John Lautner’s inhabitable art is the subject of many other artists’ creations. His work has been the subject of photographs by Julius Shulman, paintings by retro-active Shag and leitmotifs by fellow architect Frank Gehry (who provided generous support for the show.)
Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner, on view at the Hammer, features large-scale models, documentaries and archival materials (drawings, renderings, photographs) that reveal the how of why his structures don’t succumb to gravity. Perhaps better termed Between Earth and Outer Space, Lautner’s most iconic piece – the Chemosphere – is the lovechild of a flying saucer and the Seattle Space Needle; his Palm Spring’s Elrod Residence resembles a landed UFO, its influence on Gehry (Walt Disney Concert Hall) impossible to ignore.
While a cult figure in the world of architecture and design, much of his work was dismissed as being Googie (the ’50s/’60s Futurism style evidenced in the Capitol Records building, the 76 gas station in Beverly Hills, the Welcome to Las Vegas sign), dystopic or “Hollywood.” Not that any of these works, from any Googie artists, should be dismissed – Paul William’s ‘LAX theme building’ is a marker of the city – Lautner’s efforts transcended any specific style.
Moving beyond the walls of the museum to other walls, the Hammer set up a series of tours to take visitors to the architect’s creations around the city (check the Hammer’s Web site for times.)
Always conscious of the environment in which he built, each Lautner house is perfectly rendered to exploit the area surrounding it. While the Chemosphere may appear incongruent to the trees it attempts to overtake, its 360 degrees of windows absorb the flora and somehow make it fit – nearly unbelievable after observing the model and drawings in the Hammer. But as the name of the exhibit suggests, there’s no name for Lautner’s work, it exists somewhere in the limbo of this world and the next.
The Hammer Museum is located at 10899 Wlshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.hammer.ucla.edu.