When I first entered the Yale School of Architecture’s newest exhibit, “Everything Loose Will Land,” I was confronted by a triangular fortress, 20 feet wide on each leg with rectangular portals, towering up to the ceiling amidst dangling neon shapes. The structure, created by Bruce Nauman in 1980, is aptly named “Untitled (Equilateral Triangle).” I can’t help but wonder if it’s a peace offering from a delegation of geometry-happy alien invaders. Regardless, it’s landed bravely in this 1970s Los Angeles architecture exhibit, inviting us futuristic trespassers to step inside.
“Everything Loose Will Land,” originally displayed by the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House in Los Angeles, is inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s declaration, “Tip the world on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” The exhibit explores the relationship between postmodern art and architecture as a function of changing cultural drama, a relationship somewhat as centerless as Wright’s interpretation of the city. Still, the exhibit attempts to ground itself with four themed sections clustered around the “Untitled” structure: “Procedures,” “Users,” “Environment” and “Lumens.”
Don’t attempt to tour the pieces without doing some background reading — curator and UCLA professor Sylvia Lavin provides a thorough and necessary explanation of the exhibit’s themes. “Procedures” showcases the new methods of producing architecture developed in the 1970s through the simplification of building tools, allowing for an increased unity between architecture and art. “Users” transforms the nature of architecture by actively participating in architecture, often using buildings as tools. “Environments” incorporates a study of factors such as limited space, pollution and noise. Finally, “Lumens” deals with the influx of contemporary lighting and its effect on how the surrounding environment, art and architecture were perceived.
This is less an architecture exhibit than a contemplation of the ideas that built 1970s Los Angeles. Sometimes, the relevancy of the pieces to architecture was more obvious, as in the model of an Ajax Car Rental station built by Peter de Bretteville and Keith Godard, and a 2–4–6–8 House Kit, instructions tucked neatly into a small box on how to assemble a simple home. In these pieces, the simplification of tools and procedures, and the desire of users to be more active in the production and manipulation of architecture, manifest clearly as contributors to 1970s Los Angeles design culture.
Other pieces struggled to fit so cleanly within the confines of the exhibition’s thematic limits. In the “Users” section, I found myself face to face with Robert Mangurian’s “Portable Person,” an amalgamation of a human skeleton X-ray with various wires, chips and technological gizmos. Fascinating, yes — Mangurian incorporates everything from an antenna to improve communication to life-support features. A computer chip appears to rest where the skeleton’s heart ought to be. But the relationship between the “Portable Person” and architecture is a stretch, even with the bridge of the “Users” theme. In the “Environments” section, uncomfortable images of “17 Beautiful Men Taking a Shower” leapt away from otherwise obviously architecturally relevant pieces. The influence of cultural growth on art and the Los Angeles population was clearly portrayed, but the connection between these developments and architecture sometimes left me grasping. “Everything Loose Will Land” takes a leap of faith between its thematic content and Los Angeles architecture itself.
Just before I entered “Lumens,” the final section of the exhibit, I noticed a slideshow of projected images against the back wall. The West Coast seized me, a Midwestern girl who had never seen the Pacific Ocean. I let 1970s Los Angeles wash over me in snapshots: highway congestion, skyscrapers, a man sleeping, smog, birds above the ocean, tunnels, palm trees, more traffic, natives surfing, an advertisement for a McDonalds’ Quarter Pounder. At last, I felt at ease in the exhibit. I had fallen loose from New Haven, tumbling past blueprints and posters and cardboard chairs, and landed in this strange town called Los Angeles, where perhaps, for a few moments, I could belong.
“Everything Loose Will Land” is daring and self-assured. The thematic premise is initially perplexing, but the cultural awareness in the gallery is gripping. I came away from the exhibit less with a sense of 1970s Los Angeles architecture than with a sense of 1970s Los Angeles entrepreneurship in a fiercely energetic, technological age. The exhibit never promised clarity, or cohesion — only landing. To find peace in this strange world of yesteryear is quite the destination.