In some circles in L.A., mid-century architecture is sacred — never to be modified, altered, or renovated. Richard Neutra's VDL Research House II, overlooking the reservoir in Silver Lake and built by the architect for his own family, is considered iconic here. Now owned by Cal Poly Pomona, the 2,000 square foot house was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as a historic-cultural monument by the city of L.A.
With that kind of pedigree, you'd expect the VDL House to be a hallowed site, a groundbreaking experiment in modern living featuring walls of glass, multiple balconies and a rooftop reflecting pool. And with an upcoming roof restoration, the house is finally getting some of the renovation love it so desperately needed under the guidance of director Sarah Lorenzen.
So this is a particularly auspicious time to visit the house, as it's now open to the public and the location of a site-specific intervention by French artist Xavier Veilhan. Dubbed Architectones, the title is a reference to artist Kasimir Malevich's Suprematist philosophy focused on geometrical form, an anti-materialist art movement that sought art's barest essentials.
Three years ago, Veilhan produced another intervention in the Palace of Versailles, the second artist to have that honor after Jeff Koons. Interested in exploring more modernist architecture as the sites for his art, Veilhan has been living with his family in Neutra's house for the past month. Veilhan has created and installed a number of sculptures throughout the house that relate to Neutra's life and designs. Working with architect Francois Perrin, who acted as curator and supervised production, the exhibit references the history of the house and the family that occupied it.
Most of the pieces are black silhouettes, a pared-down color palette appropriate to the unadorned aesthetics of modernism. The pieces range from abstract to figurative sculptures. There's the image of Neutra's head welcoming visitors from the street, and the silhouette of Richard's wife Dione playing the cello on the rooftop. One of the most striking pieces is a mobile of metallic spheres that greets visitors as they climb to the second floor.
This isn't the first time significant architectural landmarks in Los Angeles have played host to artist interventions. In fact, the MAK Center has mounted several at both the Schindler House in West Hollywood and the Mackey Apartments in Mid-City the past few years.
While the individual pieces may seem deceptively simple, the overall effect of a site-specific installation in a building that has rarely played host to these kinds of exhibits is striking. The art doesn't overwhelm or compete with the architecture, as many architectural interventions tend to do, but instead underlines and reinforces the history of the house and its creator. It's an exhibit that honors the contributions of one influential emigre in Los Angeles by another outsider.
Veilhan also mounted a thrilling intervention at Pierre Koenig's Case Study House #21 last weekend in a private event, and has plans for future Architectones at Le Corbusier's Cite Radieuse in Marseille next spring. The event at Case Study #21 filled the house with (non-toxic) smoke at dusk, creating a ghostly opacity in a modernist structure known for its transparency.
In conjunction with the show, there are several events taking place at the house, including
a piano performance on August 24 and a film screening September 7. The exhibit will be up until September 16. The house currently has extended viewing hours, as it's open from Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There's a suggested donation of $10 that goes to the restoration fund.
UPDATE: The piano performance has been cancelled.