I ♥ the Eames Chair

March 4, 2009

Last week, Tom wrote about a little painting in the European galleries that caught his attention. I too am captivated by one of LACMA’s smaller objects—Child’s Chair (1945) by Charles and Ray Eames, on view in the American galleries.

Charles and Ray Eames, Child's Chair, 1945

What really gets me about the chair is the same thing that enchants me with great design in general. I can easily imagine this chair in my house in a way that I can’t imagine, say, a massive Richard Serra sculpture which would require blowing out ceilings and walls and removing all furniture from my normal-scale home. Also, as a mother of a small child, I can envision my son interacting with this charming object as part of our daily life.

In researching the chair for this post, I discovered that the sweet little heart cutout in the back is actually meant to serve as a child’s finger hold—though, according to Bent Wood and Metal Furniture: 1850-1946, “The shape of the perforation in the back of the chair… was felt by many to be a sentimental gesture out of keeping with the progressive aesthetic and technical innovations of the design.” About 5,000 were produced, and the form, along with other Eames children’s furniture, was discontinued after four years because it was not commercially successful.

Bobbye Tigerman, assistant curator of decorative arts and design, notes that another children’s toy, the Eames plywood elephant, has been recently reissued in a limited edition. We both agree that the chairs would fly off the shelves these days. (Nudge, nudge fabricators…)

Allison Agsten

Irma Boom: The Renaissance of the Book

May 28, 2013

While LACMA’s 2011 California Design exhibition circles the globe (it’s at the National Art Center, Tokyo for a few more weeks before it packs up and moves to the Auckland Art Gallery this summer, the Queensland Art Gallery in November, and finally ends at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. in Spring 2014), the Decorative Arts and Design department has been busily working on a companion book, A Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965: Craftspeople, Designers, Manufacturers. While organizing the exhibition, the research team turned up file cabinets full of new information about California designers and craftspeople. There was no way that we could squeeze it all into the exhibition catalogue, and we quickly realized that a second book was inevitable. I served as editor of the book, and in considering what form it would take, I immediately thought of the Dutch designer Irma Boom. Irma is an internationally renowned graphic designer–last year she received the Medal of Honor for Art and Science from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and she recently completed the new graphic identity and house style for the just re-opened Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I met Irma while working on the book Knoll Textiles and from that experience, knew that her conception of the ‘book as object’ made her the perfect designer for this project, which is all about objects of design. We spoke recently about the design process and why she chose to work on the Handbook of California Design.

Irma Boom will speak at LACMA on Thursday, May 30 about her career, the place of books in contemporary society, and her experience designing LACMA’s Handbook of California Design. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Bobbye Tigerman: Irma, your services are in very high demand and you can be selective about which projects you take. Why did you choose to design the Handbook of California Design?

Irma Boom: If I design a book, I do it because I want to learn from its content. I didn’t know that there were so many outstanding California designers working at mid-century. Of course I knew the very famous ones, like Saul Bass and Charles and Ray Eames, but I was interested to learn more about some of the more obscure designers. The text is also clear and beautifully written. Each entry is concise but very informative.

BT: What were your design inspirations for this book?

IB: The content was already developed, so it was not difficult to organize the information. A beautiful book about Comme des Garçons inspired the bright orange color and the texture of the edges.

BT: Were there any particular challenges that you faced with this book?

IB: There weren’t any major hurdles. The book has a very clear structure—each spread is devoted to one designer or craftsperson and has a brief biography and an image. It was important to me to emphasize the many connections between the designers so I created a diagram at the beginning of the book that visually demonstrated the networks and collaborations.

BT: What is your favorite aspect of the book?

IB: The clarity of the content and design.

BT: How does the book fit into your larger oeuvre?

IB: It has a clear structure—the content and design are one. And like many books I design, I conceive of it as a complete object, including the cover materials, the paper, the binding, the inks, the edges. It is a total experience.

BT: As we see the landscape of book design and production changing rapidly, you have been a strong proponent of the printed word. Why do you continue to design books, and why are they important?

IB: In this age of constant flux, the book becomes even more important than it was before. Information printed in black and white on physical paper is “frozen.” I find that printed text is much more thoroughly researched and proofed, as it cannot be changed instantly like text on the internet. I make books where the object—the three-dimensional, physical experience—is key. My books are not PDFs. Their materiality—their size, paper, and weight—are important ingredients and play a critical role in all the decisions I make. The book is a container of ideas and thoughts because of its intrinsic qualities. I believe in the renaissance of the book.

Bobbye Tigerman, Associate Curator, Decorative Arts and Design


The All New LACMA Store

July 30, 2012

Located in the Hammer Building, the LACMA Store recently re-opened after a dramatic remodel. Unframed’s Scott Tennent spoke to Grant Breding, AVP of retail and merchandising, about the store’s new look and new products.

The LACMA Store

What are some of the defining characteristics of the remodel?
With the renovations, the goal was to bring this space back to the 1960s and pretend that the ’80s didn’t happen—taking it back to the bones but also trying to evoke the feeling that the building had originally, which was simple but glamorous. We restored the columns back to their original form, and we restored a window that was covered over, opening the space up so that all this beautiful natural light comes in. Really it was just about simplifying the space so that you see the product. It’s not about the design of the space—it’s about what’s in the space.

Tell me about some of the products you’ve brought in.
I really like to draw on what’s special about Los Angeles and California. Arts and Crafts pottery is major. First of all, LACMA has the largest collection of Arts and Crafts materials out there, so it seems natural to me. And a lot of the stuff is still made—we have beautiful Arts and Crafts pottery vases and there are Batchelder tiles on display in the Art of the Americas Building [that are still being made today]. People love it. They get that this is about Los Angeles and that it happened in this county.

Peacock Tile

What was your approach for making the store reflect the museum’s encyclopedic collection?
There are certain elements that happen in all periods of time. For instance, there are stools from all different time periods, tiles from all different time periods. That was a fun way to approach it because it was like I was doing research. I would see all the different cultures and what they represented. The challenge is to find good quality items that are still made today that reflect an older time. Besides the Arts and Crafts, a couple things I’m very proud of would be finding hand-made, high-quality things like these hand-painted Turkish bowls. First of all, they’re stunning, but in addition to that they’re made by hand. It’s a traditional finely detailed painting method. It perfectly highlights Islamic art.

11″ Ozel Bowl

We also carry bags made by Dosa, a Los Angeles company. They’re very environmentally friendly and very creative. They are all made from fabrics from places like Mexico, India, and Africa, often using recycled materials, sewn and made by hand in Los Angeles. Every bag is unique. To me, it makes a perfect fit for what we’re trying to do. Another is the African stools. They’re elegant and sculptural. People seem to really respond to them. Again, these are made by hand. We’re supporting the original craftsmen who made it, which is very important to do.

The LACMA Store is right next to the Boone Children’s Gallery—what will kids and parents find in the store?
For children, my attitude is this: you teach kids skills like language and math, and you can teach them aesthetics as well. If you have really interesting design-oriented items that they can play with, they’re learning just because they’re handling them. Charles and Ray Eames were very concerned about getting beautiful things into people’s frame of reference, so that they knew it and could recognize it when they saw it. The Eames House of Cards is perfect for doing that. I also love the new Lego line of Frank Lloyd Wright houses. That’s a driving force for me when I’m finding things: it’s teaching along the way. We also have a large section on children’s books. This is a natural way for kids to learn about a really diverse collection because the selection spans all the time periods and artists. I would want parents to be able to come here and find a really good-quality book on art that they can use to teach their children more about something they found interesting in the museum that day.

Eames House of Cards

Let’s go from the kids’ bookshelf to the other side of the store: the newsstand. A good art newsstand is not always easy to come by. You’ve got a variety here—not just the typical art magazines but harder-to-find titles like Outpost Journal, A Magazine, Garage, and Condiment, as well as zines.
What’s great about magazines and periodicals is that they’re current and ever-changing. Every month or two you get a fresh outlook. Again, it’s a great way to articulate the entire collection. There are niche magazines on all the different areas that the museum addresses. It’s something that I really take a lot of interest in: finding the great magazines that address a certain topic. It keeps us fresh—it’s constantly changing, constantly relevant. I expect it to grow and grow. We’ll always be adding new magazines, always looking for the unique, individual magazines that you don’t always find everywhere. I want to have the hard-to-find magazines here. And zines are not only fun, they’re someone’s artistic vision. It’s a great way for people to get their art out into the world. They’re low-cost—$5 or $10. People collect them. And they’re endless. It’s an area that’s really exploded. A lot of people are working in this area, not just contemporary but all different types of art are addressed in these zines.

How does this store relate to the Art Catalogues store in the Ahmanson Building?
They perfectly complement each other in the sense that Art Catalogues’ focus is on specialized, rare, and out-of-print books as well as a finely curated selection of in-print titles. Dagny [Corcoran, who runs Art Catalogues] also goes deeper into topics and subjects in contemporary art with her offerings, which is great because she is an authority and has the ability to really find rare and special items. Whereas the plaza store is a more traditional museum store but customized to reflect LACMA’s entire collection through unique and special art products and books with a broader scope and a more general tone. I want this store to be an interesting experience for people when they walk in here. It’s relatable—something they know and expect—but they’re going to find something unexpected as well.

Scott Tennent

This Weekend at LACMA: California Design and Robert Adams Close, Member Previews for Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol, and More

June 1, 2012

It’s a big weekend for openings and closings at LACMA. Two major exhibitions are in their final days—Sunday is your last chance to see California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” and Robert Adams: The Place We Live.

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1979, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

California Design
has been on view for eight months, and that means we’ve gotten a lot of great blog posts out of the show. Here’s a look back at some of our favorites:


Installation view, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way,” October 1, 2011–June 3, 2012, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

In conjunction with California Design’s closing weekend, we’ve got one last film series to go along with it. Grand Designs: Mid-Century Life in the Movies explores modern living through four terrific classics. Friday night it’s Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey in Desk Set followed by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in The Long Long Trailer. Saturday night starts with the rarely screened English version of Jacques Tati’s wonderful My Uncle, followed by the iconic James Dean in Rebel without a Cause.

LACMA members get an added treat this weekend: exclusive access to the new exhibition Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol. Photographer/filmmaker Lockhart photographs and a five-channel film installation on the work of Israeli dance composer and textile artist Noa Eshkol, who developed a unique notation system for dance practice in the 1950s. The exhibition is open to members only on Saturday from 11am–4pm and all day Sunday. It opens to the general public starting Monday. Lockhart will be in conversation with curator and art historian Sabine Eckmann on Sunday afternoon—free and open to all.

Sharon Lockhart, production still from Five Dances and Nine Wall Carpets by Noa Eshkol (detail), 2011, five-channel film installation (35mm film transferred to hd, sound), © Sharon Lockhart, 2012

As with every weekend this summer we’ve also got free concerts every night. Friday it’s Jazz at LACMA with drummer and composer Alphonse Mouzon. Mouzon is a charter member of Weather Report and has also collaborated with titans of jazz like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Sonny Rollins, and more. On Saturday, San Francisco-based Grupo Falso Baiano brings traditional and modern Brazilian choro music to Latin Sounds. And the weekend concludes with UCLA Camarades performing pieces by Schoenberg and Korngold during LACMA’s Sundays Live chamber music series.

Scott Tennent

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.

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