California history in graphic detail at Great Park Gallery
With news that there will be an exhibit at the Great Park Gallery focused on California history and graphic design, two iconic SoCal museum shows from several years ago came immediately to mind. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way” and Orange County Museum of Art’s “Birth of the Cool.”
LACMA’s show was part of the first Getty Pacific Standard Time series of shows, and ran from Oct. 2011 to June 2012. The exhibit was said to be the first major study of California midcentury modern design, including furniture, fashion, architecture and graphic design. The show’s catalogue belongs in any design aficionado’s book collection.
The exhibit included a look at the history of California suburban design. Architects Schindler, Neutra, Pereira and A. Quincy Jones and builder Eichler believed in the creation of contemporary home design that the middle-class audience of the day could afford.
The original Irvine master plan, as seen in homes, parks and public spaces in the city’s first villages, is an important example of such accessible and influential suburban design, as are newer neighborhoods around the Great Park and other developments.
Despite LACMA’s claim to have been the first museum to look seriously at midcentury design, OCMA did something similar several years earlier with “Birth of the Cool,” which looked at California visual arts, graphic and decorative arts, architecture, music, and film produced in the 1950s and early 1960s during its run from Oct. 2007 to Jan. 2008.
Both shows explored the tremendous influence of California graphic design in album art, advertising, book covers and more, so when the show “Eureka: A California Design Story with The Hoods and Friends” was announced as exploring graphic design movements from the Gold Rush to the present, we were intrigued.
The verbiage about the show said that it “honors graphic design movements from the Gold Rush to the present, while chronicling both historic and obscure moments from California’s history.” So is the exhibit about the history of graphic design in the state, or works of original graphic design about the history of California?
Both, as it turns out—and what an intriguing, aesthetically inspiring, and educational exhibit it is.
Curators Amy and Jennifer Hood, co-founders of Hoodzpah Design, asked some 40 graphic designers to each create a single poster-like piece about some fact, event or person from the state’s past, and to have the work reflect the style of the era it depicts.
The works are then tacked up in order of the eras they depict, with credits and notes added in such a way that result is as much a creative “idea wall” as a museum exhibition.
Several of the historic topics chosen are well-known, including the Donner Party, San Francisco’s Chinatown and our own Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Others are more obscure, including a poster depicting Moses Rodgers, who was born a slave in Missouri and became one of the most respected mining engineers during the California Gold Rush.
Another favorite is a poster about the Victory Book Campaign during WWII. “You can fight the fascists…with good books!” it says, and includes information about California librarian Althea Warren, who led the nationwide campaign that collected books for servicemen and servicewomen. According to the poster, “Californians like you donated some 500,000 books to the men and women in our Armed Services.”
The exhibit is free at the gallery, which is open Thursday-Sunday. But the unique show only runs through Sunday, Feb. 11. Hopefully the curators will publish a catalogue of the show.
One Californian who no doubt would have enjoyed the show is the late Huell Howser. The next exhibit at the Great Park Gallery will be “Golden Parks: Huell Howser,” and will explore several of the California parks the TV legend documented on his public television series.
The upcoming exhibition runs March 4–May 13, 2018, will be presented in partnership with Chapman University Leatherby Libraries, home of the Huell Howser Archives.