Los Angeles

View of “Everything Loose Will Land,” 2013.

View of “Everything Loose Will Land,” 2013.

“Everything Loose Will Land”

MAK Center for Art and Architecture

View of “Everything Loose Will Land,” 2013.

“Everything Loose Will Land,” curated by architectural historian Sylvia Lavin at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, was among the most compelling exhibitions in the 2013 series sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Trust, “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.” Surveying a rich cultural moment between the political radicalisms of the 1960s and the postmodernist practices of the 1980s, the show’s strength lay in its irreducibility to a single story line and its opening up of multiple trajectories through a history it revealed to be anything but settled. Lavin made good on the kinetic shock and dislocation promised by the title, which is taken from a statement apocryphally attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright: “Tip the world on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” With works by sixty-seven artists and architects, Lavin opted for a welcome inclusiveness that balanced well-known figures with more obscure talents and featured those long rooted in the community alongside temporary residents and seekers of all sorts.

Leveraging the resources of machine fabrication, high-gloss finishes, open space, and sunlight celebrated by Reyner Banham in Los Angeles: Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), these practitioners produced works that unsettled distinctions between art and architecture and promoted an open exchange among them—a dynamic that recently has seemed to return, in the florescence of photography and painting devoted to the built environment and the plethora of art installations by architects. The exhibition profiled what Lavin, taking a cue from Robert Smithson, calls “dearchitecturalization.” In the helpful catalogue, which is as much a database as it is a checklist, Lavin defines this as the moment when “architecture became an operational model for the combined effects of rethinking the nature of medium and materiality in the arts, the transformation of the passive viewer into an active participant, and the development of an environmental approach to the space of art.” The lineaments of this narrative are already evident in the photographs and renderings of the 1968 Billy Al Bengston exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose design by Frank Gehry became celebrated as an early instance of the exposed stud frame. The focus here was the interplay of local vernaculars among artists and architects—in this case, between the graphic finish fetishes of surf and motorcycle culture and the burgeoning practice of DIY plywood architecture—rather than a search for origins or hagiographies. And such experiments with plywood and stud construction, too long reduced to a formal attitude, were, in turn, juxtaposed with works that explicitly challenged that mode’s political and gendered implications, such as Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s Womanhouse, 1971, a feminist reinhabitation of an abandoned Hollywood dwelling.

Building a space of one’s own also became a widespread pursuit during this time of individualist innovation. Manifestations ranged from the technophilia of David Lieberman’s festival surrounding an inflatable city on the grounds of CalArts (Whiz Bang Quick City, 1971); to the countercultural homesteading of Peter and Clytie Alexander, who raised their House at Tuna Canyon with Carl Day in 1973–74; to Bruce Nauman’s vapor-lamp-lit structure Untitled (Equilateral Triangle), 1980, re-created in the Schindler House garden.

One of the prize discoveries of the show was the presentation of urban movement in the graphics of the research collective Environmental Communications. These provide evidence of how Los Angeles artists and architects effectively deployed techniques of collage, but above all they exemplify the formally amorphous types of production that thrived at the time—a primary objective of the group was to gather a vast bank of visual data on a newly global and networked landscape and disseminate the images in flexible formats such as slides and countless publications. Sprightlily installed in the Schindler House, which rarely has looked as energized, and currently on view at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery through November 9, “Everything Loose Will Land” is a salutary riposte to the segregation of artistic and architectural disciplines that has characterized many of the events and exhibitions related to the greater “Pacific Standard Time” initiative of the past two years. It recovers an undervalued and understudied moment in the cultural history of Los Angeles as the basis for igniting fruitful conversations in the present.

Edward Dimendberg