Here Comes the Clipper

August 22, 2011

Last week, the first work of art entered the gallery inside the Resnick Pavilion where California Design 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way” will open on October 1. It’s a 1936 Airstream Clipper, and it traveled from Northern California on this truck.

Because of its size (19 feet long by 7 feet wide), the Airstream had to come into the gallery before any of the pedestals or platforms were constructed.

As a literal house on wheels, the Airstream is the perfect way to open a show about the freedom and flexibility of California living. The Airstream Trailer Company was founded in 1932 by Wally Byam, who incessantly promoted trailer travel. The Clipper has an aluminum frame riveted together in a process similar to that used for aircraft of the time. It got its name from the celebrated Pan Am Clipper airplanes. The design reflects the vogue for streamlining in the interwar period and was justly aerodynamic. The Clipper was the top of the line model and came with all the latest amenities, including a full galley, a built-in screen door, a double-wide closet, and sleeping space for three. If nature called, though, you would have had to find other facilities, as on-board toilets were not available. Airstream marketed the Clipper as “the ultimate picturization of the streamlined age—and America’s newly discovered freedom in the out-of-doors”—trading on the past and the future at the same time.

In order to get into LACMA’s galleries, the Airstream had to be transferred to a tow truck…

…driven to the Resnick Pavilion loading dock…

…and lowered to the ground.

It was then wheeled through the Tim Burton exhibition…

…and set in place.

Bobbye Tigerman, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design

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