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Architecture & Design

A Diary of the Getty's Big, New Exploration of L.A. Architecture

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Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Charles Phoenix gives a SoCal Modern architecture slideshow at the Getty's press event - RYAN MILLER/CAPTURE IMAGING
  • Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
  • Charles Phoenix gives a SoCal Modern architecture slideshow at the Getty's press event

"The San Andreas is not Los Angeles' only fault," cracked architectural historian Thomas Hines at the kickoff to Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.. Hines didn't really mean it -- he was quoting a joke that people from, say, San Francisco might make -- but the quip hit just the right tone for the Getty's new initiative, the infinitely more accessible and laid-back architectural sequel to the serious and self-important art world extravaganza Pacific Standard Time.

Also, unlike Pacific Standard Time, Pacific Standard Time Presents -- which some people have taken to calling PSTP, even though it sounds like something one might want to clear up with a few doses of Valtrex -- has a much more manageable number of exhibitions and events. This intimate scale makes for overlapping and quite personal portraits of these post-war practitioners, many of whom are still working and popping up in person at events around the city. Where, with free champagne in one hand and my iPhone in the other, I plan to stalk them for the next few months.

click to enlarge Deborah Sussman and Paul Prejza, with signage they designed for the 1984 Olympics - RYAN MILLER/CAPTURE IMAGING
  • Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
  • Deborah Sussman and Paul Prejza, with signage they designed for the 1984 Olympics
On the blustery Monday of the Getty's press conference, the morning's highlight was Kodachrome master Charles Phoenix, dressed in a red-and-gold getup that seemed Pantone-coded to the midcentury McDonald's in his slideshow. Other luminaries in attendance included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- who notably corrected Getty president Jim Cuno's pronunciation of CicLAvia: "It's Cic-LA-via" -- and Eames protégée Deborah Sussman, dressed in an outfit every bit as colorful as her graphics for the 1984 Olympics on display. (Later, for the opening, she changed to black but threw on a fuchsia scarf that matched De Wain Valentine's own wrap perfectly.)

Milling about the architectural models of the Getty's show "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future," was L.A. Times critic Christopher Hawthorne, who would rightly note in his review that by sticking to the original PST's timeframe, the Getty's show ignores modern architecture's formative years in L.A. But the exhibit is a fun ride nevertheless, from kooky Googie to postmodern pretentiousness, tracking L.A.'s ascent from a laughing-stock roadside attraction to an agenda-setting global architectural leader.

Across the travertine palace is the more intimate "In Focus: Ed Ruscha," featuring his photography of the more mundane Modern like gas stations and dingbat apartments. Not only is Ed Ruscha still shooting streets a la Every Building on the Sunset Strip, he's currently working on the part of Mulholland that's not paved, meaning he (or, actually, an assistant) has to do it on bicycle instead. That's certainly something that made bike-riding actor Ed Begley Jr. -- also seen at the opening later that night -- happy.

click to enlarge LACMA director Michael Govan talks to an attendee at the opening of "Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It" - LACMA
  • LACMA
  • LACMA director Michael Govan talks to an attendee at the opening of "Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It"

Down the hill, LACMA opened the first of its two PSTP shows, with Stephen Prina's recreations of built-in furniture from two demolished homes designed by R.M. Schindler. In the pleasantly jarring installation, the furniture is painted Pepto-Bismol pink that Prina recalled from a La Brea furniture store. (Actually, it's Honeysuckle, Pantone's 2011 "color of the year.")

click to enlarge Eric Owen Moss lectures in the shadow of his Samitaur Tower in Culver City - ALISSA WALKER
  • Alissa Walker
  • Eric Owen Moss lectures in the shadow of his Samitaur Tower in Culver City
Later that week, while the Getty and Zocalo pondered "Does Architecture Matter?" -- which I would hope it does, if you're mounting a citywide exhibition about it -- KCRW hosted a less existential celebration at the Helms complex. As part of the day's festivities I led a walking tour of Culver City that visited PSTP peeps like the architect Eric Owen Moss, who gave a lecture (in gym shorts!) at Samitaur Tower in the Hayden Tract of Culver City (the tower is prominently featured in Overdrive).

Back at Helms, DnA: Design and Architecture radio show host Frances Anderton moderated panels with PSTP curators Michael Govan, Wim de Wit and Christopher Mount. But the afternoon belonged to Father's Office restauranteur Sang Yoon, ex-Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard (who are collaborating on a revitalized version of the Helms Bakery) and KCRW's Evan Kleiman who engaged in a hilarious conversation on modern architecture and food. Major takeaways: Yoon lives in a house by modernist icon Craig Ellwood, no chefs have well-designed home kitchens, and jelly doughnuts are awesome.

Speaking of awesome, add these upcoming events to your datebook: This Saturday is the L.A. Conservancy's "Venice Eclectic" tour peeking inside Dennis Hopper's former residence, Ed Moses' studio and the original office of Charles and Ray Eames. Then you can dive deeper into Venice's Modern legacy with SCI-Arc's show "A Confederacy of Heretics." I plan to check it out when I'm at the school for its 40th anniversary bash this Saturday.

Until next time... Stay modern.

Alissa Walker blogs at Gelatobaby.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gelatobaby and for more arts news like us on Facebook or follow us at @LAWeeklyArts.

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