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September 21, 2014 - September 27, 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.