West Side Story

West Side Story

By Jordan Kushins
A comprehensive look at midcentury California design reveals a modern coming of age for the Golden State.

California Design, 1930–1965, a new exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), explores the mid-century era through the work of icons like Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, and Edith Heath as well as lesser-known designers, offering a robust take on how developments in the west emerged and influenced the rest of the country.

Curators Wendy Kaplan and Bobbye Tigerman began research for the exhibition five years ago, tracking down the now mostly octogenarian designers who lived and worked through the boom. They found many still firmly ensconced in their studios, forever refining their skills. "One of the most touching things we discovered is that most of these craftspeople never stopped creating," Kaplan says.

The 500 objects on display, from jewelry to furniture to ceramics, are presented in four categories: shaping, making, living, and selling. "History never goes from point A to point B," explains Kaplan of the thematic approach. "These concepts can be grasped on many levels." In addition to the prescribed showcases, the pair will be presenting an unprecedented showstopper: the Eameses’ actual Pacific Palisades living room, which has been temporarily transported into the museum in its entirety and which shows the playful, personal touch that imbued the couple’s comfortably cluttered life. It’s the highlight of an all-encompassing survey of the coastal state’s approach to design. In the end, California has transcended its auspicious geography to forever secure its reputation of effortless cool.

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