Edward Cella’s Los Angeles gallery demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the art of architecture. Cella revels in the architect’s two-dimensional renderings as they offer a glimpse into the complex and creative processes of those visionaries behind Southern California’s greatest landmarks. As Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A. approaches, Cella offers Installation a roadmap: navigate fourteen exhibitions, discover and reconsider the architecture of Southern California.
As a native Southern Californian and gallerist with a unique focus on objects and drawings by architects, I am enthralled by the monumental effort to recount the recent past as Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A. begins this month and extends through July 2013. Architectural historian, author and collector David Gebhard introduced me to this rich and diverse community. From him, I came to appreciate the beauty and importance of an architect’s rendering: a two-dimensional illustration of a three-dimensional idea yet-to-be built. From time to time, I am privileged to come across a rare drawing by, Erich Mendelsohn, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lebbeus Woods or another esteemed architect. For that brief time while the drawing resides with me. My eyes are once again opened to the architects’ thinking process and creative genius.
Described as “a collaborative celebration of Southern California’s lasting impact on Modern architecture,” the Getty’s Modern Architecture in L.A. continues the momentum and collaborative spirit of last year’s successful Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980. In a similar manner, yet with a greatly different set of characters and consequences, the sequence of fourteen exhibitions by prominent local institutions, extensive public programs and a number of new catalogs challenge us to reconsider this dynamic period in Southern California’s architectural history. This collective celebration of Southern California’s architectural heritage has its roots in a community of characters- architects, photographers, writers, architectural historians and preservationists who have helped to create, recognize and preserve the extraordinary history born in this city.
At first glance, Modern Architecture in L.A. dutifully yet imaginatively extends the charting of the post-war building boom and its Modernist agenda. Breaking new ground, monographic exhibitions of the residential and commercial architecture of Whitney R. Smith, Wayne R. Williams, A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons greatly increase our understanding of significant post-war architectural firms that extend the Modernist language of forms and materials. Having had the opportunity to exhibit the presentation panels assembled by Jones and Emmons in my gallery, I was able to get a closer look at the hand-rendered drawings that delineated these firms’ innovative and intricately composed interior and exterior spaces. As a gallerist, I felt I was able to contribute a missing piece of the greater narrative of Southern Californian architecture. The exhibition presented the evidence of the transformation of Modern architecture: from the early and experiments of Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, to the widely embraced, and perhaps even populist building practices that have an enduring effect of the development of the region. These were the firms that brought Modernism to the masses.
Overdrive: LA Construct the Future, 1940-1990 will consider an altogether greater set of narratives in the development of architecture and planning in the post-war era. Its curators have drawn primarily upon original drawings, models and photographs found in the dozen or more of architectural and photographic archives the Getty has acquired over the past decade, marking its significant commitment to study and interpretation of Southern California. Chronicling the era’s exponential growth and innovation, the exhibition promises new insight into the region’s underappreciated built environment and suggests its impact as a laboratory of cutting-edge design. Many of these themes, including the era’s architectural response to the rapid pace of development, have been central to my curatorial practice and were especially present in my exhibition: Carlos Diniz: Visualizing a New Los Angeles 1962-1992. It is personally satisfying to see Diniz’s efforts being included in the Getty’s exhibition.
SCI-Arc and the MAK construct a new historical canon by focusing on the formative works of local architects who now practice in the international sphere. Proposing a critical and historical context, the exhibitions consider the incubation of radical works by the small handful of experimental architects who gave rise to “Third New Wave Architecture” in Southern California. A Confederacy of Heretics: The Architecture Gallery, Venice, 1979, presented by SCI-Arc directs our attention to a critical moment that comes to define an influential cohort of architects. The next few weeks will see the presentation of the paper architecture by individuals that sought to rupture commercial pragmatism and practice in a new way. This exploratory insurgency is further documented in the MAK’s Everything Loose Will Land, which explores the dialogical cross-pollination that took place between architects and artists in Los Angeles in the 1970s. I have been fortunate to already have already presented an exhibition of Frederick Fisher’s expressive watercolors in my gallery. I hope, in the coming decade, to mount other monographic presentations of this generation of architects’ work.
If the Getty’s exhibition illustrates the zenith of Modernism in Southern California, A Confederacy of Heretics and Everything Loose Will Land each launch a counterattack. The Los Angeles Conservancy offer tours through a few remaining small, and experimental homes in Venice (and elsewhere) where exposed two-by-fours, wired glass, plywood and exposed wiring define an altogether new aesthetic. It will be a challenge for some; we are perhaps not ready to embrace this recent past. The post-war era’s homes, buildings and furniture seem glamorous in comparison. The sleek photographs of Julius Shulman and Slim Aarons have already become the fodder of popular, oversized coffee-table books. Publishers, realtors, and dealers of modern design have hardly been able to keep up with the demand. Once reviled, Modernism (both high and low) is the cause célèbre of the preservation and collecting worlds (see the fight for the Neutra’s Kronish House and the outrageous pricing of Yamasaki’s Century Plaza Hotel for evidence). During the next few months, the historical lens will shift ahead several decades.
This is an exciting moment to be in Los Angeles. The intricate tale of Modernist architecture ebbs and flows and is revealed throughout these fourteen exhibitions. It is the breadth of inclusion that makes this sequence of exhibitions so notable. Ultimately, this effort offers the chance to explore and experience seven decades of recent architecture in a new way. I encourage you to seek them out and to join in the conversation.