The epitome of California style: The Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, designed by Richard Neutra in 1946.
Photo by Julius Shulman, 1947.© J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute.
Design aficionados, pay attention: starting this Saturday, Auckland Art Gallery plays host to California Design: Living in a Modern Way, a major (and majorly successful) show that originated from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It showcases the best of a golden and globally influential period in California design and architecture, and we can’t wait to see it. HOME editor Jeremy Hansen talked to the exhibition’s co-curator, Bobbye Tigerman, about the show (this interview is also featured in our current issue of the magazine).

HOME First of all, some context: what is California design to you – and what was going on in California at the time that created the energy that this show encapsulates?
BOBBYE TIGERMAN, CO-CURATOR The California Design show we organised [co-curated with Wendy Kaplan] covers the years from 1930 to 1965. This was a time of incredible innovation and extraordinary growth in California. The population grew significantly with the Depression, when people were looking for jobs, and with the onset of World War Two a lot of industries were located in northern and southern California. You had a huge population of educated people coming here and they all needed a place to live. There was a big demand for new home construction and, as a result, there was a lot of opportunity for new design and architecture. There was this widespread recognition that California was a place where things were possible: the rules could be bent and even broken. It drew a lot of very creative people who did a lot of interesting things during that time.

What made you want to do the show?
When Wendy and I realised that there had never been a show on the subject we were kind of shocked. We knew it was important to do and do quickly because so many of the artists were still alive and we could talk to them and capture their stories. The show turned out to be wildly popular — we had 363,000 visitors, making it the fifth most-attended show at LACMA.

The show draws on examples of architecture, design and craft. What do these sometimes disparate occupations have in common?
Including both design and craft was an easy choice, as the designers of the era didn’t really make distinctions between them. We started off thinking we’d focus on design for the home, but we quickly realised we were going to have to break our rules and include fashion, jewellery, and graphic design, because they were so compelling and so connected to the other designers and industries. We were trying to reflect the era.

Why has this period of design remained so influential and potent to this day?
I struggle with this question a lot. I think there are a couple of reasons. One is I think we have a nostalgia for a time – even if we didn’t live through the post-war era – when there was a lot of opportunity, the ability to achieve the good life. It seemed much more possible then than it does today. I think aesthetically it’s very simple and clean; it was always meant to be futuristic and it’s still the future, so if you’re interested in being a modern person it still has those connotations. It’s still widely available, it’s not wildly expensive.

Almost all the items in the show could be characterised as possessing a certain sense of optimism. What’s happened to that optimism? Does California still possess that cultural primacy?
The show ends in 1965 – the design industry changed rather drastically around that time, so that kind of design community that existed in the post-war years is no longer there. I think if you want to identify what California design means in the latter part of the 20th century it would be hardware and software focused in Silicon Valley. It’s now literally changing how everybody lives and interacts with each other. It’s different, but I think the region still has broad influence.

What’s your own place like?

I live in an apartment building that was built around 1948 or so. I do like mid-century design, and I have some things from the era in my house, but I try not to make it a time capsule.

For more information and to purchase discounted early-bird tickets to California Design: Living in a Modern Way, visit the Auckland Art Gallery's website here. The show opens Saturday July 6 and runs until September 29.
 
Top