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Case Study House #22. Julius Shulman, negative, 1958. ÂŠ J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).
POP-AGANDA! READING JULIUS SHULMAN Jonathan Crisman The gap between architectural representation and built form is a zone in which design intentions and discursive agendas disappear, shift, and emerge. Another gap, however, exists between a built form and its subsequent mediatization, a gap whose outcomes, though less often discussed within the discipline, are of much greater social consequence. This gap directly influences the greater public, whereas the former gap tends to affect only a privileged few. A significant example of this process is the mediatization of what has become known as “California Modern,” engendered by the Angeleno architectural photographer Julius Shulman. That Shulman’s hobby photographs – taken while he was a college dilettante without any architectural experience – managed to pique Richard Neutra’s interest speaks to the unusual sway of his work. Why do Shulman’s photographs resonate in such a profound way, and what were the social impacts of this resonance? Through the comparison of larger cultural trends within the art world to his oeuvre, a relationship between Pop art and Shulman’s photographic production of California Modern emerges. The photographs tap into a latent, populist sensibility within the otherwise high-culture stylings of Modern architecture. The productive gap between the steel and glass structures of midcentury California and Shulman’s photographic representations of those structures catalyzed the translation of the heady tropes of High Modern architecture into the popular and domestic narrative of California Modern. The complex web of connections between Modern architecture and Pop art is perhaps best exposed by a letter from Richard Hamilton to Alison and Peter 107
Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, So Appealing? Richard Hamilton, collage, 1956. Hamilton’s collage was produced for the This Is Tomorrow exhibition of the Independent Group in London and is often cited as one of the first examples of Pop art. © 2010 VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Smithson. The letter includes a list of attributes that Hamilton considered to be characteristics of the then-nascent movement:
1 Richard Hamilton. “Letter to Peter and Alison Smithson,” in Pop Art: A Critical History, ed. Stephen Henry Madoff (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 5.
2 See, for example, Andreas Huyssen’s argument to this effect in Andreas Huysssen, “Mapping the Postmodern,” After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington, IL: Illinois University Press, 1986), 178-221.
With regard to this aesthetic, Esther McCoy refers to a “cult of the lowcost house,” and recounts William Wurster’s admission in relation to Case Study House #3 that “although plywood costs more than plaster, we like it better because it looks cheaper.” Esther McCoy, “Arts & Architecture Case Study Houses,” Perspecta 15 (1975), 61.
Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience) Transient (short-term solution) Expendable (easily-forgotten) Low cost Mass produced Young (aimed at youth) Witty Sexy Gimmicky Glamorous Big business1 While Pop art (and, in particular, the work of Hamilton) tends to be associated with Postmodern architecture in its politics and attitudes, this list exposes many of its characteristics as aligned with the agenda of Modern architecture.2 Modern architecture has been linked with low-cost housing through its contributions to public housing around the world and through its aesthetic aims.3 Mass production, through machined aesthetics and pre-fabricated systems, was another shared characteristic. Though no single motif within the Pop movement could definitively tie Pop to the multivalent nature of Modern architecture, the populist elements of Modern architecture play directly into Pop art’s desire to reach a mass audience. It was this connection that Shulman exploited with his photography. Shaped by his life in California, Shulman appreciated the newly emerging Modern 108
architecture, but did not subscribe to the austere purity exalted by protagonists of the International Style. Shulman recalls an anecdote that demonstrates the differing attitudes:
Joseph Rosa, Julius Shulman, and Esther McCoy, A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman (New York: Rizzoli, 1994), 51.
Simon Niedenthal, “Glamourized Houses: Neutra, Photography, and the Kaufmann House,” Journal of Architectural Education 47, no. 2 (1993): 104.
“Case Study House No. 21,” Arts & Architecture, February 1959, 23.
7 As a final aside, the male model is actually Pierre Koenig, architect of the house. The oddity that Koenig poses in his own handiwork rather than his clients, owners Walter and Mary Bailey, perhaps aligning with Hamilton’s list items “witty” or “gimmicky,” is noted in most analyses of the image.
8 John D. McIntyre, “Reinterpretations of Modernism, Shulman Style,” in L.A. Obscura: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman, ed. Giselle Arteaga-Johnson et al. (Los Angeles: Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, 1998), 14.
Neutra’s concept of a house is an empty one. So when we photographed the Maslon House, he took out all the art and most of the furniture. Never before had I been so offended! Mrs. Maslon granted my request, and two weeks later I went back and photographed the house the way she lived in it. It was published in Connaissance des Arts, but Neutra never commented about the publication. [Perhaps he] never realized that I had rephotographed the house.4 Thus, Shulman highlighted the affinities between Modern and Pop by using the techniques and tropes of Pop art within his work: his process involved commercial reproductive means and mass media distribution and, as Simon Niedenthal notes, Shulman’s photographs glamorize their subject in the same way as fashion and star photography,5 echoing the penultimate item in Hamilton’s list: “Pop art is… glamorous.” Shulman’s photograph of Case Study House #21 (fig. 1) provides a lucid example of the Pop connection. While the house itself displays exposed metal ceilings and beams along with a stark, white finish typical of Modernism’s low-cost, massproduced aesthetic, the focus of Shulman’s photograph is the people within this setting: the husband, along with his wife and her prominently displayed wedding ring. Young and glamorous, they stand amidst the trappings of a modern lifestyle, chief of which is a “stereophonic hi-fidelity system using a Harmon-Kardon tuner, amplifier and pre-amplifier; a Viking tape deck; a Garrard record changer; and electro-voice loudspeakers.”6 They embody the widely-circulated Warhol comment on Los Angeles: “I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” The couple bears a striking resemblance to the two characters in Roy Lichtenstein’s Vicki! I--I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (fig. 2), a Pop art piece in the style of the popular, mass media comic book. Above all, Shulman’s image is meant to portray the house as popular, ready for consumption by a mass audience.7 Perhaps corresponding most definitively with the final element in Hamilton’s list, “Big business,” Shulman shared Pop art’s interest in advertising. In an essay on Los Angeles’s “Miracle Mile,” John McIntyre closely reads Shulman’s photograph of the May Company Department Store (fig. 3): Shulman also includes numerous details to “sell” the image. Christmas trees date the photograph to December, but it is a clear sunny day, just as it should be in Los Angeles. There are a number of cars visible, but the one automobile zipping out of the frame to the right gives the impression of traffic moving at a brisk pace, and the number of pedestrians in front of the structure gives the impression that business is booming.8 Similarly, Lisa Goodgame argues that Shulman’s “photographic style lies at the intersection of classical architectural photography, modern advertising 109
above (left to right): Figure 1. Case Study House #21. Julius Shulman, photograph, 1958. Architect Pierre Koenig poses in the house that he designed for Walter and Mary Bailey through the Arts & Architecture Case Study Houses program. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10). Figure 2. Vicki! I--I Thought I Heard Your Voice! Roy Lichtenstein, porcelain enamel on steel, 1964. Lichtenstein, a prominent Pop artist, often used the comic book as subject matter. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Figure 3. May Company Department Store. Julius Shulman, photograph, 1948. The building, designed by Albert C. Martin, was an icon for Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile, one of the earliest car-based urban developments. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).
imagery, and contemporary abstraction.”9 While photography was less common as a medium for Pop art, Shulman’s work conveys themes complementary to the movement with surprising ease. In 1962, the same year that Warhol had his first solo exhibition, Shulman shot Cliff May’s house for the Ladies Home Journal. His photographs were constructed like lifestyle advertising campaigns, transforming high art into something with mass appeal at the very moment that Warhol was transforming objects with mass appeal into high art. It is no coincidence that Shulman had a simultaneous and successful job as a product and advertisement photographer.10 Shulman’s color photo of Case Study House #8, the Eames House, built by Charles and Ray Eames in 1949 and photographed in 1958, contains all that defined California Modern (fig. 4). Charles and Ray Eames pose in their own creation, sharing a relaxed conversation on comfortable, floor-level chairs, while a variety of quirky bric-a-brac and modern furniture surrounds them. Floor-toceiling glazing and house plants suggest a seamless transition between interior and exterior landscaping. In contrast to typical, symmetrical architectural photography of the time, Shulman experiments with asymmetrical perspective. Along with a sofa in the foreground placed so as to break the fourth wall, the asymmetry suggests the position of the viewer/photographer, humanizing the architectural representation. In some photographs, a window frames the composition in order to look inside or outside a building, situating the architecture in its temperate locale. The climate and materiality of the images produce the aforementioned warm atmosphere. Again, people are the focus of the image, defining California Modern as a human style, one robust enough to accommodate the affects and behaviors of an inhabitant rather than change them.
Lisa A. Goodgame, “Narrating Modern Space: The Interior View,” in L.A. Obscura: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman, ed. Giselle Arteaga-Johnson et al. (Los Angeles: Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, 1998), 24.
Rosa, Shulman, and McCoy, A Constructed View, 44.
Oriel L. Lucero, “Whitewash and Blacklist: The Effect of International Style Politics on Julius Shulman’s Career,” in L.A. Obscura: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman, ed. Giselle Arteaga-Johnson et al. (Los Angeles: Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, 1998), 39.
12 Rosa, Shulman, and McCoy, A Constructed View, 102. 13 Ibid., 88.
Virginia Postrel, “The Iconographer,” The Atlantic Monthly, November 2006, 138.
15 Beatriz Colomina, Architectureprodction (New York: Princeton Architecture Press, 1988), 9.
It has not been lost on scholars that Shulman, in striking contrast to nearly all of his peers, used people in his photographs and shot what appeared to be lived-in spaces in order to soften and sell what was perceived as cold modernity. Oriel Lucero points out that the image of Case Study House #21 “represents the ideal household by way of the gender relationships depicted” – which simultaneously opposed the widespread Cold War-era sentiment that Modern architecture was a threat to the American way of life.11 Joseph Rosa explains that Shulman attracted many imitators, as “they needed to sell modern architecture though the magazines as a product of technology, progress, and consumption.”12 Shulman himself explained that the photographer “must realize that good design is seldom accepted. It has to be sold. So he’s a propagandist, too. He must create subjective pictures, not snapshots. He must ‘produce’ moods through lighting. He must sell his subject.”13 More succinctly, Virgina Postrel posits that “at a time when the public thought of modernism as a cold, impersonal style suited only for office buildings, he made its houses look seductively human.”14 It was precisely this warm, seductive atmosphere that distinguished California Modern from the International Style and various other Moderns that came before it. In fact, as an Austrian transplant who sympathized with the austerity of other Continental architects such as Gropius and Mies, and as the sole North American representative in Philip Johnson’s International Style Exhibition, Neutra was likely an unwitting participant in the California Modern movement. Shulman’s photographs, however, had the last word, as they were the medium through which the public experienced Neutra’s architecture. As Beatriz Colomina has argued, with the advent of the published photograph, the public’s experience of architecture moved from a direct, physical experience to an indirect, mass mediatized experience.15 Thus, through Shulman’s depiction 111
of spaces filled with people, furniture, and activity, and by framing his photographs in a way that emphasized elements like the interior/exterior relationship instead of structural details, Neutra’s austere plaster and glass houses were transformed into something warm, glamorous, and inviting. Sylvia Lavin, in describing Shulman’s work, explains that “it presents less a building than the ambience of an imagined way of life.”16 Architects aligned with Shulman’s philosophy toward Modern architecture also commissioned him to photograph their buildings, and his client roster ultimately read as a “Who’s Who” of California Modern. In addition to Case Study House #21, Pierre Koenig designed the subject of Shulman’s most iconic image, Case Study House #22. Other architects included John Lautner, Gregory Ain, and Craig Ellwood. In a curious meta-mediatization, Shulman commissioned Raphael Soriano to build his home and studio, which was completed in 1950 and subsequently photographed until Shulman’s death in 2009.17 That Shulman’s particular photographic sense acted as a means to unite this group of architects speaks to his role in the production of California Modern. Beyond specific, iconic images that have entered our collective memory (the image of Koenig’s Case Study House #22 among them), Shulman was influential and, arguably, “Pop” because of his prolific production and commercial success. As Warhol (known for his own “factory” production) explains in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.”18 The sheer number and relentless mediatization of Shulman’s photographs have played an important role in transforming Modern architecture into something palatable to the American consumer. The volume of his archive, composed of over 260,000 negatives, prints, and ephemera, speaks to the influence he had on the creation of California Modern. Shulman is arguably the reason why, even today, desire for this glamorous Modern lingers in real estate ads with the curious “architectural style” moniker and in popular publications like Dwell. It is worth noting that Shulman had such an impact – one directly on the discipline and even the discourse of architecture – not as an architect, but as a photographer. His photographic representation of architecture was influential beyond the lines that an architect could draw or the buildings that could be built, supporting Colomina’s arguments about architecture and mass media. Furthermore, it was precisely that Shulman’s photographs sold a lifestyle rather than an architectural style that made them so successful. Commercial reproductive means and mass media distribution cast Modern architecture within a populist and glamorous light. Indeed, the tendency for architects to make their medium ever more rarefied and to present it in a way that lacks what could be called “Pop” lives on: there can be the production of media without mass-, a discussion of the public without publicity. By making use of advertisement-like modes of representation, Shulman leveraged the power of the public in order to galvanize an appreciation of Modern architecture in a way that was foreign to its very architects. 112
Sylvia Lavin, “Richard Neutra and the Psychology of the American Spectator,” Grey Room 1 (2000): 44.
17 Rosa, Shulman, and McCoy, A Constructed View, 52.
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), 92.
Figure 4. Case Study House #8 (Eames House). Julius Shulman, transparency, 1958. Charles and Ray Eames designed, built, and lived in this archetypal California Modern house. ÂŠ J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).
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Published on May 4, 2014
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