Structure Shake-Up: How Los Angeles Obtained Free
In the 1960s, experimental architects used their building plans to address topics such as ecology, globalization and sustainability—topics that, today, any successful architect must consider. Paper architects Gruppo 9999 (they dreamed up more ideas than they built) printed a poster called “Los Angeles Megastructure” in 1966, in which they imagined a self-generating machine (represented by a rubber stamp) that could reproduce a series of modular units to repeat infinitely and create the Los Angeles-inspired “machine city” of the future.
Gruppo 9999’s poster embodies the experimentation, innovation and industrial zeitgeist that informs the curatorial concept of the exhibition “Everything Loose Will Land: 1970s Art and Architecture in Los Angeles” at the Graham Foundation. The poster challenges what we think we know about LA architecture—its drive-throughs, mini-malls and Case Study homes—and speaks to curator Sylvia Lavin’s ambition. On the opening day of the exhibit, Lavin admitted to me, “I was aggressively on the hunt for a broader geographical context in which to situate this movement. After all, the last thing I wanted to produce was just another show about Los Angeles architecture.”
“Everything Loose Will Land” argues that over the course of the 1970s, the disciplines of art and architecture in Los Angeles transformed from distinct to permeable, rerouting the trajectory of the architectural scene there. Lavin writes in the exhibit’s catalogue, “From the late 1960s on, art and architecture constantly seemed to bump into each other when they backed up to look at Los Angeles.” Playfulness and pleasure resulting from the “loosening” of these boundaries are themes embraced by Lavin, whose most recent books are titled “Kissing Architecture” and “Form Follows Libido.” She is a prominent figure in contemporary architectural theory and criticism and presently serves as the Director of Critical Studies in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA. The show was initiated as a part of “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in LA,” a series of programs and exhibitions engineered to shed light on or reconsider previously overlooked periods throughout the evolution of LA’s architectural culture.
Overlap and collaboration among art and architecture are visually represented by a collection of more than 120 objects, including artist-made architectural drawings, art objects made by architects, architectural renderings by hobbyists, sculptures (which, paraphrasing Lavin, are just buildings without plumbing) , ephemera from period architecture, mail art, utopian collages and archival materials such as posters, pamphlets and sketches.
The emergence of the consumer as collaborator, a shift toward creative over use value, and a pronounced emphasis on finish fetish manifest in user-focused architectural designs and models featuring repurposed materials and both sleek industrial and handmade aesthetics. Although not discussed explicitly in terms of the artist-architect binary, the show also features a healthy dose of activist history in the form and emerging feminist and environmental concerns. Overall, this exhibit is a conversation about a renegotiation of what delineates art from architecture—again, paraphrasing Lavin, this differentiation can usually be established by a toilet. (Erin Toale)
Through July 26 at the Graham Foundation, 4 West Burton.