First it was art, now Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in LA.
Last year the Getty took on the role of institutional big daddy, sponsoring tens of shows that celebrated LA’s artistic legacy. Now it’s doing the same for architecture, sponsoring a summer of shows and related events that explore LA’s experimental buildings and ideas about urban living, dating from 1940 to now and tomorrow.
Many of the shows look back at an era when Los Angeles’ urban form and lifestyle seemed to represent the future. Others look at the recent past – the work of Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss and others when they were just starting to make waves in the 1970s and 80s. And there are shows that take us into the future – LACMA’s exploration of architect Peter Zumthor’s proposals for a replacement museum on the site of the original buildings, and MOCA’s “ A New Sculpturalism” showcasing today’s formally expressivet buildings by young architects, many of them alumni of the once “alternative” school SCI-Arc. Yet others argue that LA is defined more by its streets than its individual buildings.
On today’s show, DnA takes a look at some of the shows opening this month and next, and asks, what does PSTP mean by “Modern” and do the shows represent a nostalgic look back to a time when it seemed the metropolis and the car-based life could infinitely expand and continue indefinitely?
The show opens with Thomas Hines, research professor of architecture and urban design and history at UCLA, who explains what made LA a capital of Modern architecture. Despite “its many problems and faults,” he says this region is one of the most “important places in the world in the development of Modern Architecture.” He cites the early footprint of Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Austrian emigres, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra.
One of the first exhibits to open is the Getty’s own, called Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990. It’s curated by Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander of the Getty Research Institute, and it’s huge, with plans, models, archive footage taking us back to the era when LA was taking flight – spreading residential development far and wide, building a state-of-the-art airport, building its aerospace and oil industries, not to mention its pop culture, like Disneyland.
Following Wim and Christopher we hear from a man who knows the period as well as anyone, Chris Nichols, author of the “Ask Chris” column in Los Angeles magazine and member of the LA Conservancy’s Modern Committee. Listen for his review of the show, as well as his unapologetic embrace of onetime ability to drive ones car door to door. Walking – not him!. The 1950s lifestyle was, in his view, “so luxurious, I just love it so much.” (Image left provided by the Getty: Electrical Transmission Towers, about 1935; Will Connell (1898 – 1961); Gelatin silver print, Stephen White, Collection II).
What you won’t find with Pacific Standard Time Presents is a tidy chronology of LA architecture. Museums have had a free range to offer different perspectives on what might count as LA Modern. So LACMA has a conceptual art piece by Stephen Prina capturing, in pink, the footprint of Schindler (shown above); and it will looks forward with a show of new plans for the LACMA site. You will hear from LACMA director Michael Govan about that show, which opens in June, on an upcoming DnA. And MOCA will explore contemporary architects in the aftermath of Frank Gehry in its New Sculpturalism show, also opening in June, and to be discussed soon on DnA. But opening in May is a show that explores the notion that LA is defined as much by its streets as by its individual buildings. It’s called Windshield Perspective, it will be at A+D Museum, and the curator is Greg Goldin. The show takes a look at the layers of building and changes of ownership that have shaped one boulevard in LA: Beverly. Goldin argues that unlike the “manufactured” streets like Grand Avenue, Beverly represents a canvas of authentic Los Angeles, where changing cultures and businesses are often juxtaposed in intriguing ways, that typically we barely observe as the street flashes past us when we drive that strip (shown: photo by Tom Bonner of the Ambassador Dog & Cat Hospital on Beverly at Virgil).
PSTP has sponsored another exploration of a defining Los Angeles boulevard, but it’s one you’ll be able to take in outside of the museum space, and not at the speed or kind of mobility it was built for. We are talking Wilshire Boulevard and on June 23rd, bikers and walkers are invited to join in CicLAvia: Modern Architecture on Wilshire Boulevard. Part of the project is an accompanying series of stories, about Wilshire’s iconic buildings, produced by veteran radio producer and architecture writer Edward Lifson. Edward introduces the first of them on DnA, starting today with “Tar Pit Death Trip,” told by memoirist D.J. Waldie, set against original music by Steve Wight. Waldie takes us back to the primordial ooze of LACMA’s tarpits, a reminder that despite Angelenos conviction to the contrary, death is not an option and we will be one day replaced by new generations who will have stories to tell about us.
The show concludes with a reminder that part of LA’s vigorous architecture culture was the work of the maverick architects who made their mark in Venice in the 1970s and 80s – among them Fred Fisher, Frank Gehry, Stephen Ehrlich and Brian Murphy. These architects were exploring alternatives to stringent Modernism that differed from the post-modern experiments on the East Coast. Erin Cullerton talks about an LA Conservancy tour of such buildings that shows that the recent past is now history. (Image above: Hopper Residence, left, designed by Brian Murphy, sits next to the Arnoldi triplex designed by Frank Gehry; photo by Larry Underhill.)
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