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OCMA gives birth to COOL: An exhibit about 50s and 60s California art, design and culture

Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury
October 7, 2007–January 6, 2008, Newport Beach

Birth of the Cool examines the broad cultural zeitgeist of “cool” that influenced the visual arts, graphic and decorative arts, architecture, music, and film produced in California in the 1950s and early 1960s. The widespread influences of such midcentury architects and designers as Harry Bertoia, Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, and Richard Neutra, have been well-documented.

Above: Karl Benjamin, Black Pillars, 1957, oil on canvas, 48 x 24 in. (121.9 x 61 cm), private collection. © Karl Benjamin, courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Art, West Hollywood

Less well-known, however, are the innovations of a group of Hard-Edge painters working during this period including Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Fredrick Hammersley, Helen Lundberg and John McLaughlin, whose work retains a freshness and relevance today. Birth of the Cool revisits this scene, providing a visual and cultural context for West Coast geometric abstract painting within the other dynamic art forms of this time.

Birth of the Cool is organized by the Orange County Museum of Art and curated by Elizabeth Armstrong, deputy director for programs and chief curator at OCMA.

above image:
Lorser Feitelson, Dichotomic Organization, 1959, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm), Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, Marie Eccles Caine Foundation Gift. © Feitelson Arts Foundation

The exhibition is accompanied by a 300-page publication (see the end of this post).
Major support for Birth of the Cool is provided by Brent R. Harris, The Segerstrom Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Significant support is provided by Bente and Gerald Buck, Twyla and Chuck Martin, Jayne and Mark Murrel, Pam and Jim Muzzy, Barbara and Victor Klein, and Victoria and Gilbert E. LeVasseur Jr..

Above: Julius Shulman, photograph of Case Study House #22 (Pierre Koenig, architect, Los Angeles, 1959–60), 1960. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute

Additional support is provided by Toni and Steven Berlinger and Patricia and Max Ellis. Corporate sponsorship is provided by Gucci and Design Within Reach. The official media sponsor of OCMA is The Orange County Register. Additional media sponsorship is provided by KCRW and KKJZ. Image credit: Karl Benjamin, Black Pillars, 1957, oil on canvas, private collection. © Karl Benjamin, courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood.

If you can't make the exhibit, buy the book.

Birth of the Cool Catalogue

Hardcover; 304 pages
$65 (member price: $58.50)


1950s West Coast style exuded “cool”: from the smooth, hypnotic strains of a Miles Davis riff through Richard Neutra’s elegant modernist residences to the hard-edged paintings of Helen Lundeberg and Karl Benjamin. This richly illustrated volume casts a fresh eye on Fifties West Coast style with illuminating commentary from a variety of perspectives. Designed to echo the period it celebrates, this catalog explores modernist innovations in art, architecture, design, film and music. Prominent cultural critics write on an array of topics: Thomas Hine about the culture of cool; Elizabeth Smith on domestic aspects of the period’s architecture; Frances Colpitt on hard-edged abstract painting; Dave Hickey on jazz; Michael Boyd on modernist design in Southern California; Lorraine Wild on graphic design and advertising; and Bruce Jenkins on the crossover between animation and experimental film. The result is a multi-faceted exploration of the 1950s West Coast zeitgeist in all its color, creativity, and cool

Elizabeth Armstrong is Deputy Director for Programs and Chief Curator of the Orange County Museum of Art.

Available as of October 7th, 2007
pre-order the book here

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