Exhibit Brings Midcentury California Design to Massachusetts

Exhibit Brings Midcentury California Design to Massachusetts

By William Lamb
An exhibition coming to coastal Massachusetts in March explores California's evolution as an incubator of progressive midcentury design.

An exhibition that celebrates California as an epicenter of midcentury design is coming to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, in March, its only scheduled stop on the East Coast, the museum announced this week.

Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, California, by Buff, Straub & Hensman (later Buff, Hensman and Associates), 1958. Detail of a photo by Julius Shulman, 1959. Getty Research Institute.

The exhibition, "California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way," was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where it made its debut in 2011. It traces California’s evolution into one of the world’s leading incubators of talent in the fields of architecture, graphic design, furniture design, and fashion.

The Studebaker Avanti, designed by the French-born industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Private collection of Richard Vaux. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.

The influx of waves of new residents in the 1920s led to unprecedented demand for housing and furnishings that accelerated in the boom years after World War II. A new consumer class emerged and, with it, opportunities for progressive architects, designers, and manufacturers to create affordable modern homes and elegant furnishings to go in them.

The Lotus Chair by Miller Yee Fong for Fong Brothers Co., 1968. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA.

"The goal was to provide well-designed, accessible, and affordable modern homes and furnishings to millions of Californians and those around the country who craved them," says Austen Barron Bailly, the Peabody Essex Museum’s George Putnam curator of American art and a former associate curator of American art at LACMA. "The designers who embraced California modern ideals wanted to make everyday life beautiful and comfortable. They responded to California’s environment and pioneered new ways to meld craft production with industrial manufacturing."

The Kaufman Residence by Richard Neutra, Palm Springs, 1946. Photo courtesy of the Julius Sherman Photography Archive, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

The exhibition is divided into four thematic sections—Shaping, Making, Living, and Selling. It opens March 29 and runs through July 6, 2014.

Arts & Archtitecture magazine cover by John Follis and James Reed, September 1953. Collection of Los Angeles Modern Auctions, reprinted courtesy of David Travers Associates/LACMA.

Eames Storage Unit by Charles and Ray Eames for the Herman Miller Furniture Co., circa 1949. Gift of Mr. Sid Avery and Mr. James Corcoran. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA.

The landscape designer Garrett Eckbo created this garden in his backyard at the behest of the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). Eckbo used large quanitites of aluminum—in screens, trellises, and a centerpiece fountain—and ALCOA's advertising agency used photos of the "ALCOA Forecast Garden" to promote peacetime uses for the material. Photo courtesy of the Julius Sherman Photography Archive, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


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