PRINT April 1999


Jim Isermann

Jim Isermann (seated above in a Panton chair) is an artist based in Southern California. He is represented by Richard Telles Fine Art in Los Angeles and Feature in New York. “Fifteen,” a major survey of his work, opens at the Santa Monica Museum of Art on April 1. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


    He’s the Danish architect who designed the first one-piece stacking molded plastic chair in 1960. After a brief association with Arne Jacobsen in the early ’50s, Panton reached beyond traditional Danish Modern to pursue his utopian faith in revolutionary vinyl, plastic, and, most important, supersaturated primary colors. He died last fall while overseeing this show’s installation, which he designed to coordinate his furniture, lighting, and textile designs to his signature color spectrum. Panton, the missing link between the austere rationality of modern design and PoMo superficiality, once remarked that “One sits more comfortably on a color that one likes.” My hero.


    The Swiss-born architect Albert Frey first arrived in Palm Springs, California, in 1934, and his strikingly simple concrete-block, corrugated-metal, glass-and-steel structures—from a gas station to private homes—form the nucleus of this town, which boasts one of the greatest concentrations of modern architecture in the US. Golub’s book lovingly documents the breathtakingly economical spaces of Frey’s own two residences, of 1941–53 and 1964–71. The first edition is already out of print, but the paperback’s in stores now.

  3. AOL’s appropriation of the Jetson’s theme song brought a glut of new subscribers . . . drawn to the future. Now, finally, at least a few products are available in the promised colors of the space age. The translucent Lifesavers-hued rainbow of the iMAC and the interchangeable metallic-colored plastic covers of NOKIA 5190 cellular phones are only the best-looking examples. I guess the new VW BUG (with its accompanying ad campaign) is the fulfillment of past, future, and present all at once.


    Remember the first disposable retractable ballpoint pen? Half see-through plastic, half brilliant color, the Bic M10 Clic hasn’t been available in the US for decades, but it’s still made in Europe—and would seem to be the official pen of Scandinavia. I just hope my stockpiles last.

  5. I kicked my swapmeet habit last year, but only after finding two virtual substitutes. The first, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, has just begun its third season on PBS. Each week host Chris Jussel and a bevy of experts set up shop in a different city and invite the locals to offer up their heirlooms and bric-a-brac for appraisal. Having watched all last season, I never need to see another Civil War sword, but each new episode does sate my craving to look at junk. If the show’s pleasure used to lie in watching the faces of the witless participants as an expert revealed their treasures to be worthless fakes, this year the appraisals seem far more generous—and what’s more fun than looking on as costume jewelry is baldly declared a diamond-and-ruby encrusted fortune, or the tin helmet some woman found in her attic is identified as ancient Roman armor and valued at a quarter of a million dollars?


    This online auction house (my second ersatz swap meet) is a virtual thrift store open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Well over a million objects are on the block at any given time, and new items are added every minute. You can search by designer, manufacturer, or genres, and (a tip I should probably keep to myself) by misspellings: You’ll be surprised at what you find. The bidding process can be a little daunting at first, especially if you have a hard time setting limits. The entire operation, which is based on the honor system, really works. (So far I’ve purchased only one thing that turned out to be other than described, and that problem transaction was resolved to my satisfaction.) Great deals are getting harder to find, but the endless search through endless categories is no less addictive.

  7. Traveling to Dallas with my survey show this year, I encountered the NorthPark Center, a remarkably sophisticated white-brick-and-steel ’60s-modern mall. There, in Neiman Marcus’s first branch department store, practically untouched by progress, is THE MERMAID BAR, a quiet place to enjoy coffee and cake or a light lunch while taking a respite from a hard day of shopping. The bar/cafe is covered in handcrafted blue and white tile, and its mosaic landscape (by Bjorn Wiinblad) includes life-size ceramic reliefs of mermaids and a freestanding ceramic mermaid sculpture, all in keeping with an aquatic theme that involves fish, bubbles, and, of course, mermaids.


    Philip Johnson’s city block–size liability-insurance nightmare is something else you can’t imagine being built today. The park’s highlights include a long, serene reflecting pool surrounded by gentle, water-covered walls; a spectacular pit one can descend into via a concrete block walkway just above the furiously rushing water; and terraced, concrete mountains. One set of steep steps leads up to . . . a twenty-foot drop. Nothing I’d ever read about the park prepared me for the experience. Who but Philip Johnson would employ monumental artifice in building a monument to nature?


    The next best thing to supergraphics, Owens’s compositions range from the relatively straightforward to the dramatically asymmetrical. Though hand-painted, the surface is so assured and direct, the paint feels as if it had been mechanically applied. Her serial beehive paintings stand in for wallpaper—which, as with all her best work, is an inversion of stretched Marimekko textiles and fabric photomurals hung as art.

  10. No amount of “Wishin’ and Hopin’” will bring DUSTY SPRINGFIELD back, though the four-CD box set being compiled at the time of her death will soon be released. But for me Dusty will always be in Memphis.