birth of the cool: california art, design, and culture at midcentury

as i mentioned, i ventured behind the orange curtain to go here yesterday:
no, not to shop. i am not a big fan of shopping and haven't been for awhile. plus i'm too poor to afford the fashion island.

instead, i went here:

because of popular a little bit of demand, i will write a bit on my experience of the exhibit. unfortunately, today was closing day. if it sounds interesting to you, you will have to follow it to andover (at phillips academy, no less), oakland, akron, or austin.

i love how this exhibit covered everything from painting to decorative arts, graphic arts, architecture, film, and even music during this time period in which the slang version of the word "cool" came to be. the first gallery was rather narrow and was occupied by abstract paintings, prints of shulman's photos of pierre koenig's case study house nos. 21 and 22, and a projection of the eamses' film tops projected onto one of the short walls of the rectangular box of a gallery space. a couple of bertoia's diamond chairs and starck's prince aha stools sat upon an area rug of fine, white cut pile to give rest to the already weary. similarly, other midcentury modern classic decorative arts (furniture, lighting, etc.) pieces such as nelson's benches, nelson's cigar and saucer pendants, saarinen's tulip chairs & tables were sprinkled throughout the exhibit, intended to be functional.

the next space was sensory overload, but it worked in that it showed different media and the common threads between the art forms. here there were flatscreens playing period animation and films with headphones (i so need to find the gerald mcboing boing cartoons to watch in their entirety), west coast jazz playing rather loudly, record album art displayed, photographs of both jazz legends and the everyday, and the entire population of orange county in one gallery space. ok, maybe that was just because it was the day before closing day. anyway, this album art caught my fancy.
[photo courtesy of someone selling this on ebay]
there were examples of much cooler, more graphic album art, but this is the only title i hastily noted. why? just because i had that same haircut framing my similarly teeny-tiny eyes once upon a time.

the third room was rather quiet and filled with bold, graphic, abstract paintings. i loved the colors in a few of the paintings, and i must admit they were effortlessly "cool" as abstract art goes.

the final room contained examples of graphic and decorative arts (my faaaaavorites!) from the well-known eamses' chairs to lesser known pieces from van keppel, danny ho fong, taylor green, and the like. a little indoor-outdoor component of the exhibit design showing some outdoor furniture pieces in their proper element was fitting considering the big indoor-outdoor movement in midcentury modern architecture.

overall, the exhibit was well-curated, the links between different art forms of the period not contrived but rather self-evident giving unity to the seemingly disparate pieces, and the essence and meaning of "cool" communicated. bonus: i was drooling while in midcentury heaven.

i know i know, i described rather than critiqued. what can i say? i am sorely out of critical writing skills practice, and i'm putting myself to sleep as i write this. sorry to bore you, too.

anyway, the food element. i always notice if there are any consumables. the meager refreshment bar was offering retro snacks such as abba zabbas, rocky road candy bars, and black forest gummi bears. a cute touch, i thought.

alas, no photographs were allowed in the exhibit, so all you get is a page from my sketchbook. no worries, i only go through pages and pages while in an exhibit with fellow designerds or by myself. don't worry, my companions-to-be this coming thursday! i try not to scare my companions, if they are not the sketching type, and do not whip out the black book unless with others who are sketching or when alone.
the other half of the museum is currently occupied by an exhibit titled art since the 1960s: california experiments. i had a major case of museum legs by then, so i breezed through it and caught glimpses of warhol's mao, tom marioni's an aid to communication, and claes oldenberg's wedding souvenir. i wish i had pop artist friends who created plaster-of-paris wedding cake slices for my guests to take home. or not.
[*munch munch.* hmmm...a bit stale and crumbly.]

on my way home, i did some grocery shopping and ran some other errands. when i got home, i realized i did all of the above while still wearing my "ticket." at least it's orange, graphic, and small. i still felt like a dodo, though.

luckily, i brought back a few souvenirs for myself, so i didn't feel dodo-like for too long.
despite the fact that they use comic sans font for their titles (yes, i have issues with the font du jour from the aol 3.0ish days), they are pretty awesome little buks. how can you resist that dual-purpose umlaut/happy face? i've always loved the evocative quality of akiko busch's design criticism, and this recently updated essay on the telephone was a tasty morsel to read before bed last night. the bertrand russell volume takes all of 10 seconds to read and is hilariously illustrated. yum.

thus concludes my first artist's date in a long while. i need to start doing those regularly again.


  1. Ooh, I think it'd be cool if you brought your sketchbook on Thursday!

    So jealous of Andover peeps. Curse you, rich prep school kids.

  2. I hate, hate, hate, comic sans font.

    and that little sticker could almost be mistaken for an ipod shuffle.

  3. Love the review!! Looking forward to the next exhibit trip!

  4. Awesome review! Thank you. :) I wish I would have heard of this sooner.

    I think it's cool that you bring your sketchbook. I always bring a little notebook to write down the titles of things that I like.

  5. i'm really liking your sketch book. it's cool. (pun intended) :)

  6. very cool...i need to get me one of those bubble pendants over the dining room table...

  7. i like the little orange sticker :) comic sans, not so much.

    i can't ever be in the vicinity of fascist island without stopping in to peoplewatch, at least.

  8. I love your "O" stiker!
    Great recap of your visit.

  9. I feel so much more cultured having read your blog today.

  10. I learned just by reading. :) Yay for cultivation! What's the spot for Thursday? Something along the same lines or more cool?

    And who knew font could induce so many feelings.

  11. I've lived here for years and have never been to this museum...

    Its on my list now for OC things I need to check out. Thanks!

  12. I hate the O.C. but this place rocks.


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