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September 2014

Visual Acoustics- The Modernism of Julius Shulman

In the informative video"Visual Acoustics", the architectural photography of Julius Shulman is given a context within the history of mid-20th century modernism architecture. I am not exaggerating to say that the Shulman photography of Southern California modernism had a profound influence in design and architecture. The photographs of Shulman became the "signature images of California architecture." They were published in "Arts and Architecture Magazine" but the images also traveled to consumer magazines like House and Garden where the general public learned about modern architecture.  

In the film, designer Tom Ford summarizes this optimistic post-war period when he says, "Architects believed they could change the world; life could be enhanced through good design." 

The photographs were not just about capturing domestic architecture. The photographs of Julius Shulman captured a modern lifestyle.  

The film also offers a primer on the network of relationships between architects. These are the famous architects who developed the vocabulary of 20th century architecture beginning early in the 20th century.  From Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Bauhaus, plus the immigration of architects to the United States before WWII.  The interconnections through various apprenticeships and mentorships is just stunning.

Below is the Visual Acoustics Trailer:

This film is available through Netflix, and worth getting, but it is not your typical Hollywood entertainment. When my husband and I started to watch it on Saturday night, we both fell asleep. The next night we started over with a different mindset -- when we weren't exhausted. Subsequently, I watched it twice more trying to absorb every word and image.

Julius-Shulman-Modernism-Rediscovered For every artist and maker reading this post, the film also demonstrates the importance of quality photographic images in developing a career, or multiple careers. Shulman's photographs of architecture pushed architects into the stratosphere of notoriety and fame. The architects would insist that Shulman take the photos because he consistently brought out aspects and connections that even the architects were amazed to realize.  Many images by Julius Shulman are among the most famous photos of mid-century architecture. 

I knew some of the photos of Julius Shulman but didn't recognize his name until after watching the film. Now the pieces of the puzzle come together. This also ties into the post Designing Home: Jews and Mid-Century Modernism, an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum which connects the furniture and domestic design to the domestic architecture. If you watch this film before going to the show, you will  appreciation the exhibition so much more.

One more important point to all artists and makers:
In the film you will see that Julius Shulman kept every negative, every photo he ever took in his own archive that was well organized. He understood that every image had value. The film also shows that Shulman's photography has been used to restore buildings as well as document the history of 20th century architecture. He took his work seriously. His photo archive is now housed at the Getty.

It is a really small world.

Julius Shulman's L.A. Stories (Modern Architecture in Los Angeles) from the Getty Research Institute


In the video below,  the explanation for many of his most famous shots and approach to photography is a lot clearer than in the film Visual Acoustics.




Julius Shulman: Modernism Rediscovered

This is the book that Julius Shulman is reviewing at the Taschen offices during the film Visual Acoustics.






Eichler-Rebuilds-American-DreamEichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream






Designing Home: Jews and Mid-Century Modernism

Less than two weeks are left to visit "Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism" at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. This is a must see show if you are a designer, maker, or anyone passionate about mid-century modernism. 

I know everyone who reads this blog can't visit San Francisco, so I will showcase a few very special images from the exhibition (taken with my cell phone) and share a few observations.

Mid-century modernism is one of my design interests that only seems to intensify with more visibility of exhibitions like this one. Nothing compares to seeing the actual objects, furniture, and graphics in person, all collected at one location for hours of study. And it seems that as this time period of mid 20th century grows more popular, more objects surface that I haven't seen before.  


One observation that will be repeated in this post and the next is that the vocabulary and design elements of the furniture and home decor were designed to fit the mid-century modernism architecture of the house.

Architects often designed furniture for the home. This chair (above) by Rudolf Schindler is one example. Rudolf Schindler was part of an inter-connected world of architects in Southern California. This is highlighted in the film Visual Acoustics about the architecture photography of Julius Shulman. A must see for everyone interested in design, this video will be discussed in the next post.

This combination of sofa & skyscraper bookcase by Paul Frankel was stunning.  I've seen many examples of Paul Frankl skyscraper bookcases but never this particular example.  My photo does not do it justice.

Paul-Frankel-Sofa-armBesides the amazing bookcase with its multiple levels of depth and height (just like the architecture of the time) look at the arm of the sofa. The sloping angle was just like angles in the domestic architecture. The angle was also repeated in the exhibition installation and CJM museum architecture. Look for it when you visit.



This combination of a chair with fabric swatch by Alvin Lustig leaves me speechless. The slice in each square of the fabric is repeated in the chair design, i.e. a slice of space between the arm and the back of the chair.  In a museum exhibition there could not have been a better combination. 

Book-Designing-HomeGo see this exhibition curated by guest curator Donald Albrecht, a nationally noted curator of architecture and design based in New York. If this is not possible there is a fully illustrated color catalog that can be ordered online. 

There were many more astounding objects than shown in this post. Stellar examples include Judaica and metalwork, along with a fabulous video of film graphics from the era.

One more really important point brought out in this exhibition is the interconnection of these designers. They created a community of support --and sometimes individualistic competitiveness -- that brought out the best in new and innovative design.

Centers of creative innovation like the Black Mountain College, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, the Pond Farm in Guerneville, California, and the Los Angeles building boom brought these people together.

My daughter wondered how they even knew each other without the internet, but I think that is in itself an important observation. It was the quality of the information rather than the quantity of information. Major magazines of the time frequently displayed quality photographs of home design and architecture. That still holds true today. Quality photographs are instrumental in your success.

This issue will be the topic of the next post as I introduce you to a new film about architecture photographer Julius Shulman.

A FEW BOOKS about mid-century design:


Paul Rand 
You know his work even if you don't know his name. He designed many of the iconic corporate logos we still see today.





George Nelson: The Design of Modern Design











Atomic Ranch: Design Ideas for Stylish Ranch Homes 





Images and links for the books are provided for your convenience. They are affiliate links and may provide this blog with a few cents. Your support is much appreciated.

Generosity of Eye: Art Transformed into Education

Julia Louis-Dreyfus-Father-CollectorRecently I discovered this film about art collecting and thought it was worth recommending. The one-hour long video is about the father of actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus who has donated his art collection to fund education in Harlem.

Apart from the inspiring story of what he is doing with his collection, I am also delighted by the fact that he simply bought artwork that he loved as a patron of the arts. His collection was not driven by "market potential" or as a popularity contest.  He bought work that he enjoyed. His theme of interest was the act of painting. He especially enjoyed the relationships that he established with the artists.

In the video, the question is posed, "Why the H*** does he buy paintings?" The answer is quite sincere and much appreciated.  I only wish that he could have extended the discussion to include all art and craft media.

Generosity of Eye: Art Transformed into Education from brad hall on Vimeo.


P.S.  As a bonus, here is a LINK to a video clip of an interview with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the Charlie Rose Show. IT WORKS! 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Charlie Rose speaks about her upcoming television comedy and her father's art collection and the movie "Generosity of Eye". Worth watching. Hopefully, the video should start at the correct spot. If not advance it to 35.41.


Art Documentaries Beyond Average, Be Inspired











404 Information & Great User Experience

The first step for creating your own 404 Error page is to have an idea of unique content that represents your unique work. If your 404 page is delightful, entertaining, or engaging, this is an opportunity to engage with your viewer . . . and most likely that viewer will not abandon your site. 

Beyond the great idea (a topic covered in a previous post), a primary consideration is the user experience on your website. 

User experience is the future of web design. As the web matures in the information age, it is no longer simply about providing information. More and more, the user seeks an engaging experience while visiting every website. So, even when the visitor arrives at your 404 error page, this can be an opportunity to re-engage and help the use get back to the information or items they were looking for.

Beyond the aesthetic content, what information should your 404 page include: 

  1. Acknowledgement that the link or URL did not work;
  2. Header with your website identity;
  3. Contact information so visitors can either report the problem, or ask you where to find specific information;
  4. Search box that can guide the viewer in their search;
  5. Website navigation options should include a return to your home page along with standard website navigation header and footer;
  6. Optional: an automatic re-direct return to your home page. This will be covered in a future post. 

Here are some examples of 404 error pages with the information that creates success!

Pinterest-404 pageThe Pinterest 404 error page takes the simplest practical approach. It acknowledges a mistake and suggests other Pin boards that are popular, engaging options to look at. It can't get any easier than that while it still keeps the viewer on Pinterest, their primary goal. 


Check out this 404 page for  Audiko 404page

Audiko (right.) The graphic image is so great you don't even care whether you can't find the page you wanted. The search box is helpful for getting back on track to find what the visitor was looking for on this website. Their objective is to keep their customer on the site. 


Below is the 404 error page for the Computer History Museum.404-computer-museum

404-computer-museum-oopsThis satisfies all the important criteria with the acknowledgement "Oops!" and explanation of the mistake. The error page keeps  museum identity, thematic graphic, search box, and a link back to the home page. It could be better with more graphics, but it does the job. 

404-art-biz-coach-makevoer-lostAlyson B. Stanfield uses a personal and effective graphic with a profile shot of herself lost inside of an art installation by Tobias Rehberger at the Denver Art Museum in 2010. This image is inserted into the 404 page along with the acknowledgement "Oops your are lost now."

This error page contains the important components for the best user experience on a 404 error page - a  graphic, clear website identity, link for contacting her directly, along with navigation bar at the top with promotion for her upcoming workshop. Functionally it is a great user experience. Alyson has changed an error into an opportunity.

A personal profile approach (as demonstrated by Alyson Stanfield) could work for any artist's or maker website. 

Caren404-Beaded-Garden-Flowers-Click, from Beaded Garden, has allowed me to share her 404 error pages. She purchased the sad flower picture from istock photo. 404-Beaded-Garden-FlowersShe said, "I believe respecting copyright is important so I purchase images if I need them.  There are some pretty inexpensive [images]."
She also said that "whenever the 404 page is landed on, I get an email that tells me what page the user was trying to access so I can fix it." What a great idea.  

The image of the sad flower relates to the Beaded Garden style of the work, and offers a text explanation to the user about how they landed on the 404 error page, giving navigation options to her website. There is also a Google search box at the top. This 404 page effectively keeps the user on her site for potential engagement and possible purchase. 

The final 404 example for an artist's 404 error page is this outstanding example from Thematically consistent with the site, it is a real treat to find a comic that explains where you have arrived. The navigation at the top will take you back to exploring more on the site.

P.S. Click on any images including the Dilbert cartoon to visit the 404 page.

OOPS! Examples of Creative 404 Error Pages & Mistakes.

OOPS-FLOWER-Front copy 

Before tackling the technical issues of a 404 error page on your website, try to think of an imaginative idea that can turn a WWW mistake into an artistic, cleaver, interesting and entertaining 404 error page consistent with your art work, media, signature style or brand identity. 

Goof-Off-Flower-Pin-404My 404 page uses a custom made OOPS! Flower Pin (shown above). My OOPS! Flower Pin was preceded by an earlier idea, the Goof Off Flower (left).
The images for your 404 page can be anything you want it to be, but for artists and makers, the images can and should be consistent with the style of your website and your art or craft. Seems to me it is a bonus for your website if the viewer experiences something special, even in the midst of a technical error.  Finding original content is a sure winner on the web.  And the content for this 404 page isn't a permanent commitment. You can change your images anytime you want.  

Below are a couple of presentations found on the Internet with lots of great 404 page ideas.  Following that are more 404 examples from art museums that successfully use the artwork in their collections to present memorable 404 error pages.

20 really cool and creative 404 error pages from

The presentation below has even more 404 pages (but most of them are boring and represent a functional corporate solution).
Don't let your 404 page look average. Quickly Scroll through the whole presentation as the Lego 404 page (about three quarters of the way through) is keep looking. 

As a creative artist and maker, your 404 Page can also reflect your creativity. 
Here is the 404 page for the Museum of Modern Art. This is what I would consider an effective use of art in their collection for the 404 page - an Edward Ruscha oil painting  "OOF" from 1962.
The 404 page for the Walker Art Center uses three paintings with the numbers 4, 0, 4 from Jasper Johns, Robert Therrien, and Jasper Johns respectively.  As you can see below, the use of artwork for the 404 ties directly into their collection. 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art takes an image from Rico 98 titled Found LOST Bird Poster (right). Thematically it fits right into the concept of a 404 error page. I am not particularly fond of all the white empty space on the page (shown below), but keeping the image small keeps all the pertinent information "above the fold." 
"Above the fold" is an old newspaper term. All the important information was above the fold so it was seen when the folded paper was sold at the newspaper stand.  In web design it translates to the fact that all the relevant information is visible without scrolling down.  "Above the fold" is an essential part of good 404 error page design.
Here is how the Minneapolis Institute of Art plays on the "lost" theme of a 404 Error page.

MINNEAPOLIS-institute-art-Lost-statue-404The Randolph Rogers "The Lost Pleiad"
 statue is perfect for a 404 error page. It is just wonderful how this marble statue from 1874 is given an unanticipated new context in the 21st century.

The MIA 404 error page also included a Google search box so that the viewer can refine their search without leaving the site, however it would have been better to squeeze all of these features including the statue credits above the fold (perhaps left or right justifying the image). Then the text and search box would fit on the other side. 
Despite my advice to be creative, keep in mind that a 404 page should also help the viewer navigate your website. Here is an example of a very creative page that fails to support the navigation purpose. 
While this is a cute picture and captures the motif
 for a 404 error page, it is a 404 fiasco, a huge website blunder. Why? Because this has no specific identity for the museum and worse, no navigation back to the website.  It leaves the viewer stranded with nowhere to go. This is a big mistake.

Your 404 page should always:
1) reinforce your identity,  
2) engage the viewer,  
3) keep the viewer on your website
The next post in the series "OOPS 404 Error Page"  is a list of recommended information for creative and effective 404 error pages and some hints to avoid some common missteps.
O.K. you've got the idea....think about the potential images for your custom 404 page. 
It isn't so hard to do after all and increases the usability of your website.

OOPS 404 Error Series and Related Posts:

OOPS! When Something Goes Wrong - Broken Links & 404 Errors