Veteran environmental designer Deborah Sussman, a queen of color, supergraphics and personal style, has been part of several museum shows in the last couple years — California’s Designing Women: 1896 – 1986, LACMA’s Living in a Modern Way, A+D Museum’s Eames Words. But, say her fans, a show devoted exclusively to Sussman, who cut her teeth in the office of Charles and Ray Eames and is still busy with her own firm Sussman/Prejza at 82 years old, is way overdue (above, Deborah Sussman and Eames Office wearing July 4th glasses designed by Sussman, 1965).
So Woodbury School of Architecture is planning an exhibit, to open in December, that will focus on her early work from her time at the Eames Studio up to the 1984 Olympics (see more about the Olympics design in Alissa Walker’s paean to Deborah Sussman, below). But the exhibition, co-curated by Catherine Gudis, Barbara Bestor, Thomas Kracauer, and Shannon Starkey, and to include objects, images and sketches, needs financial support. So the team has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund mounting, screenprinting and associated programming. The fundraising effort ends November 24.
Barbara Bestor explains: “We are finally starting to recognize, curate and celebrate the women designers who made U.S. and specifically L.A. design so important in the post-war and Postmodern era. From the renewed interest in Greta Grossman, who is now recognized as one of the great furniture designers in midcentury Los Angeles (and even has a desk re-issued by DWR), to the many designing women in the MOCAD/Autry show last year.
Deborah’s work includes little known projects from California City, revolutionary retail environments for Joseph Magnin, an early collaboration with Frank Gehry, and even a wild one week stage show for the Rolling Stones; shown above is Standard Shoe store, circa 1970, Los Angeles, with interiors and graphic identity by Deborah Sussman and architect Bernard Zimmerman.
It also looks particularly fresh right now at a moment where designers and architects are re-visiting the post-postwar era and finding all sorts of inspiration in the explosions of color and super graphics that Deborah and some of her kin brought to architecture and environments (below, Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles, where Sussman/Prejza designed the signage and environmental graphics.)
I think that from within the discipline, the outcry about the exclusion of Denise Scott-Brown from the Pritzker last year was real wake-up call, proving that women won’t be recognized or remembered without serious documentation and exhibition of their work and authorship. The Wikipedia pages on women designers are woefully underrepresented, and I have been able to find very few pages in the digital archives- except in instances where a women was recently documented in a show or an article. We are happy to use our space in Hollywood WUHO (Woodbury School of Architecture’s gallery dedicated to design and architecture) and to celebrate Deborah’s work and to expose a new generation of students and design-consumers to her work.
Re the Kickstarter, we basically have very little funding, just about a thousand dollars from Woodbury only, and want to put together a decent show that includes large scale graphic prints, vitrines, and color. We have some very cool objects and images, and just need some cash to make it a proper and worthy representation. The funds specifically go to mounting the exhibit- framing, secure mountings on walls, secure display boxes for 3-d items, basically everything it would take to install a gallery show, down to the nails.”
Deborah Sussman Loves LA
By Alissa Walker
When I was on the AIGA Los Angeles board, our meetings were always held at the offices of Sussman/Prejza, the design firm which I idolized due to their work on the 1984 Summer Olympics held in LA. I’d always hang back after our meetings were over, snooping around to look at the current work that was on the walls, and hoping to catch Deborah as she left for the night, if only to see what dazzling patterns she had managed to coordinate in her legendary outfits.
After one meeting, I noticed the parking lot was filled with signage of some sort. I employed my usual nosy line of questioning and Deborah revealed that they were signs from the Olympics, being moved from one storage space to another. I nearly fainted.
When I could breathe again, Deborah took me out to look at them, and I got giddy as I began recognizing the different ones from the photos I’d seen. I asked if I might possibly be able to buy a sign, but Deborah, in her extremely generous manner, looked at me over whatever brightly colored glasses she was wearing that day and said, “I think I should give you one.”
And that’s how we came to have one of the original “Refreshments” signs from the 1984 Olympics hanging over our bed. (Don’t worry, it’s very secure and not going to fall on our heads in the night).
Sussman/Prejza along with the Jerde Partnership designed one of the most important things to ever happen to Los Angeles. Olympic games are legendary for going over budget and out of control, sometimes leaving cities in worse economic and infrastructural shape than they were before. The brilliance of the 1984 Olympics was that organizers vowed to stay fiscally responsible, electing not to build monumental new stadiums, for example, and use almost all existing structures as venues. The branding elements were made from inexpensive materials—inflatables, scaffolding, cardboard—which carried a huge visual impact with a light touch. A foundation was established with the profits that continues to support local athletic programs. It remains the only financially successful Olympics in history.
And the colors. OH THE COLORS. With shades drawn from Pacific Rim cultures in the Americas and Asia, the palette was amazingly prescient for its time. Just looking at that hot coral color reminds me of a certain new iPhone…
The Olympics are of course not the only project that Deborah and her team worked on—she started her career working under Charles and Ray Eames and has completed projects all over the world—but her legacy is best seen through the work she did right here in LA, in the shops, parks, museums, and many public spaces that built this colorful, contemporary city.
And that’s why I’m so excited that Woodbury University is mounting an exhibition to bring Deborah’s work to life for the next generation of Angelenos. The organizers are currently running a Kickstarter to finance this worthy exhibition, and they’re about halfway to their goal with 15 days left. This exhibition is a must for design nerds. Or Olympic nerds. Or LA nerds. Whatever kind of nerd you are.
It’s not often that you can trace the visual impact of one person who made a city more beautiful. Los Angeles is a better place because of Deborah Sussman—and we’re so lucky to have her stories and her work in one place to celebrate her awesomeness. And of course I’m really excited to see what gorgeous getup she wears to the opening.