fed a huge boom in "knock-offs"...this show is a nice reminder of the people, their talent and their efforts behind what has become a groundbreaking period in modern Western culture.

Original 1936 Airstream Clipper trailer, heavily inspired by aeronautical engineering and yet from the front also looks like a Trojan helmet.

Examples of the influence of Mexican culture on design, alongside modern commercial art for the citrus industry, which by the 1930's was a major agricultural industry. Also featured is graphic work for the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco.

Desk and chair designed by Kem Weber for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition. This desk has not been on public display since then, and is a prime example of design combining natural and industrial materials.

Further examples of the iconic new style - combining wood, steel, and plastic to create sturdy, functional yet beautiful furniture.

Plywood softly curved in the Eames Molded Plywood Chair....often copied now.

Architectural drawings as the century headed into the 1940's - here the boundaries between inside and out were played with, and freedom of movement and light were explored by the likes of Schindler, Neutra, and Harwell Hamilton Harris.

Images of the Donnell Ranch in Sonoma, built by Thomas Dolliver Church in1948, incorporating the first kidney shaped pool.

Everyday objects - earthenware from Frank Irwin c.1955; salt, pepper, sugar shakers designed by Henry Keck c.1955-57 and still in diners all over the world today; teapot, creamer and sugar jar in pewter and ebony by Porter Blanchard c.1965.

Views of the Raymond Leowy engineered Avanti for Studebaker, manufactured 1963-64.

Promotional photo for Eichler Homes c.1955, showing off the entertaining advantage of the home's atrium.

Promotional photo for Eichler Homes, displaying the new style open kitchen/dining area for the X-100 House, 1956...complete with 50's housewife.

Playsuits incorporating colourful prints became the thing during the 1950's, designed to go from the poolside bbq to cocktail hour.

Charles and Ray Eames, photographed in their house entertaining the Wilders. Noticed the relaxed and egalitarian nature of entertaining that the layout allowed, based around conversation. Billy Wilder (far left) sits on a real tiger skin - not so tasteful now days, but this is indicative of the collection of cultural artifacts the Eames collected from all over the world.

Barbie Dream House c.1962, made by Mattel from printed cardboard.

Vintage Barbie and Ken dolls from the era. The post-war residential suburban boom in turn created a boom-time for toy manufacturers, as a whole new generation of kids embarked on the new idyllic childhood - big houses with space and yards to play in. Mass toy consumption was born.

By the 1950's the coffee table was an integral part of the modern loungeroom. Here is an example from Milo Baughman that integrated a planter, storage and cigarette compartments. It is paired here with a sofa built for the Spencer House in Beverly Hills.

This era heralded in a new style of textile designs, some for the drapery that covered the enormous expanses of glazing, increasingly common in residential buildings.

More Eames, here the ETR table from 1951, and storage unit, with Malcolm Leland ceramics in white, and Elizabeth McCord 1951 painting "Big Pink".

LACMA's 3D reproduction of the cover photo from Los Angeles Times "Home" magazine, October 21 1951. The publication sought to highlight the "California Look" and focused on items that had toured heavily at the time and were considered the vanguard of American mid-century style. Today, LACMA's Decorative Arts and Design Council have sourced many of these items from collections and had some reproduced for the exhibition.

Arts and Architecture magazine covers, each featuring a prominent designer's work on the front.

Popular Mechanics magazine sought to promote the new modern life.

Original brochure for Eichler Homes.

Graphic design for every occasion - THE Saul Bass, with help from illustrators Art Goodman and Phyllis Tanner, designed the doggie-bag on the right for Lawry Foods in 1961. Bass is famous for his involvement in the film industry, designing opening credits and movie posters. Look him up, he was incredibly prolific.

Wire sculpture c.1955 by Ruth Asawa.

Modular garden sculpture by La Gardo Tackett, manufactured by Architectural Pottery, paired with Arthur Espenet Carpenter's Rib Chair, 1968.