THE OLD NARRATIVE EXPLAINING CALIFORNIA design is roughly this: European Moderns planted the seeds of an avant-garde, technology-based design community when they arrived in California in the 1920s and 30s. In the fertile soil, balmy air, and absence of a root bound cultural establishment, their ideas created a distinct California Modern sensibility, which blossomed in the 1950s. “European émigrés…established avant-garde ideas on the West Coast,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan sums up in his foreword to Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965. The distinguishing characteristics of these ideas: fluid boundaries between indoors and out, open adaptable living spaces, light, views, and modern technologies — the hallmarks of what we today call Midcentury Modern.
This extraordinary blossoming, however, was only in domestic design, we were told; it was expressed in residential architecture, furnishings, clothing, and other expressions of personal, not public, life. “The everyday middle-class house — not the reshaping of city skylines…. was the primary field for modern design in California,” states Nicholas Olsberg in his essay in the LACMA catalog, Living in a Modern Way. Asian and Mexican influences smoothed off some of the sharp Bauhaus-related edges, but California Modern (so says the old narrative) is essentially the technological expression of European Modernism (notably excluding the Dutch Expressionists or the Russian Vkhutemas) adapted to the sunny lifestyle of this earthly paradise.
It’s a pleasant story line; if only it were true. We need a new narrative about California’s design heritage that fits the scholarship and criticism that has emerged in the past twenty years. While the LACMA catalog, edited by Wendy Kaplan, includes some of these recent discoveries, it does not incorporate them into a fuller vision that we sorely require. Thomas S. Hines’s more comprehensive Architecture of the Sun: Los Angeles Modernism 1900-1970 takes bolder steps into this territory. And, though narrower in focus, Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of America by Kimberli Meyer and Susan Morgan becomes something of a moral compass to guide us into new terrain today. Sympathetic Seeing, the catalog of the MAK Center’s recent exhibit on critic and historian McCoy (1904-1989), serves to remind us of the intellect and courage needed to look unflinchingly and accurately at California, at ourselves.
European designers did contribute a great deal to California Modern, but local architects and the alchemical effect of California’s culture, history, and landscape were at least as influential. California design excelled in residential architecture and domestic furnishings in the twentieth century, but its public and commercial design was just as original, prominent, and significant. The minimalist Modernism of Neutra and the Case Study houses is brilliant, but the opulent Modernisms of Frank Lloyd Wright, John Lautner, Millard Sheets, and others prove the true diversity of design in California in this remarkable period. Asian and Mexican influences are undeniable; so were the local vernaculars, past and contemporary, of California itself. California design looked optimistically to the future, but it could also embrace history in ways that class-ridden, revolutionary Europe could not. Many San Franciscans lived in urban apartments and townhouses, but many more Californians lived squarely in suburbia, and designers catered imaginatively to that market. It was a time of expansive experiment, not the narrow codification implied by the old narrative.
Why, one then wonders, has the influence of European Modernism been so long inflated? Perhaps it is because California has had less ongoing historical documentation and critical discussion than the East Coast or Europe. Or because we’re reluctant to acknowledge (let alone defend) our exuberant embrace of cars, consumerism, and suburbia. But the hints have been there all along; in Wendy Kaplan and Staci Steinberger’s chapter of Living in a Modern Way, architect Edgar Kaufmann Jr. is quoted in 1950: “Modern Design for the home is more appropriately used to create an atmosphere of ‘the good life’ than of ‘a brave new world.” This captures the fundamental transmogrification of European Modernism when it came to America, and especially California — the ultimate America. It is a transformation so basic that the European concepts changed their very molecular structure. And it’s a change worth exploring further, because it is still at work. Clearly California itself took on the role of a powerful and seductive Muse to all the designers in these books.
Of course, our narrative has been rewritten before. The Greene brothers, Bernard Maybeck, Irving Gill, and R. M. Schindler were first widely recognized as prominent figures as the result of Esther McCoy’s epic, Five California Architects, published in 1960 (with Randall Makinson providing the Greene chapter.) Before that, California’s image of itself was inchoate. Though the seminal journal Arts+Architecture provided the world with snapshots of some fascinating California experiments (something was clearly going on here), and the savvy self-promotion of Richard Neutra and Julius Shulman gave California a visual presence in the international press (Shulman’s photo of Neutra’s Kaufmann house was his most widely published until his photo of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study #22), there was no overarching definition of California design. Some books, including Harold Kirker’s California’s Architectural Frontier and Carey McWilliams’ Southern California: An Island on the Land, and magazines like the Lane brothers’ Sunset were indispensable to pulling together a storyline, but there was little serious critical examination based on real research in major publications. The architecture journals offered little more than the sketchy impressions of Henry-Russell Hitchcock (who really didn’t get it) on his whirlwind 1940 West Coast tour, Lewis Mumford’s spirited assertion of a woodsy Bay Region style, and occasional insightful articles by Talbot Hamlin and Douglas Haskell. It took McCoy’s book (at the time of its publication, she’d spent twenty-eight years as a resident) to reveal that 1) California had architectural history; 2) California “suddenly” had architectural heroes (said Reyner Banham); and 3) California had ongoing architectural ideas.
Meyer and Morgan’s invaluable catalog helps us to see how Esther McCoy did it. Schindler, Neutra, Harris, Ain, the Wrights and others had built their great buildings; McCoy helped us to see them — and to see California. She is not a bad model for us today as we revisit our design identity. McCoy did not adopt anyone else’s interpretation of California design; indeed, there was almost no one then who could have told her what to think (though Hines reminds us we should not forget Pauline Schindler’s perceptive writing, or Eloise Roorbach’s writings on Gill). McCoy determined in the early 1930s “to find Neutra on my own.” Her strengths were looking for herself (her “sympathetic seeing”), and figuring things out with a sharp, independent intellect. These were clearly part of her nature, as Meyer and Morgan show. They have brought her back to us.
McCoy was a trenchant observer as well deeply engaged in her times. She was active in progressive labor and housing issues during the Great Depression, and when the war came, she worked at Douglas Aircraft as a draftsperson. Real experience honed her ideas. At Douglas, “what was out of date was ruthlessly discarded,” she noted. Modernity was not just a pretty style; it was a way to improve people’s lives. She found herself in Southern California in the middle of a robustly human world where Modernism was a way of life.
When it came time for her to announce publicly the significance of five California architects (Bernard Maybeck, Charles and Henry Greene, Irving Gill, and R. M. Schindler) she had good reason, but not necessarily the support of the design community. Architect J.R. Davidson, for example, felt that the Greene brothers were unrelated to the spirit of the times. Ironically, McCoy would later help resurrect interest in Davidson’s work.
Despite the naysayers, Five California Architects had a big impact. By 1965 (the end of the period covered in Living in a Modern Way) awareness was coalescing not only that California was producing great design (something Arts+Architecture had broadcast for a dozen years), but also that these advances grew from a sturdy, ongoing design culture. McCoy kept writing about it, including in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, even though she was considered a pinko. And she helped nurture that ultimate signal of a city’s self-awareness, a historic preservation movement, in her valiant but unsuccessful effort alongside others to save Irving Gill’s 1916 Dodge house in the 1960s.
McCoy shows us what we ought to be doing to discover our lost history. We have, for example, Esther McCoy to thank largely for our knowledge of R. M. Schindler today. Hard to believe; how could such a towering figure of design once have been so close to oblivion? Yet it is a fact: “The case of Schindler I do not profess to understand….His continued reflection of the somewhat hectic psychological air of the region, still produces something of the look of sets for a Wellsian ‘film of the future’,” wrote one of the most powerful critics of Schindler’s time, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, in 1940. Hitchcock’s perplexity had a profound effect: he and Philip Johnson penciled Schindler out of the historic 1932 exhibit “The International Style” at New York’s Museum of Modern Architecture — an exhibit that helped make the reputations of most of those in it. Schindler’s career waned in the last decade or so of his life; his reputation continued to disappear (along with many of his buildings) for another decade, until McCoy swung the mighty spotlight of history onto him in Five California Architects in 1960.
It’s a sobering thought. We might have entirely missed Schindler. McCoy had what it took to understand him, even if Hitchcock did not. It also took guts (pointedly documented in Sympathetic Seeing) to keep pushing for the broader awareness and appreciation of the powerful and challenging ideas of designers like Schindler. McCoy knew the power of a good story and Meyer and Morgan’s book shows that she is a true hero of California design.
McCoy’s career is the prologue to today’s task of developing a new, fully inclusive history of California design. There are some stark differences among the narratives told by Hines in Architecture of the Sun, Kaplan in Sympathetic Seeing, and the essayists in Living in a Modern Way, contradictions that need to be sorted out and debated first.
The time period each book selects substantially shapes their stories. Hines’s scope (1900-1970) allows for a fuller and more accurate story than Living in a Modern Way (1930-1965). Hines focuses on architecture; the latter book’s mission covers design in general — in discussing ceramics, furnishings, clothing, and domestic design it explores the central issues of California’s approach to mass production, popular taste, and commercial design more successfully than it does in its sections on architecture.
The choice of 1930 as the starting point for Living in a Modern Way subtly and somewhat arbitrarily deflects the larger story in favor of the European émigré designers, some of whom arrived in the 1930s escaping the Nazis. The necessary pre-1930 prelude mentions Frank Lloyd Wright’s earlier work in the Prairie Style — by now, a touchstone that cannot be ignored in any narrative on design. Living in a Modern Way really begins its story of California Modernism, though, in chapter one with Gerrit Rietveld’s Schroder house from 1924-25 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
This is a glaring non sequitur. When the earlier Schindler house (1922) is introduced later, no apology or explanation is given. True, Rietveld’s house became famous almost immediately, while Schindler’s house, out on the edge of the known world, would require four decades to become famous. But in terms of the design ideas and environment of California, the record is clear: Schindler was already dealing masterfully with Modern structure (tilt-up concrete) and Modern space (interiors flowing to the exterior) and California lifestyles (outdoor rooms) in a much more sophisticated manner than Rietveld. Schindler’s influence on California — through Harwell Harris, Gregory Ain, Allyn Morris, Esther McCoy and others — is far greater as well.
The spotlight on Rietveld’s design of marginal California significance is thus puzzling, except in that it underscores the old Euro-centric narrative. True, Schindler was European, too. But he had arrived in the United States in 1914 and passed through what must be called a transformative experience with Frank Lloyd Wright. As Schindler himself is quoted in 1945 in Living in a Modern Way, “I abandoned the ‘modern’ as an import from Europe…and tried to develop a contemporary expression of California.” California itself (as well as Wright) was at least as great an influence on his work as anything he learned in Vienna. In short, Schindler had gone Hollywood.
This is the far more interesting story than the one about Europeans planting seeds in California: what was it about California that so fundamentally transformed designers? There was little in contemporary Europe to match it — just compare Schindler’s house to Rietveld’s.
Living in a Modern Way goes on to explore the contributions of other European emigres. The focus on designers who have not been well represented in the history books (Jock Peters, Ken Weber, Paul Frankl, Paul Laszlo, Greta Magnusson Grossman, Rudi Baumfeld and others) performs a valuable service in drawing attention to their work and roles.
Bobbye Tigerman’s chapter, “Fusing Old and New: Émigré Designers in California,” explores some of the ways that the émigrés responded to the new conditions they found here. Missing is a parallel chapter focusing on how architects and designers who grew up in the California milieu shaped their environment, but the story of the émigrés remains important. Though not all jettisoned their European training as radically as Schindler did, the way in which cultural and climatological conditions of California touched them, and their response to those conditions, are useful in exploring the sources of California Modern ideas. Tigerman considers the psychological side of being an alien, an outsider, an observer of a scene as boisterously stimulating as California.
The underlying bias of this and several other chapters of Living in a Modern Way, however, shades the trajectory: the text emphasizes the introduction of machine-based, rationalist theory more than the transformation those ideas and their designers underwent in the warm California sun. While Tigerman concludes “émigrés who settled in the Golden State infused its design culture with the legacy of Europe,” a more accurate picture would show that many of these innovations were already under cultivation in California, and the Europeans largely blended with existing ideas. There are also interesting comparisons that could be drawn between the mechanistic imagery that the Europeans emphasized, and the Organic, Expressionistic, and Moderne imagery that many local architects emphasized, but these are not examined.
Though the general assumption of Living in a Modern Way gives precedence to the old narrative and its promotion of European minimalism, not all of the essayists agree. The excellent discussions of Kem Weber and Paul Laszlo, for example, as émigrés who actively embraced California’s diversity, add to a fresh appraisal. Hungarian-born Laszlo strayed from the purist, minimalist ideal that Europeans supposedly contributed to California Modern: as George Nelson (who, as an influential Modern designer, should know) said of Laszlo, his “personal taste did not include austerity.”
So much the better that he found California, and California found him.
In the conclusion to Christopher Long’s essay in Living in a Modern Way, Long writes that native-born Cliff May’s “mitigated modernism and the more radical designs of the new vanguard shared a defining feature: they were individual and direct expressions of a modernism rooted in California culture and conditions. They were not simply a rehashed version of the European aesthetic but a new way of describing and framing modern life.” This is a good foundation. A closer analysis of how J.R. Davidson, Kem Weber, Jock Peters, and other Europeans changed after exposure to California (and how Millard Sheets, Wayne McAllister, Whitney Smith and other natives responded) would be a valuable contribution. (An intriguing aside: many of the earlier European architects settling in California were British, including Ernest Coxhead, John Parkinson, and Gordon Kaufmann.) The evidence for a discussion of a new narrative is there; Living in a Modern Way never fully engages it.
A useful case study for this discussion, for example, would have been that of the Swiss Albert Frey: after working for a year with Le Corbusier in Paris, he disappeared (for all intents and purposes) into the wilderness when he moved to Palm Springs in the early 1930s. He continued to build for sixty years, but it is difficult to attribute his evolving designs simply to a continuation of Corbu’s ideas; clearly he was transformed by the desert environment and California culture. This was more than simply a functionalist’s adjustment to physical conditions.
Fortunately, Thomas Hines provides the background of Californian’s solid advances in design before 1930 in Architecture of the Sun. Where much of Living in a Modern Way assumes a pre-1930 void, Hines shines light back on a series of well-documented architects who settled on the West Coast and developed their own Modern ideas. Esther McCoy first called our attention to some of these in Five California Architects, but Hines takes us deeper into their stories. He discusses Irving Gill, directly out of the same influential Adler & Sullivan office in Chicago that gave us Frank Lloyd Wright; Gill found the freedom in San Diego to blend modern concrete technology with a sympathetic version of the Spanish traditions in this Mediterranean climate. There were Charles and Henry Greene, who knew a thing or two about blending indoors and outdoors, and turning simple rusticity into luxurious and artful pleasure. Of course there was R. M. Schindler, who in 1960 when McCoy published her book, was seven years dead and forgotten. Because Hines’ focus is on Southern California, he does not discuss Berkeley’s Bernard Maybeck, that Paris-trained but California-cured architect explored modern materials and the creative alteration of refined historical styles with rustic vernacular forms.
These and other early adopters that Hines considers had already laid out the fundamental concepts that would be known as California Modern. The input from European ideas was there — the Greenes, for example, were well aware of the international Arts and Crafts movement — but the solutions are distinctive to California. These California design pioneers (c. 1900-1920) influenced the next generation of architects, both native-born like Harwell Hamilton Harris, Whitney Smith, Cliff May, and William Wilson Wurster, and immigrant, who were often instantly impressed with the local vernacular. For example, while Pat Kirkham writes in Living in a Modern Way, “Studied informality…had its roots in Europe, particularly interiors by the Austrian architect-designers Adolf Loos and Josef Frank,” informality had been known in California homes since the eighteenth century Spanish ranchos, with their easy indoor-outdoor living; Modernism simply adopted it. Cliff May grew up visiting an authentic Spanish hacienda owned by his family — and brought that first hand experience to his Ranch House designs beginning in the 1930s. The plein air Arroyo culture of the 1890s was elegantly captured by the Greene brothers in their houses. William Wurster grew up among board and batten ranch buildings in the Central Valley, and then turned them into the impeccable informality of his Ranch houses. There is no need to seek European precedents for these concepts. Informality was already part of Western lifestyles, of the very air and land, ready to be — demanding to be — expressed by its architects.
The influence of Mexican and Asian vernacular design on California, California’s own vernacular design, the historic adobes and ranch houses of the nineteenth century, and the popular car culture and roadside vernacular of the twentieth, from Wayne McAllister’s sophisticated development of the common drive-in restaurant to the influence of commonplace billboards in Schindler’s Bethlehem Baptist Church: Hines’s broad-based commentary outlines these and other trends that have continued to have a role in California design. The thread from Maybeck to Wurster to May continues to Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull & Whitaker at Sea Ranch in 1965. It’s important to recognize the vernacular’s role, if only to balance the attention that the old narrative rivets on high tech ideas.
While European Modern ideas were revolutionary and world-changing, the forces of California’s pluralism, autos, and freedom from convention were at least equally as powerful. The Europeans — all great designers — found themselves in a paradise for their nontraditional ideas, and they made the most of it. But the soil had already been prepared. Some of these designers broke out of their Northern European straitjacket of minimalism; others never bothered to put it on. In the California climate, they didn’t need to. This is the broader story of California Modernism that we must write today.
A major part of writing a new narrative will be the stories of designers who were born, or settled, in California. The introduction of ideas from Europe is part of the story, but so is the impact of the architecture schools at the University of California at Berkeley, and at the University of Southern California. Even more intriguing is the impact of designers from outside the traditional academic process; California allowed them also to introduce new concepts, and thrive. John Lautner studied at Taliesin, with no other official training in architecture. Wayne McAllister apprenticed his way into architecture. Cliff May was a furniture maker and bandleader with no official design training. Millard Sheets was an artist, with no training in architecture.
Among the non-European designers who were conventionally trained were California-born Harwell Hamilton Harris, Whitney Smith, Edla Muir, and Ken Kellogg, and adopted Californian designers Lloyd Wright (arrived 1911), Gregory Ain (arriving in the teens as a child), Lutah Maria Riggs (arrived 1914), S. Charles Lee (arrived 1922), and Russell Forester (arrived 1925). Each made a substantial impression on California design from the 1920s on.
Thomas Hines devotes valuable chapters on two of these architects, Lloyd Wright and John Lautner. The old narrative has no room for Lloyd; Christopher Long describes his work as “fantastical,” and attributes his 1927 Navarro and Sowden houses to “an arresting blend of the new Art Deco and European functionalism.” Hines more accurately notes that Lloyd’s work “prefigured…Art Deco.” Architect and landscape architect Lloyd Wright is more usefully understood in the context of his partnership with his father and, again, the climate and culture of Los Angeles itself. Working with Irving Gill shortly after moving to Southern California, he was deeply rooted in his father’s Organic concepts, but continued to carve out his own valuable contributions to architecture, furniture, and decorative design in his lifetime in California.
The exhibit Living in a Modern Way catalogs includes a delightful Christmas card by Lloyd Wright, but little else. The card is representative, synecdochically, of Lloyd’s decorative work, which, while related to his architectural scale, cannot show how he combined a sense of ornament with modern building technologies; besides helping to develop the textile blocks his father famously used, Lloyd, at the Oasis Hotel in Palm Springs, used the slip-form concrete construction Schindler also experimented with (and became more renowned for) at Pueblo Ribera apartments.
Hines also highlights a key monument in our new narrative: Lloyd Wright’s 1928 Yucca-Vine market.
Here Lloyd had already articulated the aspects of Modern car-oriented lifestyles emerging in California that were to be reflected in architecture. The Yucca-Vine market is a startlingly complete summation of how commercial/public buildings in the modern automobile metropolis would look and function. It gave the automobile metropolis an original and monumental urbanist form through the use of its striking metallic pylon: functional as a signal to oncoming customers, it was also an ornamental landmark for the public realm, like a church steeple. It is one early example of how California designers were actively seeking a new public and commercial design for the modern city, and for a growing population already adopting new ways of living.
Lloyd was only one of many California designers who dealt creatively with both residences and the public realm. The most important “missing man” of Living in a Modern Way is Pomona Valley-born Millard Sheets. Sheets (like Neutra, an expert self-publicist) was a figure omnipresent in his day, but so multi-faceted that we have a hard time positioning him. Fine artist, public muralist, architect, commercial artist, designer, teacher, entrepreneur, populist disseminator, the center of a thriving artistic school, he dominated a chapter of Southern California design in this period. After 1960 or so, the art world moved away from his abstracted representational style, leaving Sheets high and dry and out of the storyline. It’s time to put him back. He pulls together many of the lost threads: the diversity of ideas and aesthetics, the influence of his native California, the embrace of commercial dissemination, the unashamed appeal to popular taste, and a reclamation of past styles for the Modern era.
Among Sheets’s most ubiquitous but largely ignored contributions to California design are the public murals beginning in 1955 on Home Savings and Loan bank buildings (which were also designed by him.) They are not mechanistic, minimalist Modernism; they at once embrace archaic architecture and art (mosaic murals go back to Pompeii) and the car-culture designs integral to midcentury California.
The larger story about California design at mid-century is one of tremendous diversity. The minimalist aesthetic, based either in the Bauhaus or in the clean, advanced solutions of the local aerospace industry, was only one aspect of the times. The rich, nature-based aesthetic of Organic architecture lead to the complex spaces and structures of John Lautner, Aaron Green, Foster Rhodes Jackson, Anshen and Allen, and others. The culturally rich resources of historical architecture are also a major thread in California Modernism: Maybeck’s interest in adapting and altering historical sources shows up again and again in the work of Tony Duquette, Billy Haines, John Woolf, and Millard Sheets, as well as the Eameses’ fascination with tribal artifacts and Day of the Dead tchotchkes.
With its strong academic background, European Modern architecture came with a well-orchestrated theory. California in the midcentury had much less of that intellectual gravitas, which itself held advantages to be exploited: freedom and wit. It allowed designers to throw in an unexpected element (like a Model A headlamp in the living room, as the fun-loving Neutra did), explore the fanciful, even crack a good joke.
Evidence of this whimsy stretches from the giant oranges and donuts of the commercial roadside (in full flower in the 1930s, as David Gebhard and Jim Heimann have shown) to the toys that embellished the Eameses’ living room. This aspect of the Eameses’ work is not entirely ignored — their whimsical films, popular exhibits, and toys like the houses of cards are among their most successful and delightful work — but it deserves more attention. While we lift Charles and Ray onto their pedestals, we should not forget how integral toys and playfulness were to their designs. “Toys are not really as innocent as they look,” Charles Eames himself told us.
The Eameses’ house may be minimalist, but the things with which they surrounded themselves are not: old, crudely mass-manufactured tin toys; the art of so-called primitive societies humming with symbolism and humanity, both dark and light-hearted; the gee-gaws of popular commercial culture; the skeletons of natural artifacts. From those toys comes an entire facet of the Eameses’ work: the fancy, the fanciful, the colorful, the historical, the whimsical, the humorous, the childlike, the found object, the profoundly human; what (as Pat Kirkham in Living in a Modern Way reminds us) Peter and Alison Smithson saw as “extra-cultural surprise.”
When European Modernists used similar found objects, they were usually in the context of surrealism; department store mannikins became bizarre psychological artifacts. For the Eameses, these ordinary objects are rich palimpsests of colliding forms, colors, histories, cultures, patinas — quite in contrast to most of the Case Study house promotional photographs, where the minimalist interiors were most often the concoction of the photographer.
The Eameses’ use of ordinary objects from present-day life and far-away cultures is only one expression of this whimsical trend in California design, largely edited from the old narrative. Step outside the Eames living room onto the streets of Los Angeles, and we find how fascinated Neutra was by the commercial billboards lining the long undeveloped stretches of Wilshire Boulevard (note his use of billboards in the Laemmle office building at Hollywood and Vine). Schindler loved the cheap-jack wood-frame construction of building contractors, and corralled it to create his adventurous spaces. Wayne McAllister knew exactly how to weave the glow of neon signs into his drive-ins and coffee shops. Mary Blair (who worked with the titan of midcentury whimsy, Walt Disney) combined the folk colors and forms of South America with the bold abstraction of Modernism and the popular medium of cartoons, culminating with the 1964 New York World’s Fair installation for UNICEF and Pepsi, “It’s A Small World” (later moved to Disneyland). Millard Sheets drew on the Rose Parade and children playing on the beach as subjects for his complex mosaic tapestries of color fields and abstracted figures exhibited at the Home Savings and Loan banks.
Experimental filmmaker John Whitney’s pennants and carnival-like signs on Smith and Williams’s widely built 1958 Jack in the Box prototype are childlike in a way that taps into old-timey nostalgia to bring the past into the fast-paced present. Living in a Modern Way includes Rudi Baumfeld’s proto-supergraphic designs for Joseph Magnin stores. None of these examples fit into the old narrative of a clean, elegant, minimalist European-based Modernism, but they were there. And this trend continued in the late 1960s and 1970s in the work of Charles Moore and the Supergraphic artists.
It is no longer sufficient to say (parroting Hitchcock), “The case of Mary Blair I do not profess to understand.” The fanciful, inclusivist, diverse trend has had a long run, such distinguished proponents, and such a long-lasting impactt needs to be part of a new narrative to explain California Modernism.
[Read Part II]