Los Angeles

View of “Barbara Stauffacher Solomon,” 2019.

View of “Barbara Stauffacher Solomon,” 2019.

Barbara Stauffacher Solomon

In the span of a year, San Francisco–based designer and writer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon unveiled a new mural commissioned by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and was the subject of a solo presentation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Another large show, appropriately titled “Breaking All the Rules,” opens at the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center in California this month. Solomon was born in 1928, and her current West Coast visibility represents a recognition of her years of practice, the context of which is now being recalled as much as the art: notably, her move in 1956 to study graphic design at Basel’s Institut Kunst with Armin Hofmann, and her defining work in the 1960s at the Sea Ranch, a coastal community in Northern California. There, her uses of a sans serif font and immersive wall graphics—Swiss modernism baked in Sonoma—established an iconic regional aesthetic of bright, crisply delineated geometries that extended far beyond the location, especially after being featured in Life magazine in 1968.

Solomon’s “Supergraphics,” as she named these site-specific paintings, established the logic for “Relax Into the Invisible” at LAXART, which was covered by them inside and out. (Even the institutional branding was modified: With the canny addition of RE as a prefix, the LAXART logo read RELAXART.) Surrounding the glass front door were imposing graphic arrows pointing toward the entry. Within the gallery, the show comprised more interventions of this kind—monochromatic applications of red or black paint on white walls, plinths, and freestanding objects in different shapes and configurations. RELAX was spelled out on one wall near the ceiling. Elsewhere, triangles with precisely rendered points snapped into serial, syncopated patterns or pairs, or formed mirror images. Oversize quote marks hovering far overhead framed the otherwise blank expanse of a wall in one of the installation’s most arresting moments. On a much smaller scale, one corner of the space featured a selection of the artist’s works on letter-size paper. Some iterated the visual language of this project while others modeled street signs, objects, and abstracted figures (with circles for heads and breasts, or helplessly tangled in concentric circles, as in the 2017 work captioned WHEN IS A NOT NOT A KNOT BUT A BULLSEYE). Letters accumulated into words, and forms slipped into newly legible configurations, expressing a combinatory logic of incipient possibility.

The rest of the gallery was given over to freestanding sculptures, some serving as props for Solomon’s graphic-artist’s books, including Why? Why Not?, 2013, its white pages echoing those loose sheets on the walls, and Utopia Myopia, 2013, organized as an academic comic book of thirty-six plays, where each play is typeset on a single page, with drawings of the scenes and characters on the top half of the page and the type limited by the number of lines below. Other sculptures suggested but did not become furniture: In Untitled (Twelve Cubes), 2019, four sets of three cubes appeared to be chairs, and in Untitled (Exits Exist), 2019, tall dividers made of wooden panels were painted with lacquer and connected with six-foot piano hinges purposively out of scale for the task. All hewed to Solomon’s long-standing interest in spatial and kinesthetic relationships, even as they evinced how a network of relationships might become constitutive of a veritable Gesamtkunstwerk. In this sense, the exhibition’s side room broke from the overall program. On its walls was a snaking line of marks—thick, irregular, serpentine curves less solid than their counterparts in the main gallery—that could be traced back to the handrail of the stairs leading into this area and could be seen climbing all the way up to and potentially beyond the skylight, leaving it all behind.