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Searching Los Angeles for Artistic Alternatives to Uninspiring Architectural Components

September 23, 2012 by Nicholas Forrest in Architecture, Art Market with 0 Comments

Incorporating artistic elements into the most mundane of architectural components such as doors, walls and windows has proven a challenge for even the most resourceful designers and architects. Known for its innovative architecture and design, Los Angeles is one of the best sources for collectors, investors and interior designers of inspired and inventive artistic alternatives to uninspiring architectural components and materials.

Dividing a room has traditionally been the job of a folding screen or a wall, so when David Cressey designed his bizarre totemic stoneware “Glyph Wall” for the Architectural Pottery Pro/Artisan Collection in 1965, it must have caused quite a stir in the world of interior design. Each column was made of individual “glyphs”, which were designed so that they could be arranged in any configuration using any number of the glyphs, thus allowing for the creation of short barriers or tall walls.

Six of Cressey’s columns were acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in early 2011 which, according to LACMA, originally came “from a state government office building on P Street in Sacramento nicknamed the ‘Brown Towers’ because they were built under the tenure of governor Edmund Gerald ‘Pat’ Brown, who served from 1959–1967.” Such is the rarity of Cressey’s columns nowadays that if you are lucky enough to find even one tall thirteen glyph column, it would likely set you back around $10,000.

Capistrano Beach based artist Mabel Hutchinson (1903-1999) solidified her place in California design history with her series of sculptural doors produced during the 1960s. Made of walnut and covered in a series of exquisitely carved patterns and designs, the doors are so beautifully made that they could also double as wall hangings.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions offered a pair of Hutchison’s doors for sale at their May 6 auction with an estimate of $12,000-$18,000, but unfortunately they failed to find a buyer. A similar pair of doors, originally created for the entrance of the Laguna Beach Art Guild building, and exhibited at the California National Design Show in 1968, were offered for sale by Wright Auctions in 2005 with an estimate of $10,000–15,000.

One of the most fascinating artistic approaches to a usually boring building component was the concrete “textile block” devised by Frank Lloyd Wright and first installed in a house built by the architect in Pasadena in 1923. Commissioned by Alice Millard, an antiques collector and rare book dealer, Millard House, also known as La Miniatura, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Commenting on the creation of the “textile blocks” in his autobiography, Wright said: “The concrete block? The cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world… Why not see what could be done with that gutter-rat?” What Wright did was add a simple artistic element to the humble concrete block which transformed it into an aesthetically pleasing, yet functional building material.

Although Wright’s textile blocks were essentially just textured and patterned precast concrete bricks with perforated, glass-filled apertures, the design of the block system utilised a quite complex strengthening system of horizontal and vertical steel rods that were woven through the bricks – a technique which led to them being called “textile blocks.” Wright even referred to himself in his autobiography as a “weaver” who, with his textile blocks, crocheted “a free masonry fabric capable of stunning variety, great in architectural beauty.”

After undergoing an expensive restoration, Wright’s Millard House (La Miniatura) was listed for sale with an asking price of $7.7 million in 2009, but has since been dropped to below $5 million. The house was last sold in 2000 for $1.3 million. Another of Wright’s textile block houses, the Ennis House, was also on the market for some time starting off with an asking price of $15 million in 2009 which was reduced several times until it was sold to billionaire businessman Ron Burkle for just under $4.5 million in July 2011. Because of current economic conditions and the cost of caring for such important buildings, both the Millard House and the Ennis House have proven a tough sell.

For those that can’t afford a multi-million dollar house, a 4″ Sq Millard paperweight based on the textile block of the Alice Millard House can be purchased from The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website for a mere $30.00. Or perhaps you would prefer a Millard key ring and card case of etched brass with nickel silver plating available for just $50.00.

Artist De Wain Valentine, one of the key figures in the California Light & Space movement, and one of the most influential sculptors active in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, became a sculptor after being in a position where he had to make the choice between a career in architecture or art. Choosing to challenge the boundaries between art and architecture using materials and techniques from both disciplines, Valentine is best known for his massive wall, column and disc sculptures that he produced using highly toxic industrial materials.

One such sculpture, “Curved Waterwall (1990),” a custom designed architectural outdoor sculpture, will be offered for sale by Los Angeles Modern Auctions on the 7th of October with an estimate of $50,000–100,000. Commissioned for the consignor and measuring over 6 feet tall, this sculpture is one of the largest of Valentine’s works ever to be offered at auction.

Valentine’s sculptures have become extremely popular over the last few years with his “Blue Rose Circle” acquired by the National Gallery in Washington and his “Triple Disk Red Metal Flake — Black Edge” acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art – both acquisitions were made in 2011. More recently, the artist’s “Blue Rose Circle” was acquired by the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Words: Nicholas Forrest

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About Nicholas Forrest

Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer. He is the founder of the Art Market Blog (artmarketblog. com) which offers independent commentaries, research and analysis on the current art market.

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