This spring the Getty celebrates LA’s modern architecture in a new offshoot of megafair “Pacific Standard Time”

LA Confidential, March/April 2013

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Construction of Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, began in 1996 and was completed in 2003.

As a city profoundly shaped by the car, Los Angeles, a megalopolis veined with endless highways and byways, stands as a unique experiment in the global community. A center for innovation and creativity, often taking a cue from its seemingly limitless boundaries, LA is a postwar incubator for the groundbreaking, literally. This spring, The Getty will once again inaugurate a multi-institution examination of the arts in LA called “Pacific Standard Time Presents”—one of many expected to occur before the second “Pacific Standard Time” slated for 2016 or 2017—this time focusing exclusively on modern architecture, something the city has become justly famous for due to the contributions of iconic architects such as Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, Frank Gehry, and Eric Owen Moss. In “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture  in L.A.” (on view from April through June), nine institutions, ranging from heavy hitters like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to alternative spaces like the MAK Center for Art + Architecture, will display exhibitions examining various components of SoCal architecture and the region’s built environment from 1940 to the present, including a mix of monographic shows of such architects as A. Quincy Jones, with more idiosyncratic takes like the A+D Museum’s “Windshield Perspective” and SCI-Arc’s “A Confederacy of Heretics: The Architecture Gallery, Venice 1979.” “We didn’t inherit modernism,” says famed local architect Michael Maltzan, whose gravity-defying structures can be seen everywhere from the new Regen Projects gallery in East Hollywood to the upcoming Sixth Street Viaduct. “We chose it.”


A watercolor rendering of the Charles Luckman Associates, William Pereira, Welton Becket & Associates, and Paul R. Williams—designed Theme Building at LAX, circa 1961.

“LA has as many important buildings by Pritzker Architecture Prize award winners as any city (perhaps more) and is the locus of new and influential, locally inspired architecture,” says The J. Paul Getty Trust president and CEO Jim Cuno. “Given our climate, we are out and about in our city and aware more than most of the importance of architecture in defining our living and working conditions.”

This architecture initiative, funded by The Getty Foundation, which gave more than $3.6 million in grants to collaborating institutions for exhibitions and catalogs, grew out of the research begun in 2008 by The Getty Research Institute’s Wim de Wit and Christopher J. Alexander, who along with Rani Singh, are cocurators of the “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future 1940-1990” exhibition. This along with MOCA’s “A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California” serves as the survey exhibition for this iteration of the “PST Presents” umbrella. “Overdrive” looks at five components—car culture (including coffee shops, Googie architecture, and even drive-in churches like the Crystal Cathedral); urban networks; engines of innovation (the effect the aerospace and other industries had on materials and design); community magnets like Disneyland, The Getty Villa, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Universal CityWalk, among others; and, of course, residential architecture. In addition to the exhibitions, the initiative is heavy on programming, encompassing everything from CicLAvia’s bike-only architecture tour down Wilshire Boulevard to The Center for Land Use Interpretation’s look at on-site office trailers as “invisible architecture of the urban environment.”

In many ways, Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous quip—“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles”—summarizes the freedom and experimentation available in creative output in LA. (The MAK Center devotes its exhibition for “PST Presents” to a reframing of this quote, examining where the visual arts and architecture intersect in LA in the 1970s.) De Wit, who cites the Universal CityWalk and the temporary structures created by Deborah Sussman and Jon Jerde for the ’84 Olympics as some of his favorite examples of modern architecture in the city, notes that the selected time period was deliberate. Containing the city’s architectural development between the scope of last year’s “Pacific Standard Time: 1945-1980” didn’t do it justice as so many experiments began during the war but could not be realized until afterward (as materials were not available), a succinct cut-off point before the city dramatically changed with the 1992 riots and 1994 Northridge earthquake. “We put everything into context of the development of LA in that period, especially the development of the city between 1940 and 1990. It was already a huge city but then it became a mega-city, and what did it mean for architecture? The city became a sort of laboratory of innovation.”

“For the past century, LA has operated as a vast laboratory for architectural experimentation,” echoes Alexander, whose favorite LA structures include the Capitol Records Building, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Building, Lloyd Wright’s Wayfarers Chapel, and the “Binoculars Building,” designed by Frank Gehry and created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, which “always makes me smile and is a perfect example of the often whimsical architectural innovation that this city fosters.” He continues: “The ideas that were devised here not only transformed this region’s built landscape, they influenced the shape of burgeoning metropolises around the globe. LA is now embarking on a vibrant new period of growth. We hope this exhibition will help catalyze fresh insights about this city’s complex past, which may ultimately help guide its future form.” —Alexis Johnson

Photography by Gehry Partners, LLP (Walt Disney Concert Hall); The Luckman Partnership, Inc., LA Salas O’Brien Company (Airport)

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