Palm Springs is a premier area for viewing a number of the mid-century modern architectural masterpieces. This weekend I had the opportunity to visit two of them, the Frey House II and the Kaufmann House. Frey House II was gifted to the Palm Springs Art Museum by longtime resident, Albert Frey, one of the most important mid-century modern architects. Built in 1963-64, it is steel-frame construction, with massive sliding glass doors that allow the entire space to open up to the outdoors. Sheathed in painted, corrugated metal and occupying a mere 800 sq ft., it offers expansive views of the entire desert. At the time it was built, it was at the highest elevation of any residence in the city.
The Kaufman house was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., the Pittsburgh department store magnate who had earlier commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. Designed by Richard Neutra in 1946, the house is constructed as a series of horizontal planes that seem to float over the glass walls. An iconic example of mid-century modernism, the house achieves a breathtaking harmony with the surrounding landscape. It is also the site of one of Julius Shulman’s most memorable photographs.
The Palm Springs Art Museum has become a true oasis in desert. Founded as a one-room facility in 1938, it has grown into the current 150,000 square-foot facility. Designed in 1974 by E. Stewart Williams, the top floor was added in 1995. Numerous signficant gifts to the Museum have greatly enhanced the permanent collection which includes Modern and Contemporary painting, sculpture and photography, architectural drawings, Western and Native American Art, and Contemporary Art Glass.
I was pleased to catch the closing day of the major exhibition, “Wayne Theibaud: 70 Years of Painting”. This impressive survey included more than one hundred works drawn from Theibaud’s lengthy career. The exhibition will travel to the Pasadena Museum of California Art, opening Oct 3. Best known for his lusciously painted still life compositions of bakery goods and delicatessen counters, Theibuad has also specialized in large-scale portraits, studies of Northern California landscape, and cityscapes featuring San Francisco’s vertiginous streets and sidewalks. All were represented here with splendor.
Downstairs the Museum was featuring “Modern Moments: Recent Gifts in American Photography”. The exhibition features some of the gifts that have elevated and expanded the museum’s photographic holdings which now number over 1000 images. The collection spans the history of photography, but the focus of this show is post-World War II American photography.
Lastly, an installation titled “Ancient and Modern: Selections from the Permanent Collection” offered works by artists from Mexico, Central and South America. Notable among them is a significant painting by Matta. LACMA’s recent acquisition of Matta’s extraordinary and massive painting, ”Burn Baby Burn”, has put this artist back on the radar screen.