Thursday, June 23, 2016

EXHIBITIONS: "Energizing the Everyday" through jazzy design, at NYC's Cooper Hewitt


The marriage of form and function is at the heart of modern design, as the Cooper Hewitt's current NYC exhibition Energizing the Everyday: the George R. Kravis II collection abundantly demonstrates. This show, however, takes this concept to an even higher plane, incorporating a recognition that good design can elevate our spirits, bringing whimsy and grace into our most mundane daily activities.

 Patriot radio, 1940, Norman Bel Geddes 
This is considered to be one of Bel Geddes' most iconic designs.

"With its red, white, and blue palette, and a rectangular grill reminiscent of the stripes 
in the American flag, it expressed faith in American technology, industry, and 
culture at a time when the country was making efforts to recover from the 
Great Depression, while also coping with anxiety about the intensifying war in Europe."  
... Curator's note                     

Former broadcasting executive, philanthropist and modern design aficionado George Kravis began collecting when he was ten, and "took on a Bakelite RCA record changer." Since then his collection has grown exponentially, now comprising furniture, tableware, textiles, industrial products, clocks and other random items that strike his fancy (lawnmowers, stereo equipment and toasters to name but a few.) Kravis finds joy in looking at and tinkering with his vast collection; its monetary value does not concern him. He recently gifted much of it to the Cooper Hewitt Museum in NYC, and has also established the Kravis Design Center in his hometown of Tulsa, OK, to further his educational mission.


A few items from the exhibition that caught my eye: 

Chromium-plated Manhattan cocktail service, 1934, Norman Bel Geddes,
 The Manhattan skyline served as muse to many designers
of the 1930s, with its outline evoking the modernity of the metropolis.

"The stepped-form of the tray mimics the setback design of skyscrapers 
from the 1920s and 1930s, which was due to the 1916 setback ordinance, 
which regulated the height of the New York buildings at the street line."
... Curator's note                    

 Vanity, 1939, Gilbert Rohde

"The vanity was the most specifically gendered object in the modern bedroom. Design historian Kristina Wilson has written on how every part of the vanity was about display: display of the tools for beauty, display of the woman in the mirror, making herself up for display before others. As a flamboyant piece of furniture, the vanity itself was always on display within the interior decoration scheme."

Above: Z Clock, 1933, Gilbert Rohde
This favorite, produced by the Herman Miller Company,
was designed for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

Right: RCA Victor Special Phonograph, 1935, John Vassos.
Aluminum, chromium-plated steel,
molded plastic, felt, leather, velvet

As a veteran of the broadcasting industry, Kravis is particularly drawn to the design elements of its technology. He is also a vinyl records enthusiast (like my husband!)

 Skyway Salt and Pepper Shakers, 1939, Russel Wright
These stainless steel & bakelite beauties are labor-saving 
(no polishing required) and whimsically modern.


For more information about this Cooper Hewitt exhibition, link here.
 The show runs through March 12, 2017.

~ Originally posted May 10, 2016 ~

Saturday, June 11, 2016

REMEMBRANCE: Steve Wolfe, sly painter of record labels and book jackets

Steve Wolfe, 1955-2016

This morning I noticed the obituary of painter Steve Wolfe in the NY Times. I admit that I had never heard of him, but I was immediately captivated by his trompe l'oeil paintings of iconic book jackets and record labels. They are somewhat reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes and soup cans, but are crafted with much greater detail and good humor. (A digression: Trompe l'oeil literally means "to fool the eye" and is generally defined as a painting or design intended to create the illusion of a three-dimensional object -- sounds like a certain other Trompe, doesn't it?)

Part jokester, part illusionist, Wolfe reveled in the confusion his work engendered.
Above: A "well-worn copy" of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories
Below: An even more ragged copy of the Streetcar Named Desire dustjacket

Using oil, ink transfer, modeling paste (to add paper-thin dimensionality), screen printing (for the text), linen, wood and paper, Wolfe created images of book covers that included every detail and imagined "signs of wear", making it difficult for a viewer to believe that the copy is not a real book.

Mondrian (2001) and
Manifestoes of Surrealism (1988)

Study for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas painting (2004-5)


Wolfe was an ardent aficionado of the long-playing record albums of his youth.
He occasionally turned his hand to replicas of LP jackets and inner labels, in which even the individual grooves on the records were painstakingly reproduced. Right: 
The Beatles' Revolver album.

Mr. Wolfe's art is included in the collections of major international museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. A solo exhibition of his work has traveled to The Menil Collection in Houston 
and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

For more information about the artist, link to
Steve Wolfe’s Superflat Simulacra   or  Steve Wolfe, a Painter of Books by Their Covers, Dies at 60

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

BOOK NOTE: Frank Lloyd Wright for kids -- and everyone else

In honor of Frank Lloyd Wright's birthday today, June 8,
I am reposting this review of an excellent kids' book about his life and work.
(It was originally posted on Oct. 21, 2014.)

Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids: His Life and ideas

    Chicago Review Press, soft cover, 130 pages,  150+ illustrations, 
                      21 hands-on activities, $16.95

Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen's book is indeed a child-friendly volume, but there is nothing juvenile about it. Chapters such as Growing Up (with the book's introductory hands-on activity "Learn How Nature Grows Above and Below the Ground"), A Home and Studio, and Learning to be an Architect paint a clear and concise picture of the reality of a designer's life; they also explore the forces that influenced Wright from his earliest days: nature, music, and strong family ties. Subsequent chapters depict the struggles and joys of his complex and often controversial personal situation. 

The book's affectionate writing style and design -- replete with photographs, prompts for observing patterns and shapes, ideas for games and activities, and even recipes ("FLW's Steel-Cut Oatmeal") -- are inviting, making it an excellent gateway to further reading about its celebrated subject. FLW for Kids abounds with informative anecdotes and design concepts centered around some of Wright's most iconic creations, including Fallingwater (Mill Run, PA), NYC's Guggenheim Museum, and Robie House in Chicago. Highly recommended for design aficionados of all ages!

          Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA, 1935

Guggenheim Museum, NYC, opened 1959

Robie House, Chicago, 1910    

Friday, June 3, 2016

JEWEL BOXES: Floating mid-mod house by John Lautner gifted to LA County Museum of Art

Imagine waking up here ...
Retractable walls open up to the air 
in this John Lautner-designed floating house in the LA hills.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently announced that it has been gifted one of the jewels in the crown of LA Modernism, and its first ever full-scale architectural acquisition, John Lautner's gravity-defying Sheats-Goldstein house. Lautner, a protegé of Frank Lloyd Wright, had gained fame and respect for his dramatic space-age designs by the time he was 30.

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The present owner of the house is eccentric property investor, self-described baseball superfan and enthusiastic party host James Goldstein. (Leonardo DiCaprio, also a modernism aficionado, has been a frequent visitor.) He says he loves living in this spare, elegant home. "Minimal is the word, and I've kept that word in my mind on everything I've done. That's one of the Lautner concepts which is very important. ... Everything is concealed. Everything is simple and at the same time beautiful."

Welcome to the luminous living room! More than 700 small drinking glasses were incorporated into the roof's design, to create tiny skylights throughout the house.

The living room furniture is custom designed to replicate the angles that outline the home. 
"Every detail has been worked on," Goldstein says, "including the stitching of the leather."

Above: My dream writing room

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LACMA director Michael Govan told the Times that he considers this house to be a singularly significant Los Angeles property. "For me it ranks as one of the most important houses in all of L.A.," he  says, "and as one of the most 'L.A.' houses, because of its connection to the view, that long view toward the ocean."

Above and below:
Lautner's imaginative integration of indoor and outdoor spaces
finds full expression LA's hospitable environment.

The house, which overlooks the San Fernando Valley, is currently valued at $40 million.
Goldstein purchased it from the Sheats family in 1972 for $185,000,
and has been painstakingly renovating and tweaking the design for 35 years.

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Goldstein will remain in house until his death, although it will occasionally be open 
to visitors for limited tours and museum-related special events.  Eventually, 
LACMA envisions using the house for exhibitions and conferences,
as well as tours that will be open to the public.

Link just below to an NPR piece entitled 
This House Is A Work Of Art, So The Owner Is Donating It To A Museum