Friday, March 13, 2009

Austin Gets Nostalgic for High Modernism

Despite the fact that I can probably count the readers of this blog on one hand, it seems that my interest in the pinnacle of 20th century American modernism is shared by many. Perhaps the explanation is fairly simple as people start to realize they are witnessing the principles of modernity, specifically liberal modernity, being thrown into crisis. Naturally they want to understand how we got to where we are now. But just imagine my surprise while flipping through ARTnews to see an advert for the show featured above. Now given that this is the art world, it is mostly the look of the era which the folks at the Blanton will focus on. Nevertheless, what is art but the visual summation of the zeitgeist? As the official write up for the show notes:

..designs for residential dwellings are among the iconic midcentury architectural gems captured in Julius Shulman's photographs. Shulman's images, reproduced extensively in period newspapers and magazines, were purveyors of West Coast cool, offering glimpses inside modern glass houses, where carefully staged scenes showed elegant middle–class couples acting out the suburban American dream of home ownership with Hollywood sophistication. On view will be many of Shulman's potent images of midcentury modernist architecture, which have played a critical role in the revival of interest in this period.

I should note that there is a special significance to the fact that this show specializes in Californian design. For one, the British painter David Hockney made California his home during the midcentury and his hard edge, pastel colored works truly evoke the West coast bourgeois attitude of reserved coolness and subtle sexiness. James Franco swimming nude in a pool in Milk is a clear nod to Hockney. His works alone have spawned a whole style themselves, from the yuppie and Sloane portraiture of Alex Katz to the legions of ethereal realists whose works dominate galleries today.

It should also be noted that even in the middle of the 20th century, California was still viewed as the new frontier, the antithesis to the historic and established East Coast, especially my own beloved New England. So just as the new world was the blank slate on which European expats from the emerging mercantile class would paint a new civilization, so the West coast was where the nouveau riche (by definition, more open to new ideas and riskier investments) would have the space and freedom to develop this relatively untouched land in the New Style.


rmangum said...

I can almost hear the Les Baxter jazz exotica playing in the background.

Ean Frick said...

Space Age orchestra pop is the greatest! I have a great LP titled 'Bongos, Flutes, Guitars' which I recommend if you like that kind of stuff. Polo shirts, Tom Collins and adultery. What's not to love?