Domestic bliss

Before joining PEM, I lived in Los Angeles for nearly 12 years, and for me, industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’ encapsulation of a California mindset still rings very true…from 1947.

On the Pacific Coast there are fewer shackles on tradition. There is an unslackening development of new thought. There is a decided willingness to take a chance on new ideas. 

It suggests the sense of freedom and exhilaration one feels living there. It’s a mindset stoked by vastness and geographical beauty, a sunny and warm climate, the surrounding glamour of Hollywood, the inviolably public beaches, and the opportunities long promised by the University of California educational system — all components of the California dream that drew my husband and me out West in the first place. Dreyfuss’ quote also hints at the beginnings of the stories of the lives — and the objects — created and transformed by the spirit of democracy and innovation particular to the Golden State.

Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, 1946

Richard Neutra, Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, 1946. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1947. Getty Research Institute. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way, opening March 29 and organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, brilliantly elucidates the stories of the California designers who, as a Los Angeles Times journalist noted in 1951, demonstrated a “willingness to experiment and be different, to solve problems in California’s way.”

The modernity inherent to the California outlook and expressed through the objects on display is the central theme of California Design. As émigré designer Greta Magnusson Grossman stated in 1951, California design “is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions … It has developed out of our own preference for living in a modern way.”

Stahl House (Case Study House #22), Hollywood Hills, 1959-60, Ta

Stahl House (Case Study House #22), Hollywood Hills, 1959‐60, taken 1960, printed 2011. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

The influx of millions of new residents to California during the economic boom of the 1920s ignited the demand for modern housing and furnishings that exponentially increased during and immediately following World War II because of wartime manufacturing jobs, soldiers returning from the front, and the related population booms. European designers such as R.M. Schindler brought to California tenets of modernism along with their professional training in art and architecture.

These émigrés generated tremendous synergy with local designers and schools, and all of these designers fueled a culture of innovation that was strong enough to survive the lean years of the 1930s. This spirit of experimentation and innovation accelerated as California took the lead in aerospace and defense manufacturing during World War II. Legendary designers such as Charles and Ray Eames moved to the state in 1941, and more designers fled the conflicts in Europe for opportunities provided by everything from Hollywood to the housing crisis.

Charles Eames and Ray Eames, ESU (Eames storage unit), c. 1949. Herman Miller Furniture Company. Gift of Mr. Sid Avery and Mr. James Corcoran. Eames Office LLC and Herman Miller Inc. Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA.

Charles Eames and Ray Eames, ESU (Eames storage unit), c. 1949. Herman Miller Furniture Company. Gift of Mr. Sid Avery and Mr. James Corcoran. Eames Office LLC and Herman Miller Inc. Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA.

The state’s beautiful environment and gentle climate also contributed to the flourishing design movement. Modern designers blurred traditional boundaries between spaces for dining, eating relaxing or sleeping within the home, but California weather inspired architects in the state, including Cliff May, to extend the open plan concept, blur distinctions between spaces and furnishings inside and outside the house, and fully embrace indoor/outside living.

Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958

Buff, Straub & Hensman, Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959.Getty Research Institute. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

Moreover, profoundly democratic ideals underpinned the modern design movement in California. Through new materials, manufacturing methods and modern styles, designers endeavored to create products as inviting and affordable as possible to the vast numbers of new middle-class consumers with homes to furnish and decorate. The momentum behind the California design movement was the home. The furniture, ceramics, architecture, graphic and industrial design, jewelry, fashion, metalwork and textiles on view in the exhibition were made with the Californian — and the beauty and comfort of his or her daily life — in mind.

Margaret De Patta, Designs Contemporary, Pin, c. 1946–57. LACMA Decorative Arts and Design Acquisition and Deaccession Funds. Margaret De Patta Estate, courtesy Martha Bielawski. Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA.

Margaret De Patta, Designs Contemporary, Pin, c. 1946–57. LACMA Decorative Arts and Design Acquisition and Deaccession Funds. Margaret De Patta Estate, courtesy Martha Bielawski. Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA.

The exhibition is divided into four chapters — Shaping, Making, Living and Selling. These sections are all historically and culturally conceived to tell the stories of California designs and designers and their influence and legacy, but they also resonate with me personally. They suggest the allure of California to so many people, then and now. They inspire us to consider how California shaped the worldview of its residents and designers, gave people the tools to make something new of themselves and their ideas and aspiration, and showed how a different environment and climate changed how you lived, and could even make you a booster for what makes California so great.

Mary Ann DeWeese, Woman’s swimsuit, 1961. LACMA, Gift of Mary Ann DeWeese, DeWeese Designs. The Warnaco Group Inc. Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA.

Mary Ann DeWeese, Woman’s swimsuit, 1961. LACMA, Gift of Mary Ann DeWeese, DeWeese Designs. The Warnaco Group Inc. Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA.

To my mind, this exhibition demonstrates how, from cars to cameras, toys to chairs, album covers to bathing suits, saltshakers to surfboards, California designers redefined the material culture of an era. They not only created what, in 1951, the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine defined as the California look — “glowing color, originality of treatment, simplicity of design”— but also showed how creative responses to one’s environment, thoughtful use of materials and good design can create a better and more pleasing world.

20130467_1113-silo

Raymond Loewy, Studebaker Avanti, 1964. Private Collection of Richard Vaux. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.

 Editor’s Note: Read Austen Barron Bailly’s story of moving from California to Salem, Mass., in this previous post.

Opening Day Celebration California Design

California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way

Saturday, March 29, from 11am – 4pm

 

Public Gallery Talk

California Design | 11 am
Tickets available day of program
Meet at information desk

Film

Objectified | 11 am – 12:15 pm | Morse Auditorium
Reservations by March 26

Objectified examines our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. It’s about the designers who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. It’s about personal expression, identity, consumerism, and sustainability.

Through vérité footage and in-depth conversations, the film documents the creative processes of some of the world’s most influential product designers, and looks at how the things they make impact our lives. What can we learn about who we are, and who we want to be, from the objects with which we surround ourselves? 2009, 75 minutes, directed by Gary Hustwit.

Purchase Tickets Here for Film

Docent led Gallery Tours
California Design | 11 am and 2 pm | Meet at information desk

The Great Outdoors
Noon – 4 pm | Atrium

Americans enjoyed outdoor life like never before with design innovations like the Airstream trailer and light, shatterproof materials like spun aluminum and plastics. Drop into this pop-up midcentury “campsite” to  enjoy travel pastimes, learn about design for fresh-air living, and create a custom paint-by-numbers artwork.

Drop-in Art Making
Paper Cutouts | Noon – 4 pm | Atrium

Presentation
California Design | 1 – 2 pm | Morse Auditorium
Reservations by March 26

This lecture examines the Golden State’s role in shaping the material culture of the United States. Beginning with the development of a singular California modernism in the 1930s and the contributions of émigrés, the lecture then explores the design innovations made possible by the conversion of World War II technologies to peace-time use, the California home and its celebration of indoor/outdoor living, and the marketing of California products (and identity) throughout the United States and Europe. Presentation by Wendy Kaplan, Curator and Department Head, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Wendy is joined for a Q & A session by Austen Barron Bailly, the George Putnam Curator of American Art.

Purchase Tickets Here for 1:00 pm Presentation

Public Gallery Talk
California Design | 2 pm
Tickets available day of program
Meet at information desk

Presentation
From Bullet Bras to Bra Burning | 3 – 4 pm | Morse Auditorium
Reservations by March 26

Join The Tannery Series for a discussion of  fashion, feminism and the way the home-front became a crucible of social change. Be part of the conversation as award-winning novelist Sigrid Nunez (The Last of her Kind) and sociologist Ashly Mears (Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model) explore beauty, power and the changing lives of women in the 50′s, 60′s and beyond. Come hear why “Mid-Century Modern” is about more than great design. Hosted by the Tannery Series, bringing literature and people together on the North Shore.

Purchase Tickets Here for 3:00pm Presentation

 

 

 

 

One Comment

  1. gail spilsbury says:

    Loved reading this! And your information increases my anticipation of this show. It will be something!

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