Trina Turk: Inspired by the Past and Inspiring the Future

May 31, 2012

After eight months on view, 350,000 visitors, and three catalogue printings, California Design, 1930–1965 will close its doors for the last time this Sunday. While it will be sad to watch the culmination of six years of work dispersed to the four winds, it is encouraging to see that the spirit of modern California design lives on through many talented designers and craftspeople.

One of those exemplary figures is Trina Turk, an incredibly distinguished designer and entrepreneur. She is that rare breed—a genuine California native—and her aesthetic is informed by both the casual yet sophisticated lifestyle and the natural environment of her home state. She founded her company in 1995 with her husband, photographer Jonathan Skow, and they have built an incredibly successful line of clothing, accessories, and home décor that is heavily influenced by her passion for architecture and design. It is a little-known fact that Trina is a formidable collector of California design and has filled her two homes with an outstanding collection of furniture and objects. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Trina to talk about her design inspiration and her passion for collecting.

Trina Turk and Bobbye Tigerman

Bobbye Tigerman: Trina, can you tell me about the origins of your interest in design?

Trina Turk: My husband, Jonathan, and I were really interested in New Wave music in the early 1980s, and I think a lot of the interest in mid-century design stemmed from that. We spent much more time thrift shopping than we actually spent in classes at the University of Washington (where I studied apparel design). We were fascinated by rockabilly, which was a 1950s-derived style, and also the B-52s, so our interest in the decorative arts really started with fashion and then led to the architecture, ceramics, and furniture that complemented those fashion styles.

BT: And is thrift shopping still a favorite pastime?

TT: Yes, but it’s not as good as it used to be.

BT: That’s what they all say.

TT: It’s true. Even ten years ago in Palm Springs, we could go thrift shopping and leave with bagfuls of beautiful vintage clothing, but those days are over.

BT: Where do you go now for your inspiration?

TT: We still do a lot of shopping, although we’ve moved up the food chain from Value Village in the Seattle area. We make a habit of going to both the Palm Springs and the Los Angeles Modernism shows. One of the places where I’ve learned a lot about design is Los Angeles Modern Auctions. Poring over those catalogues and looking at objects at previews have been incredible learning experiences for us.

BT: One could say that you truly personify and live California design. You own two remarkable modern homes, one by architect J.R. Davidson in Los Feliz, and the incredible Ship of the Desert, a streamlined, boat-like house that hugs the hills in Palm Springs. Can you talk a little bit about how you found your houses and what drew you to them?

TT: My husband, Jonathan, was working as a fashion stylist in the 1990s and did a lot of photo shoots in Palm Springs, so we started looking for a mid-century home there. Our real estate agent took us to see the Ship of the Desert and, although it was not what we were looking for at the time—it was too big, it was in terrible shape, we couldn’t afford it—we just fell in love. At that point, it was a stretch for us to buy it, but we felt a deep emotional connection to the house and decided to take the plunge. We found our house in Los Angeles later. It was built in 1948 for the Schapiro family. Jonathan had frequently done photo shoots at that house and would always come home after a shoot and describe it as the house we needed to find. Once when he was out of town, our real estate agent took me to a modern house, and I realized it was the same one that he had described to me so many times. We bought the house and have lived there for ten years.

BT: What is the house like?

TT: It’s classic mid-century. It was designed in the early 1940s, but not built until the late 1940s because it was difficult to build during World War II. It’s exactly what I think of as the epitome of California living. It has walls of glass, a very bright interior, and of course, a pool.

BT: I know you’ve filled your house with lots of amazing objects, and it sounds like it started way back in Washington with the thrift stores. But can you talk a little bit about your collecting and the particular designers that you collect in depth?

TT: One of the designers that I admire a lot is Claire Falkenstein. She did a lot of jewelry and sculptures, as well as the gates of Peggy Guggenheim’s museum in Venice. They’re made of twisted metal with pieces of colored glass embedded in them.

BT: That was a remarkable commission. And if you don’t want to go all the way to Venice, Italy, to see them, you can see the model for the Guggenheim gates in the California Design show at LACMA now.

Claire Falkenstein, Model for garden gate of Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1961, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Mrs. Peggy Guggenheim

TT: You can see Claire’s work all over town. She did stained glass windows for St. Basil Catholic Church (at Wilshire and Kingsley Dr. in Koreatown), and she made a monumental sculpture fountain for the courtyard of the Long Beach Museum of Art. The museum restaurant is actually named “Claire’s” after the sculpture. She also did extraordinary jewelry that didn’t attach to your body in the usual way and was often made of non-precious materials like brass.

BT: A favorite curator’s game is “What would you take home?” If you could keep one piece from the California Design show, what would it be?

TT: I would take home the Eames house and I would live in it, and then I would park my white Avanti in front of it! And I would wear the Claire Falkenstein necklace.

Installation view, Charles and Ray Eames House living room, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way,” October 1, 2011–June 3, 2012, © 2012 Eames Office LLC (eamesoffice.com), photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Installation view, Raymond Loewy for Studebaker Corporation, Avanti, 1961, collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way,” October 1, 2011–June 3, 2012, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Claire Falkenstein, Necklace, c. 1948, collection of the Long Beach Museum of Art, gift of the Falkenstein Foundation

BT: My last question is about how you combine the essence of the mid-century period with contemporary style and how you make it relevant to today.

TT: In women’s fashion, it never really works to just knock off a vintage garment exactly because today’s bodies are different, today’s foundation garments are different, and there’s been a lot of technological development in fabrication since the 1950s. We use patterns found in vintage clothing for inspiration and interpret them for today’s taste and color preferences. I see that my job is to be inspired by the vintage material but to make it modern and relevant for today.

Bobbye Tigerman, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design 

Special thanks to Aralyn Beaumont and Karen Kitayama for the transcript of this conversation.


Artists Respond: Yucef Merhi on Children of the Plumed Serpent

May 29, 2012

The latest in our Artists Respond series, web-based projects that take art at LACMA as their jumping-off point, is by Yucef Merhi.  Yucef chose to respond to Children of the Plumed Serpent. You’ll find his project here (be sure to turn up your speakers, as there is a significant sound element, and we advise using Firefox, Safari or Chrome).

We talked to Yucef about the project by email, during one of his trips to the Andes; here is an excerpt of that exchange:

A screenshot from Quetzelcoatl2012.net by Yucef Mehri.

Yucef: When LACMA contacted me to ask me to participate, I was in my studio in New York, spending most of my time coding and building microcontrollers. I was exploring different ways to communicate with nature, placing sensors in public parks. The invitation was a great opportunity to interpret the formidable heritage of Mesoamerican civilizations: an opportunity to translate 600 years of enigmatic cultural signs by means of our current technological and cultural codes, codes that can be virtually experienced by anyone in the world.  The fact that we are in 2012, an exceptional date for those who believe in the end/beginning of a new cycle, made me realize that the timing was perfect.

What interests you about the legacy of Quetzalcoatl and about the exhibition?

Yucef: I understood Quetzalcoatl as a natural force and guide that allows us to have a harmonic and direct relationship between ourselves, the Earth, and the Universe. I was attracted to the codices, specially the Codex Nutall. The drawings and stories depicted in the Mixtec codices are fascinating. Additionally, I read the descriptions of Quetzalcoatl in the book of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, General History of the Things of New Spain.

Tell me about your project: what was the original concept?

Yucef: Since my response was going to be developed using the web, it was important for me to be aware of the technological medium and its parallels with the exhibition. The technology we use nowadays provides a common ground for communication, economy, politics, health, arts, and human advancement. However, the intrinsic bond with the Earth and the Universe seems to be either virtual or lost.

When people (especially those who live in cities) want to know if it’s going to rain, they don’t bother to see the sky or watch the birds flying. They simply go to weather.com or any news website. To find Venus we don’t look at the firmament, we browse Google Earth or Microsoft WorldWide Telescope. These are two simple examples that portray our divorce from nature.

The project is a multidimensional art portal comprised by several individual modules, some interactive and others designed to promote reflection. I wanted to translate verbally and visually the ancient experience of a ubiquitous but discernible “platform” known by the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl.

The historical and cultural symbols are mixed with contemporary signs and elements that are being generated on real time: changing tweets, instant news, stock market quotes, and so on. For Quetzalcoatl 2.0.1.2, I programmed and re-wrote a wide range of applications in order to retrieve information from Twitter, CNN, Wall Street, Google Images, and NASA, among other real time data. I think this aspect of the work engages people to perceive the past and the present as a unified construction. The navigation is simple and intuitive. One line of text puts you in the next page.

Technology is for me like paint is for a painter. I grew up in a technological world. The internet has been crucial for me to think in different ways to assemble the poetic-art experience. WizArt.org (1998–2001), Artboom.net (1999–2012), PoeticDialogues.com (2002), WhiteonWhite.net (2003), VersesVersusVerses.net (2008) and Supernumerarios.net (2009), are some of the internet projects I have created that involve interactivity and randomness. I like to create non-lineal poetic narratives. The design attached to these projects is not only based on algorithms and scripts, but in human relationships and social interactions as well.

What else are you working on right now?

Yucef: I am currently teaching two courses on Digital Art at Universidad de Los Andes, in the Andean region of Venezuela. Teaching poses a great and exceptional responsibility. Also, I will be traveling soon to Ecuador to teach a seminar on New Media Art at the MA in Design and Multimedia program of Universidad del Azuay.  Some of the projects I am working on right now involve the production, assembly and programming of Arduino-related applications that fuse social interaction and poetry.

Note: Quetzalcoatl 2.0.1.2 cannot be experienced with Internet Explorer: we advise Safari, Firefox or Chrome.

Amy Heibel


LACMA is Free Today!

May 28, 2012

Today, join us for another Target Free Holiday Monday at LACMA. Stop by from 12–8 pm for free admission to all galleries, family art-making activities, gallery tours, live music, and more.

On the plaza at 12:30 and 2:45 pm, renowned Los Angeles group George Kahn and the Jazz and Blues Revue will play catchy jazz originals and upbeat jazz versions of popular songs.

Throughout the day, docents will be leading tours throughout permanent collection galleries. Here’s the full schedule:

1–1:20 pm Decorative Arts
1:30–1:45 pm European Painting and Sculpture
2–2:50 pm Art of Japan
3–3:50 pm Art of the Ancient World
4–4:50 pm European Painting and Sculpture

Bilingual gallery educators will also be stationed throughout the day in Chris Burden’s Metropolis II which is running for special hours just for this Target Free Holiday Monday. The piece will be on view throughout the day and running from 12:30–1:30 pm; 2:30–3:30 pm; 4:30–5:30 pm; and 6:30–7:30 pm.

After soaking up inspiration from the galleries, visitors are welcome to create their own work of art in an outdoor sketching activity from 12:30 to 3:30 pm. The Boone Children’s Gallery will be open throughout the day where families can take part in a brush painting activity. Make sure to get your timed tickets to the gallery on site when you arrive! Families can also venture to our Korean art galleries at 2 pm for a special interactive story time.

Boone Children’s Gallery

Don’t miss your chance to see the acclaimed exhibition California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” before it closes this Sunday. Kids and adults alike will appreciate the vibrant colors and forward-thinking aesthetic of the midcentury masterpieces in the show.

California Lobster two-piece swimsuit, swim trunks, and man’s shirt, Mary Ann DeWeese, 1949, Catalina Sportswear (Los Angeles, 1907–93), collection of Esther Ginsberg/Golyester Antiques, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Also on view are gritty photographs of Japanese urban life in Fracture: Daido Moriyama, beautiful and idyllic photographs of the American West in Robert Adams: The Place We Live, intricate art and objects from ancient Mexico in Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico, and much more!

Alex Capriotti


This Weekend at LACMA: Latin Sounds Returns, California Noir Films, Target Free Holiday Monday, and More

May 25, 2012

Summer is officially here—no, not because it’s Memorial Day (free, by the way), but because Latin Sounds has returned. Enjoy free concerts in Hancock Park every Saturday, all summer long, from terrific Latin artists. This Saturday, Ricardo Lemvo blends Afro-Cuban rhythms with pan-African styles—not to be missed.  As usual, we’ve also got free concerts for the rest of the weekend, too: the great jazz vocalist Ernie Andrews performs tonight for Jazz at LACMA, while the Honors Chamber Ensembles from the Colburn School will fill the Bing for the free Sundays Live chamber music series.

Two of our big special exhibitions are entering their final days, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t yet. Robert Adams: The Place We Live and California Design, 1935–1960: “Living in a Modern Way” both close next weekend.

Robert Adams, Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1969, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund, © Robert Adams, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

If film is your thing, our California Noir film series concludes this weekend with five pot-boilers. Tonight, The Damned Don’t Cry, starring Joan Crawford, followed by Allan Dwan’s 1956 Slightly Scarlet. Saturday night, three in a row: Murder by ContractNightfall, and The Prowler.

Finally, this is a nice long weekend—and LACMA is free all day on Memorial Day, thanks to Target. Enjoy live music on the plaza, bring your kids to the Boone Children’s Gallery, and enjoy all of the many artworks on view in our galleries.

Scott Tennent


Dark Seduction: Daido Moriyama

May 24, 2012

Our beautiful Japanese Pavilion—with its style and air of something ancient, yet nevertheless modern—houses three-thousand-year-old vessels, jars, Buddhas, ancient animal guards, fierce Samurai armor, and deadly sharp Samurai swords. However, within a few steps, in Fracture: Daido Moriyama, we are flung and plunged into twentieth- and twenty-first-century Japan—an experience somehow disquietly familiar, eerily alien, and weirdly futuristic, with shades of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Daido Moriyama, Untitled (trash cans), printed 2009, courtesy of Courtesy Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

In Memories of a Dog, Daido Moriyama—with a slight smile—declares, “I’m like a stray dog,” unconcerned with the allusion. His black-and-white images are not memory, but the stylized theater of urban reality caught as moving targets by a modern man, testosterone-rich and unapologetically masculine. The striking drama as the white glares to diffusion of the black images—be they objects or people—injects loads of glittering glamour to the odd collection of groupings. For instance, trash-canister tops are in the foreground of a group of people as if something nefarious were present. The human condition is made provisional, alluring, and infinitely mysterious. Sometimes it’s obliquely erotic and other times straight up and in-your-face sexual—and always through a scrim of menace. There’s a fierce motion in his photos, blurring to abstraction on one hand, yet with the intense need to capture the immediacy and vitality of living presence on the other.

Daido Moriyama, Kariudo (Hunter), 1971, printed 2009, courtesy of Courtesy Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

Like all voyeuristic imagery, he makes you a party to his vivacious lens, and thus you are made predator in Hunter. You are unable to turn away from the giant lips, their pout like creased pillows. It’s hallucinogenic, as a sullen chubby boy’s face presses forward into the frame. Wired fences are so close as to form a grid, while the vague cars and buildings are mere palettes of grays and charcoals. The world is shadows, broken into pieces and seen through the zoom lens of confrontation. Mountainously sensual rear ends in jeans or fishnet stockings force themselves on you. It’s physical, and it’s intimate.

Daido Moriyama, Untitled (shadows with tires), printed 2009, courtesy of Courtesy Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

Moriyama, more than most, to me, epitomizes the realization that photography is an alien third eye with the power to create an alternate reality—a reality which is as repulsive as it is seductively attractive. It’s a reality we know is exaggerated, dipped in a lugubrious ink the color of midnight—those down-and-dirty blues which we associate with the dark side of American life. His Tokyo—or rather his neighborhood, Shinjuku—is made somehow precious, vulgar, clownishly regal, and elegant. Take the picture of the coat covered in pearl buttons—where he shoots in perfect relationship to the light, somehow sharing the darkness—making it almost weightless and ethereal, kind of heavenly. Texture abounds in his images. Old dogs and old tires are transformed into junk beauty or elegant brutal realism. It’s our safe passage to the other side, though we are uneasy and somewhat fearful. Japan is no longer white cranes fluttering across a sea-green kimono or white-masked smoky mythic dramas on folded silk screens taking us out of our hard metal world of acid-washed jeans and plastic dreams.

Daido Moriyama, Shinjuki #11, 2000, courtesy of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

Daido Moriyama repositions us with his macho zing and daring honesty; he sees the beauty where we would look elsewhere, and plays in the dark.  You get to walk with him in his video—it’s close contact. You sense the flash of his captured moments like some adrenaline-high quick-draw artist. He’s a modern-day samurai, eyeing with laser speed the disjunctive elements. In spite of this, it’s an embrace. And then you squeeze down the narrow stairwell when he declares the city a sexual entity, which from his point of view it could hardly be otherwise.

Moriyama’s photography braids us constantly into the fabric of the singularity of our actual “looking” and ties the knots to our deepest sensual signals. For those split seconds, our eyes are amoral, panoramic, and restlessly inventing beauty. But for Moriyama they are not seconds but a jet stream of a life in motion—and at some existential level—making all encounters mean something in the deep well of his visual cortex.

Hylan Booker


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