A Chair Ahead of its Time

August 10, 2009

Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Marli Ehrman (upholstery), "Chair from the Museum of Modern Art Organic Design Competition," 1940 (detail)

One time they were moving a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Mason City, Iowa, and I got to walk through the house as it rested on I-beams. I’d read a Wright biography but, standing in the living room and looking out the band of windows, I suddenly understood that, oh yeah, he made houses that people lived in. The Stockman House, as it’s known, elaborated on a floorplan Wright had presented in a 1907 Ladies’ Home Journal article called “A Fireproof House for $5,000.”

A chair reminded me of that house the other day: a wooden side chair created by Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Marli Ehrman and featured in the new exhibition “From the Spoon to the City”: Design by Architects from LACMA’s Collection. Plain in appearance (“the homeliest piece in the exhibition,” assistant curator Bobbye Tigerman says cheerfully), the chair was part of Eames and Saarinen’s first-place entry in MoMA’s 1941 competition “Organic Design in Home Furnishings.” As with Wright’s floorplan, the idea of the competition was to encourage contemporary design at affordable prices.

“That was a major mission of modernism, going back as far as the Arts and Crafts period,” Bobbye says. “The perennial struggle of the designer is whether to create for the masses, using less expensive materials and processes, or to design for the few and be able to incorporate expensive refinements. All designers must decide where they fall on that spectrum.”


Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Marli Ehrman (upholstery), "Chair from the Museum of Modern Art Organic Design Competition," 1940

It can be an inexact science, though. The Eames and Saarinen chair would have sold for a then relatively expensive $45 and was never put into production. That’s because the chair, simple as it looks, represented a radical innovation in furniture making—the first time that thin layers of wood and glue were molded into three-dimensional shapes. The process wouldn’t be practical for mass production until after World War II (during which Charles and Ray Eames learned a lot about molding plywood by making splints and airplane parts for the Navy).

Tom Drury

Dancing about an Architecture Exhibition

August 7, 2009

Picture 1

Someone—Elvis Costello? Frank Zappa? it’s up for dispute—once said “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” It’s meant to sound nonsensical, I guess, but then again Goethe famously said “architecture is frozen music.” So I’ve always had the impression that dancing about architecture was a quite reasonable thing to do. Anyone who’s heard Talking Heads’ “Don’t Worry about the Government” would surely agree!

As further proof of this theory, I’ve devised another playlist on the occasion of a new exhibition—“From the Spoon to the City”: Designs by Architects from LACMA’s Collection. The exhibition, which opened yesterday, highlights furniture and other objects designed by architects. Its title comes from another quote, this time by Ernesto Rogers, who claimed that architects want to design everything “from the spoon to the city.” As always, you can download this mix from iTunes.

  • The Decemberists: Here I Dreamt I was an Architect
  • Spoon: All the Pretty Girls Go to the City
  • Beirut: Forks and Knives (La Fête)
  • American Analog Set: Blue Chaise
  • Bedhead: Bedside Table
  • Death Cab for Cutie: Your New Twin Sized Bed
  • Loretta Lynn: This Old House
  • Ben Lee: No Right Angles
  • Cowboy Junkies: Working On a Building
  • Unit 4+2: Concrete and Clay
  • Talking Heads: Don’t Worry About the Government
  • Simon & Garfunkel: So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to songs about architecture and design. Unfortunately I was limited by (a) what I had in my own collection and (b) what iTunes actually carries. I wanted to include Harry Nilsson’s “Good Old Desk” and John Hartford’s excellent “In Tall Buildings”; we also got fantastic suggestions from many of our followers on Twitter, who suggested (among others) Adult’s “Dispassionate Furniture,” Jonathan Richman’s “Government Center,” and basically the entire oeuvre of Einstürzende Neubaten (translated: Collapsing New Buildings). I do want to thank those of you who suggested the Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Lee, and Cowboy Junkies tunes.

As a final bonus, here’s the John Hartford song—I can’t resist.

Scott Tennent

A LACMA Star Takes Center Stage

August 6, 2009

LACMA’s famed Ardabil carpet goes on view in November, and in preparation for the special installation it had its portrait taken last week. Unlike smaller objects that can be shot in the photo studio on site, the sprawling Ardabil (282 x 156 in.) requires a lot of space and, in particular, high ceilings in order to be photographed in its entirety.

First, LACMA staff considered unrolling the carpet outside on our plaza; however, the notorious Los Angeles air quality kept conservators from moving forward with that approach. As they told me during the photo shoot, particulate matter in our dirty air is so damaging to textiles that it has a sandpaper effect on fibers. So, on to Plan B—the LACMA team opted to unroll the carpet on the stage of the Bing Theater. (It’s the first photo shoot of this kind in the Bing; the last time the carpet was shot, nearly ten years ago, it was photographed in the Ahmanson Building’s atrium, now occupied by Tony Smith’s Smoke.)

It really felt like a performance was taking place—the lights were up and a troupe of art handlers took the stage with photographers waiting in the wings for their cue. Many theater seats were taken as the curator, conservator, collections manager, engineering team, and others watched the process quite literally unfurl. When it’s on view later this fall, the Ardabil carpet will have to share the spotlight, though with just one other object—the museum’s other key Persian carpet, the Coronation carpet.

Stage is set

Stage is set

Camera is installed with lights

Camera is installed with lights


Camera adjusted by Peter Brenner and Steve Oliver

Steve Oliver takes light meter reading

Steve Oliver takes light meter reading

API staff: Edwin Menendez, Jon Aley, and David Parker bring in Ardabil

API staff: Edwin Menendez, Jon Aley, and David Parker bring in Ardabil


API, Conservation, and Collections Management begin to unroll the carpet

API and Conservation unroll the last few feet of the Ardabil

API and Conservation unroll the last few feet


Steve Oliver takes photos

Steve Oliver takes photos

Steve Oliver takes photos


Photographers discuss photos

PI, Conservation, and Collections Management begin to re-roll Ardabil

API, Conservation, and Collections Management begin to re-roll Ardabil

Allison Agsten

Q&A with Peter Brenner, LACMA Supervising Photographer

August 5, 2009
Self Portrait, Peter Brenner

Self Portrait, Peter Brenner

Whenever I see Peter photographing a new exhibition or in his studio capturing images of the permanent collection, I think, “And he gets paid to do this…” Here’s Peter, a real LACMA vet (twenty-eight years here and counting), on his very cool job.

How does one enter the field of museum photography?

Well, I was working in advertising as a photographer and was pretty fed up with it. Computers were just coming onto the scene, so I began taking night classes at a local community college. I saw a posting on a job board there for an entry-level photographer and I thought, I could try that out for a couple of years…

So you have a commercial background—did you have an area of expertise within that realm?

I shot a lot of fitness, bodybuilding stuff for magazines, as well as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s exercise books.

What was Schwarzenegger like back then?

He was an extremely pleasant gentleman who knew what he wanted. He was focused during a shooting session but would always joke around between shots. I photographed him at Gold’s and World Gym, or in Santa Monica on the track, as well as in the studio. He was usually on time and sometimes Maria would accompany him. This was before his career in the movie business really started.

What’s the best part of your job?

My favorite part of the job is seeing the individual objects up close and determining how to best document the art, installations, or project. Sometimes we do really unusual permanent collection shoots that require devising equally unusual solutions. One example is the Ardabil carpet shoot we just completed. [Ed. note: The Ardabil shoot was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Tune in tomorrow for a post all about it.]

I’d be interested in a photographer’s favorites from our photography collection—what images really resonate with you?

These are two of my favorites—Jan Saudek’s Train Passing and Edward Weston’s Prologue to a Sad Spring.

Jan Saudek, "Train Passing," 1977, gift of Graham and Susan Nash

Jan Saudek, "Train Passing," 1977, gift of Graham and Susan Nash

Edward Weston, "Prologue to a Sad Spring (Margrethe Mather)," 1920, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Edward Weston, "Prologue to a Sad Spring (Margrethe Mather)," 1920, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Allison Agsten

Film at LACMA

August 4, 2009

Yesterday we launched an online forum for our patrons to express their concerns about changes to our film program. If you have questions or comments about the decision to shutter the weekend film program, join Director Michael Govan and the communications team for the conversation here.

Allison Agsten

Tweets You Like

August 4, 2009

As I discovered when I compiled the first of these posts last month, it’s pretty interesting to see what links our Twitter followers clicked on most. Not surprisingly, Devi’s tweet about the book recommendations you sent to her via Twitter was really popular, but overall you have diverse tastes—including a taste for cookies. Here were our most popular tweets of July. (You’re following us, right?)

A compiled list of book recommendations for you, by you! Thanks for all your input. http://tr.im/sa6E —DN

Michelangelo made the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 4 yrs but it took 2x longer 4 this artist to cross-stitch the same. http://tr.im/qtWI —ES

With school out, here’s a fun game for kids and adults. But trust me, it’s much better looking at the art in person http://tr.im/sa3J —DN

@music4picture The Dark Night of the Soul show is at the Michael Kohn Gallery, see link for information. http://tr.im/tnbF —ES

Works of art in a tasty medium. http://tr.im/rqgg @whippedbakeshop Wish I lived in Philly! —ES

Allison Agsten

Create Your Own Superhero or Villain

August 3, 2009

Saumin Patel, "Devi Vanquishes Bala," India, 2006, image courtesy of Liquid Comics, Bangalore

This fall LACMA will open Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India’s Comics, an exhibition that will draw connections between ancient Indian epics and contemporary India’s booming comic book industry.

In conjunction with this show, we want to see your original storyline and characters for a superhero comic set in Los Angeles. Send your submissions, including a one-page synopsis of your storyline, character designs and/or storyboards to unframed@lacma.org by September 15, and we’ll post the best here on Unframed on October 19, the first week the show is open.

Send us your submissions in the following formats:

1. Word file or PDF for synopsis of storyline. No more than one page (about 250 words).

2. JPEG images for main character designs and individual storyboards, dimensions up to 800 x 1000 pixels. Individual JPEG files should be no larger than 1mb. Between 3 and 5 images total.

See Frequently Asked Superhero Questions and Terms of Use.

Julie Romain, Curatorial Assistant, South and Southeast Asian Art

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