Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.
Text is a central component of two Pacific Standard Time exhibitions, both focused on design: “Eames Designs: The Guest Host Relationship” at the A+D Museum, and “Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design” at the MAK Center. The former whimsically uses everyday objects to illustrate quotes from midcentury designers Charles and Ray Eames; the latter is an engaging exploration of the life and work of McCoy, a writer and historian who, during her 40-plus-years career, championed and pretty much defined modern architecture in California. The linchpin of each show is the way in which text interacts with the objects or spaces on view, providing fresh perspectives on icons of Southern California design and architecture.
Throughout the A+D Museum, curators Deborah Sussman and Andrew Byrom have splashed the walls with quotes from husband and wife designers Charles and Ray Eames. Best known for their iconic chairs, the couple were inspired not by theory or style, but by the simple usefulness of everyday things. Their appreciation for vernacular design and commitment to education come across clearly in the show, although its presentation is at times a bit gimmicky.
Most of the quotes are “illustrated” with actual objects, either freestanding, tacked to the walls, or displayed on custom-designed, E-shaped (for “Eames” of course) shelving units. Most are not Eames creations, but range anachronistically from foodstuffs to Legos to Indian water vessels to diving flippers to an iPad. A quote that mentions a braided loaf of egg bread is accompanied by, what else? A braided loaf of egg bread.
This technique is often too cute, but sometimes works well. One quote compares an Eames chair to one by early Dutch modern designer Gerrit Rietveld, claiming that although “mine is much more naive,” the Rietveld is too intellectual. Nearby, the two chairs sit side by side: The Rietveld looks like a folded Mondrian painting, all angles and hard edges. The Eames, a sinuous bent plywood chair, is organic and inviting. It’s not hard to guess which is better at fulfilling the mission of comfortable seating.