“California Design” Embodies Modernist Movement


Author: Natania Reed

The Getty Center-sponsored Pacific Standard Time initiative, a collaboration between more than 60 art institutions across Southern California, celebrates the growth of Los Angeles’ art scene and its establishment as a center of artistic innovation between 1945 and 1980.

“California Design, 1930 – 1965: Living in a Modern Way,” now featured at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), details the way that American material culture and consumption collided with art and architecture in California during the mid-twentieth century. The exhibition, which opened in October and will run until June 3, 2012, features an extensive variety of artistic items, including furniture, fashion, jewelry and ceramics, as well as more traditional art forms like film and graphic design.

The exhibit focuses on the development of modernism in design, particularly in California, which was established as America’s most important center for progressive architecture and furnishings during this era. “California Design” is divided into four sections: “Shaping,” “Making,” “Living” and “Selling,” all of which illustrate the application of modernist characteristics – optimism, democracy, experimentation and new technologies – to California culture and conditions, which allowed design and architecture to think about both indoor and outdoor living spaces.

The first section of the exhibit, “Shaping,” chronicles the initial growth of modern design in the 1930s as the population in Southern California, particularly L.A., increased dramatically. The concept that architecture and home design could be an artistic form came to fruition, which is exemplified by Millard Sheets’ “Screen” (1930s), featured at the exhibit. “Screen” is a four-piece room divider, which is covered in an illustration of a nature scene reminiscent of traditional Japanese art. This newfound conviction that art should be incorporated into architecture is evident in Sheets’ work. Similarly, architect Richard Neutra’s 1931 work

Glee Club Heralds the Holidays

Ruby Paiva

The Glee Club Holiday Concert, held in Upper Herrick Chapel on Sunday Dec 4., was led by student conductors Andrew Chang ‘13, CJ Cruz ‘13, Ben Klute ‘13, Jeffrey Leblow ‘13, Calvin Lesko ‘12 and Kristine Nowlain ‘12.”Chair” shows the application of the avant-garde to furniture. He embraced the interrelationship between aesthetics and functionality. Instead of focusing on traditional roles of furniture, Neutra designed the chair in particular to explore the relationship of different materials. The upholstered leather of the chair and the warm wooden arms deeply contrast the stark metal support at the rear of the seat.

The second section,”Making,” leaves the 1930’s behind and focuses more heavily on post-war art and architecture. War conditions forced the production of newer and cheaper materials like mesh and molded plywood, materials that were utilized in art and architecture after the war ended. Several furniture pieces created by the famous designer couple Ray and Charles Eames used newly invented materials like fiberglass and plywood. Clothing items created by designer Margit Fellegi are also featured, such as her 1942 “Swoon Suit,” which is a pale yellow two-piece swimming suit that conformed to women’s fashion of the time, while utilizing cheap war materials.

“Living,” the next portion of “California Design,” illustrates the ways that modernism was incorporated into the everyday home. After the war, the production of new homes rose by tens of thousands, and a new middle class market opened for modern California design. This section features the entire living room of Ray and Charles Eames’ home. It contains all the original artifacts, complete with rugs, vintage books on the bookshelf and other décor. This impressive arrangement showcases the modernist designers’ juxtaposition of old and new and traditional and contemporary. Fashion is also a large part of this section. Functionality took over clothing design, evident in DeDe Johnson’s “Playsuit” (1950s), a combination of multiple pieces – a bathing suit, shorts, a skirt and a top – all in the same bright yellow and black pattern for the wearer to mix and match. Jewelry designer Margaret De Patta also has numerous pieces on display at the exhibit, which showcase her employment of inexpensive material to create beautiful, structured jewelry like “Pin” (1955), which is created out of pebbles and sterling silver.

The final section of the exhibition, “Selling,” illustrates the manner in which different mediums helped to disseminate these new modernist designs, including film, publications, and advertising. Magazine covers from “Sunset” and “Arts and Architecture Magazine” are featured at the exhibit and go all the way back to issues published in the mid-1930s. “Arts and Architecture Magazine” was the premier publication for modernism, and issues on display at the exhibit have important designers and architects such as Ray Eames and Charles Kratka featured on the cover. “California Design” also has several films showing in this section, to demonstrate the use of California design in Hollywood productions at the time. For example, the films “Holiday in Mexico” (1946) and “Sleeper” (1973) have modern architecture featured throughout the film, in addition to furniture designed by Charles Eames.

“California Design” is a comprehensive look into the expansion of modern, California-based artistic traditions into the realm of design and architecture. The exhibition’s division into sections allows for a more cohesive understanding of this growth. Overall, the exhibit beautifully illustrates the relationship of Californian culture to art and design in the mid-20th century.

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