Wednesday
Feb132013

A Selection of Snapshots, Felix Gonzalez-Torres I

[ED: Ten-thousand thanks to Sam McKinniss for discovering and scanning every photograph herein; zero thanks to Emilie Keldie at the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation for informing me that these images were "inaccessible/largely non-existent."]

▶ KATE BUSH: AND DREAM OF SHEEP

▶ INC: LIFETIME

"Ross Bleckner: What kind of students come to your Saturday night session, your art class?

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: I have no requirements. My requirements are very lax.

RB That’s very generous, but you must have some requirements.

FGT Vaporize. That’s it. (laughter) Actually, Saturday night is a very quiet night for me.

RB What do you mean?

FGT Saturday night is one of those nights when I just don’t do anything. I love Sunday mornings now, the flea market on 26th Street.

RB That’s become popular. I went to one in Massachusetts. In two hours, I was so irritable. It was July; it was dusty. The place must be the size of Central Park. Everybody whose store you’ve ever gone into in New York you see up there, because that’s where they get it all. Brinfield, it’s called.

FGT I can’t deal with ones that big because I know I’m going to miss a deal.

RB You have to be very enterprising and foraging.

FGT I like flea markets, their sense of mystery; I always wonder, always make a fantasy about who owned it, who lived with this thing. As you know, I collect things: I collect props and toys.

RB I saw a picture of your toy collection. Lots and lots of toys.

FGT Hundreds. Plastic and rubber toys with big eyes. And things that have been left unplayed with by kids.

RB You like big eyes?

FGT Big, buggy eyes. Because I have terrible problems with insomnia.

RB Why don’t you take a sleeping pill?

FGT I was telling you this story, because 1990 and 1991 were very rotten years for me. I went to a flea market during this time and was looking through a bag of toys, and the woman said—I was looking at a Mickey Mouse—”You can have them all for five bucks.” I brought them home, and they made me feel very good. So I figured if I had more, I’d feel better. It didn’t really work that way.

RB It usually does work that way, when you find something that makes you feel good. It’s like drugs. People take drugs to feel good. If drugs didn’t work, people wouldn’t take them.

FGT I took drugs, and I liked them. But not anymore."

"RB Me neither. But they still work. Anyway, why were you so upset, so miserable in 1991?

FGT I was very lost. It was the end. The world was just closing in. And I was taking sleeping pills the way you take candy. Not just at night.

RB Why?

FGT I wanted to sleep for five days, six months, a year. I just wanted to sleep.

RB Before I knew you I saw something . . . You know what I’m going to say?

FGT I dedicated a piece to Ross.

RB Exactly. I thought, this is so sweet, I want to meet him. He dedicated this thing to me and I don’t even know him. (laughter) It put me in the best mood. And then someone said to me, “You idiot, why would he dedicate something to you? It’s his boyfriend.”

FGT (laughter) There’s not too many people with that name, Ross. Where does it come from?

RB Me? It comes from my grandmother whose name was Rose. Where did it come from for your Ross? What was his last name?

FGT Laycock.

RB How long were you together?

FGT Eight years.

RB What did he do?

FGT He was a sommelier. He was about to finish his BS in Biochemistry with a minor in English Lit. He did everything; he was a Renaissance man. And gorgeous too, really gorgeous. Fucking hot! But intimidating, the first time around.

RB Obviously you grew more comfortable, hopefully, in six or seven years . . .

FGT Like he said once to me, I’m a strange bird—I guess he liked that. He had these boyfriends who were Calvin Klein models and stuff like that.

RB Calvin Klein models? (laughter)

FGT Yeah, the boyfriend before me was one of the biggest models . . .

RB It’s nice that people get bored with those kind of guys and go for strange birds, isn’t it? Artistic types, if you know what I mean.

FGT I saw a picture of this guy and I said, “Oh my God! Do I have to compete with that?” I look like a fucking snot with a jacket next to him. He was gorgeous.

RB What did you think you looked like? A knot?

FGT S-N-O-T . . .

RB (laughter) Felix, you’re funny!

FGT I always tell my friends, I feel like a snot walking down the street with a jacket on. I’m very insecure when it comes to looks.

RB Well, a lot of people are . . . Listen, anything can work to your advantage or to your disadvantage. You have to make these feelings work to your advantage.

FGT That’s how I always work: take your limitations . . .

RB And make them your strengths.

FGT I was telling my students, “Your limitations should be your strengths.” When I first started making art in 1987, I had no money. I had a little tiny studio smaller than this kitchen.

RB The size of the studio is not particularly relevant to the work you do, Felix, is it?

FGT That was a studio apartment, not my studio.

RB I started out in a studio apartment as well, but I have fond memories of it now.

FGT I’ve never been so happy in my whole fucking life."

"RB Me too, absolutely. I had a studio apartment with lots of furniture and over a period of about a year—this is when I was 20—every stick of furniture went out the door and that’s how I became a minimalist. (laughter)

FGT People would say, “Can I come to your studio?” And, I’d say, “Sure, but my studio is underneath my bed.” I had one of those ugly captain’s beds with drawers. Everything I made had to fit under that bed. I told my students, I made two bad decisions and it worked.

RB Let me just get something straight, here. You started at the University of Puerto Rico as an art student and then you went to Pratt?

FGT Right, to study interior design.

RB So that’s why you love going to flea markets now, that’s a part of you.

FGT I go to the flea market because it is full of small, hidden histories. Pratt Institute is the most banal, empty-minded, crass place you could think of.

RB I’m sure they’re going to want to look you up after they read this and get you to do a promotional.

FGT They know. Spend your money on a car but don’t waste it on Pratt.

RB So you got rid of Pratt and then you went to the Whitney Program, where you were inspired by all of that theory. Except it paralyzed you for a number of years. So in those years when you re-evaluated everything, did you still want to be an artist or had you abandoned that idea?

FGT In 1984, I went to the International Center for Photography at NYU Graduate School. I still wanted to be an artist, but I wanted to make . . .

RB Let me guess, you didn’t want to make objects.

FGT No, I wanted to know why I was making those objects; I wanted to know why I was going to take those photographs. At Pratt, they tell you to find a style. But you cannot find a style; you develop a style. You have a need to say something in a certain way and that becomes later what is called, “your style.”

RB (someone enters) This is Moses, say hello. This is Felix Gonzalez-Torres. So look at his eyes, Felix.

FGT Beautiful eyes. Where are you from?

Moses Israel.

RB Felix is having a show at the Guggenheim at the same time as me.

M He’s an artist?

RB Well, of course, what else would he be doing having a show at the Guggenheim?

FGT Well, I could be a designer.

RB Could be doing a musical.

FGT Some kind of performance or something.

RB That’s true; I’m sorry.

M See.

RB You asked a good question Moses; maybe you should help with the interview.

FGT Ross, I hate interviews.

RB Felix. This is not an interview; trust me.

FGT Did David Seidner tell you how freaked out I was when he went to take my picture?

RB David Seidner? You looked fabulous. Freaked out? I couldn’t believe it! That picture in Harper's? That must be your favorite picture of you of all time.

M My grandma ripped it out of the magazine and put it on her wall.

RB You looked like a sex god.

FGT I wanted to cancel the article, because I’m shy, and it freaked me out.

RB You’re not so shy; don’t kid yourself.

FGT David said something about hands that stayed with me. He showed me a book of 17th-century portrait painting, and it’s all about the hands.

RB Your work has a melancholy to it. But you also have a humor in your work that I love.

FGT I take my work seriously. I don’t take myself seriously. Sometimes you have to look back and say, “Fuck, how was I able to make that shit?” And laugh about it and then move on. And then destroy the work. I’ve destroyed a lot of work; I’m not afraid of mistakes. I’m afraid of keeping them.

RB Why are you afraid of keeping mistakes? What are you afraid is going to show? Everything’s about mistakes in life.

FGT Every time I have a show, I think it’s the worst ever.

RB After awhile, you stop being insecure, you get used to it. I’m used to my insecurities.

FGT People ask me, “Are you happy with your show?” And I say, “I don’t know.” I need six to eight months to digest this work.

RB Are you happy with your Guggenheim show?

FGT I don’t know.

RB I think you are.

FGT No, I really don’t know. I have to . . ."

"RB Have you accomplished anything in your life so far, as an artist?

FGT That’s a very tough question. In a way, ‘yes;’ in a way, ‘no.’

RB Tell me in what way ‘yes’ and in what way ‘no.’

FGT I think with the stacks and with the candy spills and the light streams, pushing certain limits, like the limits of editions, the limits of the inclusion of the viewer, the collector, other people in the work. I feel very good about that.

RB I think your show is going to look beautiful. I saw the little teeny, weeny installation.

FGT Only at the Guggenheim, only these people. When they told me that the show was going to be you and me, I thought that’s a very good combination—a painter with someone who does installation. It can be pretty tough for people to go from one area to another, but at the same time . . .

RB Well, that’s not our problem, is it? That’s number one. Do you think everyone’s going to say, “This is the Guggenheim going fag?”

FGT No, ’cause no one has ever said “This is the Guggenheim going straight.”

RB No, but they will say that it’s going gay.

FGT I think people are past that.

RB Oh really! They won’t write it but they’ll say it. You know what I mean? They’re politically correct until they get home.

FGT The way it works is that the press tells you there’s going to be an art show at the Guggenheim and that’s all they say because it’s a straight, white male show. But if it’s somebody else, some other, it’s a show with two gay artists at the Guggenheim. And that is very damaging because when someone is labeling you it’s for the purpose of justification which is always defensive. I’m gay. But I don’t make work about being gay . . .

RB You don’t make work about being gay?

FGT No. You just include it . . .

RB I don’t either. Although you make work about being . . .

FGT In love with a man . . .

RB In love with a man, what it means to be alive today, what you think, how you feel . . . Do you think that gets at all sentimental?

FGT Not at all. On the contrary, it’s very political. Because you are going against the grain of what you are supposed to be doing. You are not supposed to be in love with another man, to have sex with another man.

RB Do you think that anybody cares about that at this point?

FGT Walk down the street holding hands with another man and I’ll tell you a story. We’re talking general culture.

RB Yeah, but we’re not talking about the general culture. We’re talking about artists.

FGT No, we are talking about our own culture because artists come from the general culture, and the public is the general culture.

RB That’s true. More so than we imagine.

FGT That’s what I’ve been doing with the work, and you have been doing that with your work, too, being an infiltrator.

RB Do you think your work is sentimental?

FGT It is sentimental, but it’s also about infiltration. It’s beautiful; people get into it. But then, the title or something, if you look really closely at the work, gives out that it’s something else.

RB Oddly enough, I think that my work does have a certain sentiment to it, but I am not sentimental at all.

FGT All great art has sentiment.

RB And all great work has ruthlessness. Not that I’m saying your work or my work is great. Just in general, great work has sentimentality and ruthlessness in the appropriate balance.

FGT I see it more as a heroic gesture. And I’m not talking about size, it could be a small gesture. But it has to be totally extreme to be heroic. Something about ideology and about shows that are always labeled . . .

RB By giving it a label, by saying “gay artists,” it’s a way of being dismissive . . .

FGT It’s also a way of keeping us bogus by giving the center such an importance. Because that center is always there, it’s art by straight white males.

RB Do you love them?

FGT Some of them I do.

RB Which ones?

FGT I love Robert Ryman, Carl Andre . . .

RB You do? I can understand why you love Carl Andre, but let me ask you something about him.

FGT I don’t know anything about him. I never met the man.

RB I’m not talking about the man. But I’m very interested in an idea about the work. I noticed that he was recreating a piece that he made in 1964 for a recent show. But he hasn’t done anything since that piece.

FGT He has. There’s always some new work at the back of Paula Cooper.

RB His work has basically not moved or changed. Nor has Flavin’s, nor has a number of those minimalists’. Nor has Robert Mangold’s.

FGT Well, I respect that. They were signature works.

RB I love their work, by the way, but I want to know how come, if your work or my work doesn’t change, everybody is hysterical. These guys keep making one little tile piece on the fucking floor for forty years; everyone thinks: genius. You tell me what that’s about.

FGT Waiting lists.

RB That’s from the market point of view, but I don’t think so.

FGT These artists are very dedicated. I really think this is all about survival and life-time dedication to finding some answers in a very narrow niche. They go for that, and they investigate that. Carl Andre has many permutations of those pieces. Ross, most artists only have one great idea and then they keep doing it. One I can think of with a few great ideas is Jeff Koons.

RB He has different ways of working. In the end, the idea might all be the same, Felix, we don’t know that, yet.

FGT His work is brilliant, brilliant. That’s what I call different bodies of work—I always think, “Who made it? It’s like five people, which he probably does have helping him. But it’s true, if you and I don’t change every six months, if we don’t produce the new spring collection or the winter collection, if there’s no difference, people think, “Oh, they sold out; they’re just lazy people.”

RB Have you been reviewed in the The New York Times?

FGT Never.

RB How many shows have you had?

FGT In New York? At least five one-person shows.

RB And you’ve never been reviewed?

FGT In the Times, no; I’ve been very lucky.

RB If you were reviewed at the Times who would you least like to talk about your work?

FGT That’s a very awkward question to answer, Ross."

"RB I love it! Let’s put it this way, now that you’re having a show at the Guggenheim the chances are highly likely . . .

FGT That they will bash me.

RB Which writer do you think would do the least bad job.

FGT The least damage, I think would be done by Carol Vogel.

RB I like Holland Carter because he’s sweet and soft. But Carol Vogel is basically the person I would like, as well, to do reviews.

FGT As we know, every fool that flies into town and has a show gets six, eight inches of the Times.

RB I think that the art writing, to put it mildly, is slightly out of touch. And I would say that’s generous.

FGT We’re strong enough to be generous. If you’re weak, pussy-footed, you cannot be generous. You have to be very constricted and constipated about everything you own. But if you’re generous it shows you’re strong.

RB Exactly. So are you in love now?

FGT I never stopped loving Ross. Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean I stopped loving him.

RB Well, life moves on, doesn’t it, Felix?

FGT Whatever that means.

RB It means that you get up today and you try to deal with the things that are on your mind.

FGT That’s not life, that’s routine.

RB No, it’s not.

FGT Oh, yes, it is.

RB A lot in life is about routine, and hopefully we can make our routines in life as pleasurable as we know how. Because we connect to our work in a way that’s satisfying and we have some nice relationships. After that, how much more can you ask?

FGT That’s why I make work, because I still have some hope. But I’m also very realistic, and I see that . . .

RB Your work has a lot to do with hope; it’s work made with eyes open. That to me is very important. Work made with eyes open.

FGT It’s about seeing, not just looking. Seeing what’s there.

RB Do you look to fall in love? Do you need that as a situation? Does it inspire your work?

FGT How can you be feeling if you’re not in love? You need that space, you need that lifting up, you need that traveling in your mind that love brings, transgressing the limits of your body and your imagination. Total transgression.

RB You feel like you had that with Ross?

FGT A few times over.

RB How long were you with him?

FGT Eight years, more or less.

RB How long into the relationship did he get diagnosed?

FGT The last three years.

RB Did he know he had HIV?

FGT No, the year before he got the diagnosis of AIDS he had his appendix removed and they tested the blood and it was HIV positive. But he was a fucking horse. He was 195 pounds, he could build you a house if you asked him to. It’s amazing, I know you’ve seen it the same way I’ve seen it, this beautiful, incredible body, this entity of perfection just physically, thoroughly disappear right in front of your eyes.

RB Do you mean disappear or dissipate?

FGT Just disappear like a dried flower. The wonderful thing about life and love, is that sometimes the way things turn out is so unexpected. I would say that when he was becoming less of a person I was loving him more. Every lesion he got I loved him more. Until the last second. I told him, “I want to be there until your last breath,” and I was there to his last breath. One time he asked me for the pills to commit suicide. I couldn’t give him the pills. I just said, “Honey, you have fought hard enough, you can go now. You can leave. Die.” We were at home. We had a house in Toronto that we called Pee-Wee Herman’s Playhouse Part 2 because it was so full with eclectic, campy, kitsch taste. His idols were not only George Nelson and Joseph D’Urso, but also Liberace.

RB That’s a very nice combination.

FGT Love gives you the space and the place to do other work. Once that space is filled, once that space was covered by Ross, that feeling of home, then I could see, then I could hear. One of the beauties of theory is when you can actually make it into a practice.

RB What do you mean by the beauties of theory? What kind of theory are we talking about?

FGT We talk about Marxist theory. We talk about Brecht.

RB Your basic Whitney Program reading list.

FGT Which is a great reading list.

RB So Felix, I’m curious to what degree the involvement with your work and with gay life, having a lover who’s died—I know that’s effected your work tremendously in the billboards.

FGT It’s also about inclusion, about being inclusive. Because everyone can relate to it. It doesn’t have to be someone who is HIV positive. I do have a problem, Ross, with direct representation, of what’s expected from us."

"RB Why?

FGT What I’m trying to say is that we cannot give the powers that be what they want, what they are expecting from us. Some homophobic senator is going to have a very hard time trying to explain to his constituency that my work is homoerotic or pornographic, but if I were to do a performance with HIV blood—that’s what he wants, that’s what the rags expect because they can sensationalize that, and that’s what’s disappointing. Some of the work I make is more effective because it’s more dangerous. We both make work that looks like something else but it’s not that. We’re infiltrating that look. And that’s the problem I have with the sensational, literal pieces. I’m Brechtian about the way I deal with the work. I want some distance. We need our own space to think and digest what we see. And we also have to trust the viewer and trust the power of the object. And the power is in simple things. I like the kind of clarity that that brings to thought. It keeps thought from being opaque.

RB And deluded.

FGT I was visiting in Miami where I saw this beautiful video about someone dying. There was an image of someone swimming underwater and the sound was this very heavy-duty breathing, like someone couldn’t breathe, actually. And that for me would have been more than enough. But then of course they will not trust the strength of that imagery, the combination of imagery and sound. They had to add text to it and flack it up.

RB You know what I want to ask you? How long do you think you’re going to live?

FGT That’s a very rude question. I want to live until I do all the things that I want to do.

RB So you don’t know the answer to the question.

FGT It’s not about time. It’s about how life is lived. I have had a very good life. I have lived this life well. Very well. And I’m an atheist. I’m 100% atheist. How many years, I don’t know. I want to experience a few other things . . . I want to go back to Paris and I want to go back to London.

RB How long do you think all of this would take?

FGT I have no idea. Whatever it takes. Maybe a year, two years, six months. One month. That’s what I want to do.

RB So you would be happy.

FGT I want to be on the runway for Comme des Garçons.

RB Oh, really? Is that an ambition of yours?

FGT I’m just kidding. You did it. That was fun, huh?

RB I like everything.

FGT Ross, rephrasing the question—how long did it take you to make those new paintings?

RB All my life."

 

 

ALL IMAGES AND INSCRIPTIONS TAKEN FROM "A SELECTION OF SNAPSHOTS" BY FELIX GONZALEZ-TORRES, ART PRESS, 2010; INTERVIEW WITH FELIX GONZALEZ-TORRES BY ROSS BLECKNER TAKEN FROM BOMB #51, SPRING 1995

Thursday
Dec272012

A Mortifying Sense of Porousness

[ED: A few friends and I decided to exchange a series of playlists in honor of the new year. The following post is my contribution. Click on each iTunes playlist image to download; there are three in total.]

Tuesday
Dec252012

Merry Christmas, From The Chester Family To Yours

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: FATHER CHRISTMAS

ALL STILLS TAKEN FROM NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION, 1989; PRODUCTION DESIGN BY STEPHEN MARSH, ART DIRECTION BY BEALA NEEL, SET DECORATION BY LISA FISCHER

Friday
Dec072012

One Can't Be Stingy With These Things

[ED: Antonia San Juan, in Almodovar's All About My Mother, on dreams, authenticity, and cash. And potentially on decorating.]

 

Sunday
Dec022012

In the Land of Gods and Monsters: Lynch and Ruscha's Los Angeles

“What a fine thing it would be, Harvey thought, to build a place like this. To drive its foundations deep into the earth; to lay its floors and hoist its walls; to say: Where there was nothing, I raised a house. That would be a very fine thing.” - Clive Barker, "The Thief of Always"

LANA DEL REY: GODS AND MONSTERS

LANA DEL REY: COLA

 

I.

"Although one or two pictures suggest some recognition of the criteria of art-photography, or even architectural photography, the majority seem to take pleasure in rigorous display of generic lapses: improper relation of lenses to subject distances, insensitivity to time of day and quality of light, excessively functional cropping, with abrupt excisions of peripheral objects, lack of attention to the specific character of the moment bing depicted—all in all a hilarious performance, an almost sinister mimicry of the way “people” make images of the dwellings with which they are involved. Ruscha’s impersonation of such an Everyperson obviously draws attention to the alienated relationships people have with their built environment." [2]

"In 1965 Edward Ruscha published Some Los Angeles Apartments, the third in his ongoing series of photographic books, and completed a group of ten related drawings that depict variations on the ubiquitous Southern California apartment building.

Ruscha’s apartment book chronicles the artist’s fascination with Los Angeles and its unique characteristics. Having moved there from Oklahoma in 1956, Ruscha was immediately excited by his new environment and stimulated by its fast and mobile landscape. The car, in fact, is central to the development of Ruscha’s work. His love of driving around Los Angeles, exploring the city and absorbing its character, coupled with frequent trips along Route 66 to visit Oklahoma, gave him a visual perspective defined by the windshield, driver’s window, and curbside. He found gasoline stations, apartments, vacant lots, and palm trees during drives around Los Angeles and photographed them from where he stood beside his parked car." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "1029 S. Union," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"Although it was not Ruscha’s intent, Some Los Angeles Apartments also documents an aberrant chapter in a fifty-year history of distinguished architectural achievement in Southern California. A combination of factors contributed to the growth of a distinct and adventurous architecture during the first half of the twentieth century. The open, horizontal space and temperate climate promoted outdoor living and the proliferation of single-family houses and apartments with patios and gardens. Los Angeles also developed—by plan and circumstance—as a decentralized city with many commercial centers joined by an efficient and complex system of freeways that established the private car as the primary means of transportation. The mobility afforded by the automobile contributed greatly to the overall dispersal of low-density residential buildings, usually only one or two stories high. In addition, by the 1930s, a strong economy coupled with an atmosphere of optimism and experimentation encouraged a talented group of young architects to design an imaginative California Modern style of house and apartment." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "6565 Fountain Ave.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"The earliest suggestion of a modern architecture appears in the work of Irving Gill. His Horatio West Court (1919) displays a modernized version of the then dominant Mission Revival style. During the teens and twenties, this common form of residential architecture—derived from the Spanish missions built in California in the eighteenth century—was typically wood framed, sheathed with white stucco, and oriented around a garden space. The solid massing and plain surfaces of Mission Revival architecture related to current abstract architecture being done by Adolf Loos and Walter Gropius in Austria and Germany. Gill further pared away detail, emphasizing broad white surfaces with deep recesses, arches, and horizontal bands of windows meeting at the corner, offering abundant light, ventilation, and ocean views. Gill’s synthesis of the Mission style, with its stress on simplicity, geometry, light, and shade, was well suited to the California Climate.

The rapid growth of the Los Angeles population and residential and public development through the 1930s led to the proliferation of bungalows, ranch houses, and tract housing, all clad in various period styles—Regency, Colonial, Tudor, Spanish, and Streamline Moderne. However, the most distinguished contribution was made by a few architects, most notably R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra, who arrived in LA in the 1920s. Both were born and trained in Vienna, had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, and were deeply committed to the International Style. Their aesthetic, which demanded that materials, details, and form symbolically and functionally relate to a rational machine precisionism, was easily adaptable to the requirements of the Southern California environment. Neutra’s Landfair Apartments and Strathmore Apartments (both 1938) are pure International Style. Simple, direct, and rational, they are one- and two-story  buildings with a small number of apartments, suggesting single-family residences. Their clean planes of white stucco, generous bands of horizontal windows, and flat roofs with gardens were compatible with a simplified, modern, outdoor-oriented life-style. Schindler’s structures reveal more complex compositions, emphasizing spatial and volumetric forms that are both functional and aesthetic. On the façade of Schindler’s Mackey Duplex Apartments (1939), the internal vertical and horizontal spaces project to external volumes that are integral to the composition rather than merely decorative. Schindler’s De Stijl forms exerted a strong influence on the development of Los Angeles architecture, offering innovation and adaptability in apartment design." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "2014 S. Beverly Glen Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "15120 Victory Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"Other variations on International Style apartments using a court or garden plan were provided by Gregory Ain and J.R. Davidson, two architects influenced by Neutra and Schindler. Ain’s Dunsmuir Flats Apartments (1937) is a severely geometricized International Style building staggered back on a deep lot. A long, narrow outside entrance on one side allows garden areas on the opposite side of the building. Each apartment is two stories, with the ground floor opening onto a private patio, and all rooms are illuminated on three sides by narrow strip windows. The front elevation is dominated by a row of enclosed garages, completing a plan that is consistent in layout, structure, and materials with convenience, privacy, outdoors, an the automobile. Davidson’s Gretna Green Apartments (1940) displays the same concern with patio gardens, well-lit living spaces, and convenient car accommodations in a simple, well-organized, and substantial white stucco structure. Like Neutra and Schindler, Davidson’s training in a European Modern aesthetic is comfortably adapted to the new California Modern style. A variation on apartment structures is seen in William Foster’s Shangri-La Apartments and Hotel (1941)—a massive Streamline Moderne structure displaying curved corners, decorative glass bricks, and fanciful lettering on the entrance canopy. The desirable corner location, affording sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, encouraged a high-rise building, with balconies on the upper floors, that offered both private apartments and hotel rooms.

The increasing population density and continuing growth of commercial centers in West Los Angeles and along the Wilshire Boulevard corridor in the 1950s generated more high-rise apartments, but these were on the model of New York residential buildings. Victor Gruen’s Wilshire Terrace Apartments (1959) is a massive rectangular box with pattern and texture dominating all four sides. The interior circulation, double-loaded corridors, necessity for elevators, and lack of access to outdoor areas marks a distinct departure from the California Modern Architecture of the previous two decades, which emphasized the advantages of the Los Angeles environment." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "1018 S. Atlantic Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"By the time Ruscha photographed contemporary apartments in 1965, the distinctions between architectural styles and life-styles and been blurred and even disregarded. The spread of freeways crisscrossing the Los Angeles basin and the subsequent development of properties at interchanges and off-ramps, along with a population density too high to allow spacious single-family residences and garden apartments, spawned the appearance of the Los Angeles ‘dingbat’ apartment. Dingbat—a word of unknown origin traditionally used to describe a typographical symbol or ornament that calls attention to an opening sentence or break between paragraphs—is an appropriate word to describe architecture that displays superficial ornamentation and signage to call attention to itself in order to distinguish it from a similarly plain apartment building next door. Dingbats, which predominate in Some Los Angeles Apartments, are typically two-story walk-up structures with a side-loaded exterior corridor and exterior circulation. Usually a boxy rectangle of wood construction with stuccoed exterior walls, these 1960s apartments display an eccentric, embellished, cheap, and often ridiculous version of the pure Modern style exemplified by Neutra and Schindler. Designed to be cost-effective, they were built to fill the entire lot from the sidewalk property line to the back, with parking efficiently tucked under the living areas in carports. They retain none of the privacy, cross lighting and ventilation, flowering gardens, or architectural originality that they hope to announce by their decorated facades. However, they were of great interest, not necessarily to the people who lived in them, but to Ruscha, precisely because they expressed the freedom, diversity, newness, and irony of the visual experience of Los Angeles." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "2206 Echo Park Ave.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

 

II.

“The older the house, the more have likely died inside. This house is old.” - Brooks Sterritt, "A Face is Made of Fourteen Bones"

“Man, the ‘interior designer,’ is . . . an active engineer of atmosphere . . . Everything has to intercommunicate, everything has to be functional—no more secrets, no more mysteries, everything is organized, therefore everything is clear . . . modern man, the cybernetician, [is] a mental hypochondriac, as someone obsessed with the perfect circulation of messages.” - Jean Baudrillard, "The System of Objects"

BARRY ADAMSON: HOLLYWOOD SUNSET

ANGELO BADALAMENTI: HAUNTING & HEARTBREAKING

"In 1997, while promoting his new project, Lost Highway, Lynch granted his first interview to a design journal, the Swiss publication form. Question: ‘Do you ever dream of furniture?’ Answer: ‘I day-dream of furniture, yes.’ The stuff of fantasy, furniture is also a long-standing hobby for Lynch and became a minor business venture for him in the 1990s, after the critical and commercial failure of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and during a period when Lynch struggled to get another film off the ground. In the interview, Lynch explains that he had been making furniture ever since art school and sold his first piece at Skank World, a small Beverly Hills shop specializing in mid-century design. In April 1997 several of Lynch’s pieces, including the Club Tables featured in the photograph of the interior of the Beverly Johnson House, were displayed at Milan’s Salone del Mobile, one of the world’s more prestigious furniture exhibitions. Lynch sold the line—including the Steel Block Table, the Floating Beam Tale, and the Espresso Table—exclusively through the Swiss design company Casanostra, with the small constructions of wood an steel priced between fifteen hundred and two thousand dollars. On Casanostra’s website the last piece is sold with the tag, 'Coffee in an asymmetrical world.'" [3]

"Similarly, the October Films press kit for the picture promoted it as the work of a visionary auteur who conceives of film as an inherently intermedial endeavor, combining music and art direction, painting and photography in a symphony of design:

The design within the house also corresponds to Lynch’s overall vision. ‘I always like to have the people stand out, so the furnishings have got to be as minimal as possible so you can see the people.’ Lynch adds, ‘There were many things that had to be built for the story to work,’ and since Lynch has lately expanded his activities to include the design of furniture, he actually built some pieces for this set himself, most notably the case that contains the Madison’s ominous VCR.

Lost Highway’s furniture, it seems, is transparent, opening onto views of Lynch’s eccentric genius. The romantic idea of the auteur, developed most famously in the 1950s in the pages of the French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma, was bound to a related notion of the expressive mise-en-scène, of a controlled cinematic décor bearing the traces of a presiding aesthetic personality. Style, for the discerning “Hitchcocko-Hawksiens” at Cahiers, would have a soul, humanizing the industrial products of Hollywood’s dream factory. And it is hard not to think of Lynch’s furniture as a kind of artistic cameo, the equivalent in the realm of objects of the cheeky appearances of his beloved Hitchcock, always popping up in his own films and turning them into ever more reflexive and ironic gizmos in the process. What’s more, the furniture—and the domestic drama of Fred (Bill Pullman) and Renee (Patricia Arquette) that occupies roughly the first half of the film’s disjointed narrative—is staged in an über-modern home that is Lynch’s real property, one of three houses (including Lloyd Wright Jr.’s Beverly Johnson House) owned by the director in the same canyon outside of Hollywood. The feature article on Lost Highway in Rolling Stone, explains how Lynch remodeled the house inside and out for the film, adding the tiny, narrow slot windows to the exterior and building a ‘tunnellike hallway’ on the inside, into which Fred Madison will repeatedly be made to disappear." [3]

"The press kit also insists on the centrality of the home’s design to unlocking the film’s secrets or producing more of them:

The house inhabited by Fred and Renee is similarly integral to the film’s scheme, combining stylistic elements of yesterday, today and tomorrow, just as the narrative does. In fact, the house’s peculiar design could almost serve as a metaphor for the entire film: when seen from the front, there are a few small windows, providing limited opportunities to see inside. But when it is approached from other angles, one realizes that there are many ways to observe the interior.

The Madison’s home, we are assured, is like the broader style of the film’s décor, both ‘blazingly modern and absolutely retro in look and feel.’ Dropping references to expressionism, the surrealism of André Breton, psychoanalysis, and film noir, Lost Highway’s marketing announces David Lynch’s return to form through his modernity, and his modernity through an unlikely equation between the modern, minimalist house and modernist narrative complexity. Less is more." [3]

"Aesthetic modernism is part of the film’s status as stylistic pastiche, but also part of its real narrative aspirations and claims to aesthetic legitimacy and power. Lost Highway poaches the design lessons of high modernist architecture—utopian rationalism and functionalism, chiefly—and ironizes them in the service of modernist narrative in the mode of art cinema, blurring art and pornography, visionary idealism and mass-market materialism. In Lost Highway, transparency and rationalism fail in precisely the location where so many postwar architects imagined the future of the modernist impulse—the happy, newly pleasurable open-plan design of the mid-century domestic interior, whose dream of more permeable boundries between inside and outside becomes another nightmare. The film’s relentlessly pornographic imagination is part of its own meditation on auteur self-fashioning as furniture. This befits an artist who, on the heels of two commercial flops, has become well acquainted with the vagaries of mass taste and finds himself embroiled in another campaign to sell himself. In the process, the auteur’s romantic soul is hollowed out, hardening into a merely functional thing. The Lynchian signature becomes a design icon, a fetishized commodity, an ironic advertisement for its own hidden mysteries whose views are forever deferred: furniture porn." [3]

"In Lost Highway these ironic objects—furniture, bodies, and the souls of authors—are set loose in a strikingly dehumanized and unsentimental film. Instead, Lynch positions his furniture in a dark, highly reflexive meditation on the enigma of personality itself—on the very idea of human interiority or other, obscene secrets on the insides of things. The Madison’s modern home allows Lynch to pose the question of the interior in several ways: through the troubled status of bourgeois domesticity and privacy, here again contaminated y theatricality; through the etiology of Fred’s psychological distress, which Lynch again gives harrowing architectural form and here drives the narrative fragmentation; and through the enigma of Renee/Alice, whose mysterious sexuality is asked to speak its truth, in the fashion of pornography." [3]

"The Madison’s living room, with its wooden auteurist prosthesis, draws on the romantic soul of wood—its integrity, warmth, and temporal stability—to protect against the violation of domestic intimacy by technology and psychic malaise. The VCR case’s compensory quality is immediately noticeable because of its functionality and superfluity. There is already a capacious horizontal niche for the VCR carved into the half wall of light wood, which makes the additional wooden sleeve around the VCR an unnecessary design flourish. The case’s evident lack of functionality is all the more flagrant within a semitransparent partition designed, in mid-century fashion, for multifunctionality: it is at once media console, storage space, and room divider, separating the living room from the stairway behind it. But the console offers scant consolation, because its design elements are echoes or repetitions of the house’s exterior: the row of snake plants that frame the console are also arranged in a line outside the Madison’s front door, stretching across the front of the house. The plants call our attention to other graphic repetitions: the nested horizontals of the wooden media console and VCR case are echoed in the horizontal vents in the house’s façade as well as the vertical encasement of the home’s narrow windows—fortress-like slits—and the front door’s own rectangular shell. In these ways the inside is always an outside; this modern house wears its heart—the living room—on its sleeve." [3]

TEXT [1] TAKEN FROM THE EXHIBITION TEXT OF "EDWARD RUSCHA: LOS ANGELES APARTMENTS 1965" BY RICHARD MARSHALL, WHITNEY MUSEUM OF ART, 1990; ALL RUSCHA PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN FROM THE SAME; TEXT [2] TAKEN FROM "ART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY," EDITED BY JASON GAIGER AND PAUL WOOD, 2003; TEXT [3] TAKEN FROM "DAVID LYNCH" BY JUSTUS NIELAND, 2012; ALL OTHER QUOTES CITED IN TEXT; ALL OTHER IMAGES TAKEN FROM "LOST HIGHWAY," DIR. DAVID LYNCH, PRODUCTION DESIGN BY PATRICIA NORRIS, 1997