Today was a good day for Ice Cube -- he kicked it in the Eames House.
In a promotional video for Pacific Standard Time released yesterday, Cube discusses the work of husband-and-wife designers Charles and Ray Eames, and after touring their Pacific Palisades home and studio, calls it the work of architects who "were doing mash-ups before mash-ups even existed."
Here's the video:
"Got off-the-shelf factory windows, prefabricated walls," says Cube, who briefly studied architectural drafting before N.W.A. took off. "It's about how the pieces work together. You know, taking something that already exists, and making it special. Kind of like sampling."
The Eames House, formally known as Case Study House #8, is indeed a special place, an artifact of elegant California modernism built into a eucalyptus grove with a view of the ocean. But it's also a stuffy place. It's a place where you're free to roam the grounds but barred from stepping inside the house, a place where you can peek your head in an open door on the condition that a docent holds your camera, a place where that same docent will ask you to please park on the street and not in the adjacent lot. That attitude is in the name of preservation, and it's a rigor to be respected. (While work is done on the house through March 2012, the contents of the living room are on display at LACMA's California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way. Like the real thing, the room here suggests the permeability of indoor and outdoor space, and photography is not allowed.)
In comes Ice Cube. He's depicted as an outsider, providing a vocal defense of strip malls and laughing about the "bougie" traffic of the San Diego Freeway. Never mind that he's a successful businessman, a guy who's always "had a plan" and never met a check he didn't like. (He left N.W.A because he wasn't getting his proper share of the royalties.) You half expect him to pull up a chair and smoke a blunt on the courtyard a la Friday -- the closest thing at the Eames House to a front stoop -- and have a whole lot of shit to talk about institutions and social barriers.
But if you've seen any Cube movies after Barbershop 2, you'll know those days of pushing back are long gone. Here, he cruises down Inglewood Boulevard, namechecking restaurants (Five Torches, Cockatoo Inn) that haven't been around for years. Reminiscing and pontificating in a ten-thousand dollar leather-trimmed Eames lounge chair, with his Vans on a matching ottoman, he seems oblivious to the fact that chilling in this house, much less scuffing agonizingly preserved furniture, is a rare, exclusive treat.
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Of course, this ad series isn't really about asking tough questions or pushing the envelope. It's about harnessing the star power of Hollywood to attract a wider audience. That's a sensible strategy, and I think it's basically successful. The first video I saw, where an art skeptic played by Jason Schwartzman is followed by a projection of the disembodied head of John Baldessari, was fun and informative. ("I've always been interested in parts of things," Baldessari quips.) The second video, where Anthony Kiedis and Ed Ruscha discuss their mutual appreciation of the visual properties of words, less so. This, I like. Cube says he's inspired by the resourcefulness of the Eameses and gives them props for "going green 1949 style, bitch." The Eames Foundation could do worse than to field some questions from Ice Cube fans.
As flashy advertising is wont to do, the stars on screen can distract us from the larger issues. Indeed, despite the preponderance of female artists in the exhibitions of Pacific Standard Time, some PST curators have asked why Ray Eames' brief appearance in this video is the first by a woman in this series so far. If the common logic of satisfying demographics is followed, I don't think it'll be the last. And if we're lucky, that means Edward James Olmos is going screenprinting with Sister Corita.