October, 2008, John Lautner: Between Heaven and Earth @ Hammer Museum

October, 2008, John Lautner: Between Heaven and Earth @ Hammer Museum
John Lautner, Chemosphere, Los Angeles 1960 Photo by Joshua White

John Lautner: Between Heaven and Earth

Hammer Museum

Through October 18th


By Jesi Khadivi


American architect John Lautner worked in the right place at the right time.

As one of the progenitors of Googie architecture--the ultra modern, futuristic architectural style that takes its name from a coffee shop Lautner designed on Sunset Boulevard-- his early work dovetailed with the burgeoning automobile and aerospace culture of 1950s Southern California. Lautner’s 1960 commission Chemosphere, a space aged octahedronal dwelling perched upon a twenty foot pole, was described by Encyclopedia Britannica as the “most modern home built in the world” and has been featured in numerous Hollywood films. Lautner’s structures are full of glass and exaggerated curves, many of them nestled in stunning natural landscapes. He was disparaged for his poppiness by many critics of his day (Googie architecture only began to receive academic credibility with Venturi, Izenour, and Brown’s Learning From Las Vegas), but his work remains compelling today because it functions at the interstice of organic architecture and the flamboyantly stylized anticipatory fervor of the atomic age. This fusion was doubtlessly fostered by the blend of  natural and unnatural splendors in his adopted home of Southern California, his utilitarian North Woods upbringing, and the tutelage of his mentor, the seminal American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


Sadly, the Hammer’s Lautner exhibition is the least stimulating of this summer’s architecture fare (The MoMA and the Whiteney Museum in New York mounted exhibitions about pre-fabricated architecture and Buckminster Fuller respectively). Despite the loftiness of its title, the show is leaden and a bit of a downer. The exhibition is comprised of three rooms filled to the brim with architectural drawings and cardboard models. Large scale plaster models are installed in front of projections of landscapes, presumably to contextualize the buildings and give the viewer the feeling of “being there.” This only succeeded in drawing me closer to the exhibition text, which was informative and interspersed with thumbnail views of gorgeously executed photographs of Lautner’s buildings. It’s a pity there weren’t larger scale versions of these photos included in the show because they deftly encapsulated the complicated beauty of Lautner’s buildings.  While the exhibition suffers from didactism, the accompanying programming is both thoughtful and inventive. The museum has hosted walk throughs of various Lautner homes,  a screening of a documentary film about Lautner, as well as a symposium on post war architecture.



whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Jesi Khadivi in LA

Jesi Khadivi is a writer and curator living in Los Angeles. She writes for Venus Zine and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. She recently completed research on the definitive biography of Gram Parsons and is currently working on her first book.  gramparsonsinterviews@gmail.com

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