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Hammer Museum Presents First Major Exhibition on Visionary Modernist Architect John Lautner
John Lautner, Marbrisa, Acapulco, 1973.

LOS ANGELES.- John Lautner (1911-94), one of the most important and influential architects of the twentieth century, had a remarkable career spanning nearly six decades. Residing and working in Los Angeles during much of that time, his designs are known for their radical innovation with specific attention to materiality, space and a consciousness of the natural environment.

While Lautner has attained a cult-like status in the world of architecture and design, until now his achievement remains little known and often misunderstood by the public at large –- from his infamous coffee-shop “Googie” style at the start of his career; the misperception of his poetic experiments with form as Space Age or dystopic; to the dismissal of his later, perhaps most meditative houses, as Hollywood showcase.

The Hammer Museum brings John Lautner’s legacy and creative process to a wider audience by presenting the first major exhibition survey of his work: Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner, on view in Los Angeles from July 13 through October 12, 2008.

An aesthetic, philosophical and social visionary, Lautner made buildings that continue to amaze architects and patrons alike with their formal variety and freedom, their structural originality and their sculptural force. Lautner’s work has come to represent some of the most important examples of architecture in Southern California including private residences such as Elrod Residence (1968) in Palm Springs and Malin Residence (1960) in Los Angeles -- also known as the “Chemosphere,” which hovers high over a canyon balanced on a single support -- all iconic examples of his work and vision.

Lautner is often referred to as an architect’s architect and many renowned practitioners, such as Frank Gehry, have cited him as an abiding influence. One can see the influence and legacy of his vision time and again in the work of architects that have followed him.

“This exhibition is long overdue as it recognizes one of architecture’s greatest visionaries,” says Ann Philbin, Director of the Hammer Museum. “We hope it will encourage wider recognition of Lautner’s work and working methods which have contributed so greatly to Southern California’s art and design history.”

Curated by historian Nicholas Olsberg and architect Frank Escher, Between Earth and Heaven will feature an exhibition design that is as visceral an experience as Lautner’s buildings themselves. Newly crafted large-scale models will give a sense of the internal spaces and scale of key projects and will reveal Lautner’s construction processes. Short color films by prize-winning documentarian Murray Grigor will convey the sensation of movement through these buildings and their sites, helping the visitor to feel the “vitality within repose” that Lautner sought to create. Surrounding this dramatic core will be a wealth of archival materials, including never-before-seen drawings, architectural renderings, study models and construction photographs which will offer visitors insight into how the structures and spaces unfolded in Lautner’s mind and emerged physically in their settings.

“Lautner’s dwellings took on dramatically new and varied shapes, as he moved toward the central theme of his career -- how to use architecture to sublimate the domestic, and to domesticate the sublime,” states Nicholas Olsberg. “As we follow him from his early work with Frank Lloyd Wright to the emergence of his own practice in the 1940s in rapidly expanding, automobile-based Los Angeles, we see how he responded to a changing society and the natural environment by developing an extraordinarily sensuous, thoughtful and innovative architecture, poised between feeling and reason, stillness and motion, vista and shelter.”

The Hammer Museum further examines Lautner’s creativity legacy and cultural impact by presenting a comprehensive schedule of exhibition related programs-- curator walkthroughs, film screenings, panel discussions and symposia. Public programming begins on July 13 as exhibition curators Nicholas Olsberg and Frank Escher provide one of the first guided tours of the exhibition. Panel discussions Building Character (July 15) and Architecture and Seduction (September 23) and Hammer Screenings of Diamonds are Forever (July 18); Less than Zero (July 19); and Body Double (July 20) analyze Lautner works as cinematic muse. Other highlights include the premiere of Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner, a new documentary feature film by renowned architectural filmmaker Murray Grigor (September 18) followed by a symposium with panels and presentations by architects, engineers and architectural historians entitled Against Reason: John Lautner and Postwar Architecture (September 19-20).

Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner

Infinite Space, a new documentary feature film, traces the lifelong quest of visionary genius John Lautner to create “architecture that has no beginning and no end.” It is the story of brilliance and of a complicated life – and the most sensual architecture of the 20th century.

As a young man, Lautner broke from his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, and went west to California to forge his own unique style. His life was marked by innovation and inspiration, endless battles with building codes, an accidental leap into the epicenter of pop culture, bitterness at lost opportunities, and finally – monumental achievement. Lautner was idolized by young modernists, criticized by academics, and beloved by the clients who worked side by side with him to build their houses. It was a life in pursuit of beauty.

Renowned architectural filmmaker Murray Grigor explores Lautner’s dramatic spaces with choreographed camera moves, as Lautner himself provides the commentary, speaking with insight and wit in recordings culled from archival sources. Other voices join him: comments from Frank Gehry and his peers who were influenced by Lautner, the emotional memories of original clients, owners and builders, the remarks of Frank Escher, the architect who restored the Chemosphere house, and Julius Shulman who famously photographed all the great modernists.

Original drawings and historical photographs from the John Lautner Archives at the Getty Museum are layered with the artistic photography of seminal buildings, bringing to life Lautner’s quest to create timeless space.

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