This is the interwoven story of two of Richard Neutra’s more important commissions, i.e., movie director Josef von Sternberg’s house in Northridge and fellow movie director Dudley Murphy’s Holiday House Motel in Malibu. (See above and below). Neutra and his circle’s involvement with the California Art Club also played a significant role in eventually landing these plum projects. Neutra’s dynamic energy and focus, penchant for global self-promotion, and resoluteness in the search for clients to survive the Great Depression and to begin to build his legacy resulted in an ever-growing orbit of important friends, acquaintances, contacts and colleagues. Former partner and landlord R. M. Schindler and his wife Pauline were most important to the development of Neutra’s personal network as Richard, Dione and baby Frank were welcomed as tenants at Kings Road on March 7, 1925. They remained until May 1930 when Neutra embarked on his all-important career-building world tour.
The Schindler’s coterie of intelligentsia and California Art Club-affiliated avant-garde artists automatically became the Neutras’ as anyone who has visited the intimate surroundings at Kings Road will understand. Dione wrote her mother in September 1925, “We are slowly drawn into the whirl of social activities, although we are only starting to make acquaintances…” (From Richard Neutra: Promise & Fulfillment, 1919-1932 by Dione Neutra, p. 144). (For much more detail on this see my “Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Moderinism” hereinafter referred to as PGS).
The Schindlers’ relationship with Aline Barnsdall, Pauline as one of Aline’s kindergarten teachers (with her husband’s future client Leah Lovell) and R. M. as her post-Frank Lloyd Wright architect, also plays an important part in this story. (See also PGS). Aline donated her Frank Lloyd Wright-designed and R. M. Schindler-supervised Hollyhock House and surrounding compound to the City of Los Angeles in 1926 with the provision that the California Art Club be granted a 15-year lease to use Hollyhock as a clubhouse and gallery space. (See below).
Mary Marsh Buff by Edward Weston, 1922. (From The Art & Life of Conrad Buff, by Will South, George Stern Fine Arts, 2000, p. 45 hereinafter Buff).
The Buffs then quickly became friends with Schindler tenants Karl and Edith Howenstein. One of RMS’s first friends after he moved to Chicago in 1914, Karl Howenstein was employed at the Art Institute of Chicago after a brief stint working for Louis Sullivan. (See my R. M. Schindler, Richard Neutra and Louis Sullivan’s “Kindergarten Chats” for more details). After the Schindlers moved to Los Angeles in 1920 to work on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House for Aline Barnsdall, the Howensteins followed in 1922 where Karl took a position at the Otis Art Institute. They moved into the Schindler’s Kings Road House for about two years between 1922 and 1924.
Thanksgiving at Kings Road, 1923. Clockwise around the table from left, Dorothy Gibling (Pauline’s sister), Betty and A. R. Brandner, obscured, Max Pons, Herman Sachs (back center), Karl Howenstein (far right), Edith Howenstein, Anton Martin Feller, E. Clare Schooler, and unidentified. Not shown, the Schindlers Photo by R. M. Schindler. From ”Life at Kings Road: As It Was 1920-1940″ by Robert Sweeney in The Architecture of R. M. Schindler, p. 97
Buff spoke of the Howensteins (see above far right) in his Oral History,
“One of the friends that we got acquainted with was a man by the name of [Karl] Howenstein. He came from Chicago, and he and his wife were quite progressive minded, he was all for modem art and at the same time he was a Freudian. He was interested in psychoanalysis, and together with modern art and talks on psychoanalysis he captivated us, and we became quite good friends.” (Conrad Buff Oral History Transcript, p. 122, hereafter CB)
Howenstein would go on to become Managing Director of the Otis Art Institute which was housed in the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art building and which also had numerous California Art Club members on the faculty. The 1923-24 Otis Catalogue seen below lists both Mary Marsh Buff and William Wendt, a founding member and early president of the California Art Club, on the Advisory Committee. The president of the California Art Club, E. Roscoe Shrader was also Dean of Faculty at Otis between 1922 and 1949. (For more on Howenstein’s background and his indirect influence on Harwell Hamilton Harris’s career choice see Mod).
Buff stated in his oral history,
“About 1922, I joined the California Art Club. The California Art Club in those days was practically the only club in Los Angeles that represented the artists. They had a yearly show at the Los Angeles Museum [of History, Science and Art], that was a privilege they had, and it was quite the show of the year, although there was another exhibition that took place in the fall where everybody was eligible to submit their works to a jury. In those days, the museum was really a place where the artists were treated royally, not like now where everybody has to send pictures in and submit them to a jury and be perhaps in competition with ten thousand others. In those days, the museum would come to your house, pick up the pictures, and submit them to the jury. Practically everybody that had half-way decent work would be accepted. After the show was over, the museum would bring the pictures back. So it was a golden age for the artists.
In the middle ’20′s or the later ’20s, the club had a wonderful opportunity. Miss Barnsdall of Barnsdall Hill gave her residence to the club, to be solely used by the club. I don’t know why Miss Barnsdall didn’t like her house, although at this time it was considered the most beautiful building In Los Angeles. It was, of course designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the supervising architect was Rudolph Schindler; as I said, it was quite a remarkable building and everybody liked it except the other architects. The architects were down on Frank Lloyd Wright. We were very fortunate in having this privilege of using the building for fifteen years. She gave us a fifteen-year lease on the building.”
Schindler and Neutra friend Kem Weber led a team of CAC members including Frederick Monhoff, Edouard Vysekal, Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier (see above) and others in “designing and providing the special requisites for conversion of [Hollyhock House's] future uses in the cause of art.” (“Art Magazines in East Hear of Clubhouse Here,” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1927, p. I-5). The Club held its formal opening and inaugural exhibition on Olive Hill beginning on August 31, 1927 featuring 225 works by many “ecstatic artists” in the Schindler-Neutra circle including Edward, Brett and Chandler Weston, Conrad Buff, Annita Delano and undoubtedly many others. (“Art Club Takes Over New Home,” Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1927, p. I-1).Weston wrote in his Daybooks of the opening,
“[Margrethe Mather] came to choose prints for the photographic exhibition in connection with the formal opening of the new Calif. Art Club house, Olive Hill, Hollywood. (See below). Three of Brett’s photographs will be hung, four of mine, and one of Chandler’s.” (The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Vol. II, California, p. 38). (For more on the Westons and Buff see PGS and for more on Delano see “Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism: Richard Neutra’s Mod Squad” hereinafter referred to as Mod).)
Hollyhock House, 1927 (new home of the California Art Club). Margrethe Mather photograph. From Margrethe Mather & Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration by Beth Gates Warren, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2001, p. 120. Courtesy Getty Research Institute Special Collections.
One of the features of the month-long opening exhibitions was a showing of 64 European travel and advertising posters collected by Barnsdall in her latest travels. (See above). She commissioned Schindler to design the distinctive outdoor display panels seen in the above photo and in two photos in a review in the Times a few days later. (“Barnsdall Park – A City Cultural Center,” Los Angeles Times, September 4, 1927, p. I-6). Schindler was likely working on the installation about the time Pauline packed up son Mark and left Kings Road sometime in August after some protracted marital difficulties likely related to R. M.’s philandering ways. Conrad Buff recalled Schindler’s infidelity,
“Schindler had built a house on Kings Road. Schlndler, besides being a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, was a very handsome fellow. He was quite a ladles’ man, and part of his business was to make love to all the ladles he could. He had a very interesting wife, but that didn’t bother him. There was quite a group of people that used to meet down at Schlndler’s house.” (Buff, p. 123).
This was also the same month Philip Lovell commissioned Neutra to begin design on his Health House near Griffith Park. In the spring of 1928 Lovell also chose Neutra over Schindler to design his Physical Culture Center at 154 W. 12th St. in downtown Los Angeles which entailed remodeling over 5,000 sq. ft. of industrial space. (“Four Leases Completed by Company Here,” Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1928, p. V-6). (For much more detail see PGS).
Shortly after the CAC inaugural festivities Conrad Buff also commissioned Neutra to design his garage and studio entrance at 1225 Linda Rosa in Eagle Rock. (See below and Buff, p. 124-5). The building permit for same was issued on January 30, 1928 thus this was quite a busy period for Neutra with three concurrent projects on the boards.
Neutra spent all of 1928 working feverishly on the Lovell Health House design and all of 1929 overseeing its construction. Neutra’s name is first mentioned in association with the CAC in the September 1928 issue of the CAC Bulletin announcing his inclusion along with Kings Road salon habitues and CAC members R. M. Schindler, Jock Peters, Kem Weber, Edward Weston, Annita Delano, Henrietta Shore, Edouard Vysekal, George Stanley, and Frederick Monhoff in the December exhibition “Decorative and Fine Arts of Today” at Bullock’s Department Store curated by Delano. (This period is covered in much detail in both my PGS and Mod). Many of this group were also working on the interiors of the new Bullock’s Wilshire store then under construction. Of the trend towards modernism in design L. A. Times art critic Arthur Millier wrote,
“Following the lead of similar exhibitions in New York and other large cities, this is in the nature of an experiment in which the local public’s pulse will be felt. … [including] fine art, craft work and architectural exhibits from those artists of Southern California who are working in the modern spirit of simple, sensitive design.” (Millier, Arthur, “Decorative Art of Today,” L.A. Times, December 9, 1928, p. III-13).
Delano included in the exhibition: 15 Edward Weston photographs, paintings, drawings and sculpture from Peter Krasnow, two or her own watercolors, eight lithographs and paintings from Henrietta Shore, Kem Weber designs for an entrance hall, dining room, bedroom and bathroom, sculpture by George Stanley, R. M. Schindler’s Wolfe House on Catalina Island, Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach, and 3 other projects, five interiors designed by Jock Peters, drawings and watercolors by Edouard Vysekal, architectural designs by Fred Monhoff, Richard Neutra’s Rush City railroad terminal, office and store building and Metropolitan Business District and more by others.
A follow-up “Modern Arts” exhibition sponsored by the Los Angeles Architectural Club, likely also curated by Delano, featured many of the same CAC members such as Kem Weber, Richard Neutra, R. M. Schindler, Conrad Buff, George Stanley, Feil & Paradise and J. R. Davidson and took place at the Architect’s Building at 5th and Figueroa. (“Modern Design to be Architect’s Subject,” Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1929).
Neutra was concurrently teaching his “Practical Course in Modern Building Art” at F. K. Ferenz’s Academy of Modern Art and compiling his second book Amerika: Die Stilbildung des Neuen Bauens in den Vereinigten Staaten which was published in 1930. The students in Neutra’s class were nearly all members of the California Art Club as were a large number of his and Schindler’s social circle prompting both him and Ferenz to also join the organization in February 1929. (See class picture at the beginning of my Mod and “Welcome!” California Art Club Bulletin, February 1929, p. 6).
California Art Club guest book entries, May 4-9, 1928 courtesy of Eric Merrell, current CAC historian. I highly recommend his Siqueiros in Los Angeles and His Collaborations with the California Art Club for more detailed information.
Like his friend Conrad Buff, Neutra presciently viewed CAC membership as a possible entree to potential clients. Ferenz likely joined to make similar contacts for future gallery exhibitions and attract more students to his Academy. Ferenz, already a frequent CAC visitor, had previously viewed the Vysekal’s exhibition at the CAC on May 6, 1928, likely prompted by Millier’s same day review. (See above and Millier, A., “Vysekals in Full Showing,” Los Angeles Times, May 6, p. IV-30).
Neutra and Schindler participated in a debate “Modern versus Classical Style” at the Club on February 18, 1929 against the team of Vincent Palmer and Vernon McClurg. (“Architects to Debate Styles This Evening,” Los Angeles Times, February 18, p. I-5). A month after Neutra joined the CAC, he and friend Buff were elected officers. Neutra was elected second vice-president while Buff became recording secretary for the year beginning April 1st. (“Art Club Names New Officers and Director,” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1929, p. IV-8 and letterhead below). Ferenz lectured at the Club shortly after signing up on the topic “What is Modern Art?” and again in June as part of a panel discussion on, “Does Thrift Cripple the Imagination?” (“Ferenz Will Lecture at Art Club’s Forum,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1929, p. I-18 and “Symposium Arranged,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1929, p. I-3).
The Aristocracy of Art by Merle Armitage, Jake Zeitlin, 1929. From my collection.
Neutra and Schindler participated in a debate “Modern versus Classical Style” at the Club on February 18, 1929 against the team of Vincent Palmer and Vernon McClurg. (“Architects to Debate Styles This Evening,” Los Angeles Times, February 18, p. I-5). A month after Neutra joined the CAC, he and friend Buff were elected officers. Neutra was elected second vice-president while Buff became recording secretary for the year beginning April 1st. (“Art Club Names New Officers and Director,” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1929, p. IV-8 and letterhead below). Jake Zeitlin crony, Schindler salon regular and Weston patron Merle Armitage lectured at the Club on “The Aristocracy of Art” on March 4, 1929. (See above and below). Ferenz lectured at the Club shortly after signing up on the topic “What is Modern Art?” and again in June as part of a panel discussion on, “Does Thrift Cripple the Imagination?” (“Ferenz Will Lecture at Art Club’s Forum,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1929, p. I-18 and “Symposium Arranged,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1929, p. I-3).
Galka Scheyer, (see above) promoter of The Blue Four, was a fellow Kings Road tenant with the Neutras during the summer of 1927 witnessing Pauline’s departure and helping broker the Lovell Health House commission for Neutra. She also played an important indirect role in Neutra’s von Sternberg commission. Academy of Modern Art founder, F. K. Ferenz, UCLA art professor and CAC member Annita Delano and Mexican muralists Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros were also key figures linked to Neutra’s von Sternberg and Dudley Murphy commissions. (For much more on Ferenz, Delano and Scheyer see Mod and for more on Siqueiros see PGS).
“…[Alexander] Archipenko, who we wanted to exhibit while waiting for the modern museum, has meanwhile sold 16 works via an art dealer in hollywood to a von Sternberg, a movie person. I contacted him (Henry Braxton) immediately; he is coming here and is interested in the Blue Four. If something comes of that…I will telegram.” (Galka E. Scheyer and the Blue Four Correspondence, 1924-1945 edited by isabel Wunche, p. 163-4).
An agent without a gallery, the shrewd Scheyer was eager to associate with Braxton’s establishment, as she had with the Oakland Art Gallery in the Bay Area, to both mount exhibitions of the Blue Four and other avant-garde artists and to gain entree into Hollywood’s elite emigre circle, especially von Sternberg. Scheyer and Braxton hammered out the details for a long-term collaboration in May in San Francisco right after his Archipenko show and she convinced him to move to a more desirable location. (Galka E. Scheyer and the Blue Four Correspondence, 1924-1945 edited by isabel Wunche, p. 115 hereinafter Scheyer).
“I will explain in telegraphic shorthand because I have absolutely no time to write in detail. My telegraphic style will be so mathematically clear that you will drink a bottle of champagne in honor of the “Blue Four”
Hollywood … an art dealer . . . rich film people … Archipcnko sold 18 works before the opening … Name of art dealer Braxton … has been in Hollywood for 6 month, (from New York), was here on the 25th of May (with wife) … Both wildly enthusiastic … and appreciative. Result: September 1- 15, Jawlensky exhibition … September 15 – October 1, Kandinsky, October 1- 15, Feininger, October I5 – November 1, Klee.
Engaged for 4 lectures at $100 each. Big contract with the notary, Mr. Clapp, director of the Oakland Museum, mme. Scheyer, and Mr. Braxton.
Farewell San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley. Hello Hollywood (Will I end up a movie star after all?). I am just about to pack up and move south.” (Scheyer, p. 166).
Scheyer probably became acquainted with Braxton through Archipenko’s wife Gela and/or her Schindler salon connection with CAC member and Times art critic Arthur Millier. Galka and Gela were frequent traveling companions. They came to Los Angeles together in 1925 where they first met Schindler, Neutra and Herman Sachs. (For more on this see Mod). They also traveled throughout Bali together collecting art during 1931. Scheyer recommended Schindler to Braxton for the design of his new gallery (see below) and a year earlier also recommended him to Director William H. Clapp for the design of a new Oakland Art Gallery which was never built.
Galka collaborated on Braxton’s gallery design (see above illustrations) and helped plan the initial exhibitions in the new space. (See “Braxton Gallery, 1928-1929, Hollywood” by Naomi Sawelson-Gorse in The Furniture of R. M. Schindler, UCSB, p. 88). Schindler completed the “ultra-modern” gallery in time for a September 1929 opening.
Arthur Millier gave the avant-garde space a rave review with a September 15, 1929 article “‘Ultra’ Gallery Arrives: Hollywood Sees ‘Modern’ Spaces and Angles as Background for Art.”Braxton and Scheyer had originally planned to open the new space with the “Blue Four” but their most important prospective client, movie director Josef von Sternberg, had already scheduled a trip to Europe to direct the filming of The Blue Angel, his first effort with Marlene Dietrich and Germany’s first “talkie.” By mid-February of 1930 the film was complete and von Sternberg returned to Los Angeles as soon as he was satisfied with the final cut. The film premiered in Berlin on March 30th and New York in mid-April. (“UFA Film Wins Plaudits; Von Sternberg On Return Contrasts Problems of Producing ‘The Blue Angel’ in Germany,” Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1930, p. II-9 and The Blue Angel: The Life and Films of Marlene Dietrich, by David Stuart Ryan, p. 44).
Braxton and Scheyer substituted CAC member and Schindler salon regular Peter Krasnow, whom von Sternberg had also collected, for the inaugural September 1929 show which included seven of his carved wood reliefs. (Scheyer, pp. 170-174). Schindler and Neutra had recently collaborated with Krasnow on the design of a major commission for a ceremonial cabinet for Temple Emmanuel-El San Francisco described in a July 28, 1929 L.A. Times article “Krasnow’s Work Shown” as “an unusual thing of wood and glass which houses vestments and religious objects.” Krasnow carved the panels which were applied to the sides of the chest. Close friend Edward Weston was shown the chest in December 1928 after which he wrote in his Daybook, “I take my hat off to you Peter, for a superb piece of work both in conception and technical execution. Tears came to my eyes,…” (Weston, p. 98).
Scheyer also likely encouraged Schindler to approach von Sternberg directly in an attempt to interest him in a commission for a new house knowing they would meet at the opening of the Blue Four exhibitions at the new Braxton Gallery. While Neutra was preoccupied with overseeing construction of the Lovell Health House and he was designing the new Braxton Gallery space, Schindler wrote to von Sternberg,
“The movie director who wants to create thorobreds can do nothing but wait until the public grows eyes. The architect who is limited by economic considerations, might thru some chance find a client who already has eyes. I, a pupil of Otto Wagner, of Vienna, have been trying to develop contemporary building in Los Angeles for the last eight years, without finding anyone whose imagination could follow me to the end. Miss Barnsdall who has appreciated my schemes for translucent space architecture, has so far used me to build half-breeds. You are reputed to be a contemporary artist of imagination and achievement. May I present to you a new conception of architecture, which transcends the childish freaks of the fashionable modernique decorator?” (R. M. Schindler to Josef von Sternberg, June 10, 1929, Architecture and Design Collection, UC Santa Barbara).
Schindler’s attempt at self-promotion proved unsuccessful in the von Sternberg case. Little did he know at the time that five years later, the famed director would commission instead his erstwhile partner Neutra to design the modern country house which would become recognized as one of his best works.
Neutra and his pride and joy. From the Los Angeles Public Library photo collection.
Neutra’s strategy was successful for the most part as articles appeared in Architectural Record (7 pp. with 7 Morgan photos and floor plans), Das Neue Frankfurt, Die Form, Stavba, Cahiers d’Art, and others and in influential books such as Herbert Hoffmann’s Die Neue Raumkunst in Europa und Amerika, Sheldon Cheney’s The New World Architecture, and Bruno Taut’s Modern Architecture, not to mention his own book Amerika: Die Stilbildung des Neuen Bauens in den VerienigtenWie Baut Amerika?
Exhibition Poster for “Contemporary Creative Architecture of California”, UCLA April 21-29. Courtesy of the UC-Santa Barbara, University Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, R. M. Schindler Collection.
In early 1930 Pauline Schindler organized and curated a traveling exhibition of Contemporary Creative Architects of California featuring the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, R. M. Schindler, Jock D. Peters, John Weber, Kem Weber and J. R. Davidson. (See announcement above). The exhibition was on display at UCLA from April 21-29, 1930 and the related Symposium featuring CAC members Richard Neutra, R. M. Schindler and Kem Weber took place on April 27th. CAC member and UCLA art department faculty member Annita Delano likely had much to do with arranging the opening venue for the exhibition. The same show minus Wright, who objected to his erstwhile disciples piggybacking on his fame, also traveled to the CAC clubhouse at Barnsdall Park after Neutra’s departure in June (see announcement below) before traveling the Western Art Museum circuit to the Honolulu Academy of Fine Arts, the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle, The Portland Art Association and the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery. (R. M. Schindler by Judith Sheine, Phaidon, 2001, p. 256). (See PGS for much more on this exhibition).
“Contemporary Creative Architecture of California” Exhibition announcement designed by Pauline Schindler, 1930. Courtesy of the UC-Santa Barbara, University Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, R. M. Schindler Collection.
Braxton and Scheyer’s second show in the new Vine Street gallery was an exhibition of Edward Weston photographs of which Millier wrote, “At Braxton’s we see Weston sharpening the single eye of his camera to exact from nature the minutest details barely visible to the human eye. His approach to art is by way of absolute realism, realism such as should commend itself to the most hide-bound academician.” (Millier, Arthur, “Realism or Abstraction,” Los Angeles Times, February 9, 1930, p. II-17). Weston had a concurrent show open February 8th at the Denny-Watrous Gallery in Carmel.
Scheyer’s “Blue Four” series of individual shows soon followed in March and April 1930 (see above) after von Sternberg’s return from Europe in late February. Scheyer was able to enlist von Sternberg to co-sponsor the exhibitions (see below), which were all favorably reviewed by Millier.
It is highly likely that Neutra attended the March and April 1930 Braxton Gallery openings for the Blue Four exhibitions seems almost a certainty that he met von Sternberg at same. He also likely learned of von Sternberg’s soon to be released movie The Blue Angel about this time.
In late May, knowing they would never return to Kings Road, Richard and Dione packed their meager belongings and archives and moved out to begin their long journey. The Buff’s allowed them to store their boxes in the previously-mentioned garage Neutra designed for their house in Eagle Rock for the duration of the trip. Dione headed directly to Europe with young Frank and Dion in tow to stay with relatives while Richard set sail for Japan to reconnect with his Japanese architect friends he met during his brief apprenticeship at Wright’s Taliesin.
“To Richard Neutra’s [Kings Road] for supper: other guests were Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Davidson, and [future Schindler client] Dr. Alexander Kaun and wife. Dr. Kaun I met years ago at Margrethe’s, but only casually. I like Richard so much, and found Kaun and the others stimulating, so the evening was a rare gathering I do not regret. Even the showing of my work was not the usual boresome task. I felt such a genuine attitude. Neutra is always keenly responsive, and knows whereof he speaks. Representing in America an important exhibit of photography [Film und Foto] to be held in Germany this summer, he has given me complete charge of collecting the exhibit, choosing the ones whose work I consider worthy of showing, and of writing the catalogue forward to the American group. … I have busy days ahead.” (Weston, pp. 102-3 and for more on Alexander Kaun and Film und Foto see PGS).
Orozco had arrived in Los Angeles on March 22, 1930 to execute a mural at Pomona College’s new Frary Dining Hall through a commission arranged by Professor Jose Pijoan, then teaching at Pomona, and fellow Mexican artist Jorge Juan Crespo de la Serna, then teaching at Chouinard Art Institute. In a dialogue with Frary Hall architect Sumner Spaulding, Pijoan convinced him that a mural would be a fitting decoration and originally wanted Diego Rivera to perform the work. Crespo convinced Pijoan that Orozco would be better for the job. Arrangements were made to bring Orozco to the West Coast from New York to complete the massive Prometheus fresco. (See below).
“Sunday, Anita and I went to Coyoacan for a visit with Orozco the painter. I had hardly known his work before, which I found fine and strong. His cartoons - splendid drawings, in which he spared no one, neither capitalist nor revolutionary leader-were scathing satires, quite as helpful in destroying a “cause,” heroes and villains alike, as a machine gun. I would place Orozco among the first four or five painters in Mexico, perhaps higher. Monday eve he came to see my work. I have no complaint over his response. I wish I had known him sooner, – now it is almost too late.” (The Daybooks of Edward Weston, I. Mexico, p. 158).
“July 21. The coming of Clemente Orozco and Alma Reed will go down as an important day in my personal history. I am to open the season with a one-man exhibit in Alma Reed’s New York Gallery: but more important she is to keep my work, feature it along with Orozco’s, to the exclusion of all other artists.’ … Around the grate fire Saturday night I showed my work. Orozco had not seen it since Mexico. … Alma Reed asked “When could you be ready to exhibit in New York?” ”Tomorrow.,” I answered. So she told me: ” I had decided to discontinue the work of handling, showing, all other artists except Clemente,- the gallery was really started to ‘put him over,’ - because of my belief in his greatness. Now I have seen your work. It complements his-there is no conflict – you both are striving toward the same end. Clemente and I have discussed it,-we want you to be the only other artist the gallery will show and promote.” (Weston, p. 177).
Jose Clemente Orozco portrait by Edward Weston, Carmel, July 20, 1930.
While in Carmel, Orozco consigned a portfolio of his lithographs to the Denny-Watrous Gallery for shows beginning in late July and early September. The above portrait of Orozco was also displayed alongside other Weston studies of contemporary Mexican artists including Diego Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias, Doctor Atl, Tina Modotti and Jean Charlot. Weston wrote a profile on Orozco for The Carmelite in which he stated,
“Comparisons are unnecessary. Orozco stands alone, with the uniqueness of a great artist. His pencil or brush is capable of vitriolic satire or tender compassion, his presentation is direct: stark beauty, free from all frosting, all sugar coating. There is no compromise in Orozco, the quintessence of his subject is revealed stripped to the very bones. He has structural solidity plus emotional fire – a rare combination in contemporary artists – usually either cold from theorizing or lukewarm from weak heart or evasion. Oroszco is the visionary sweeping aside all minor issues, seeing life majestically its heights or depths, with a gesture beyond good and evil.” (Weston, Edward, “Orozco in Carmel,” The Carmelite, July 31, 1930, p. 3).
In October Time Magazine wrote of the events leading up to Orozco’s Prometheus commission,
“The West’s view of Orozco, a view of one of the finest things he has done, was made possible by the removal of some scaffolding from the dining hall of Pomona College, 40 mi. south of Los Angeles. Last winter, head of Pomona’s art department was Professor Jose Pijoan, authority on Latin American art, avid Orozcoan. So long, so vigorously did he preach Orozco to the sons and daughters of Pomona that on their own initiative they invited Orozco to come west, decorate their dining hall. “We have no money,” said Prof. Pijoan when Orozco arrived, “at present only $500.” Artist Orozco glowered through his glasses. “Never mind about that,” he said. “Have you got a wall?” When Artist Orozco returned to New York he left behind a huge ogival Michel-angelican fresco, 25 x 35 ft. representing a giant Prometheus bearing the fire of truth, in pulsating Mexican color. Wrote Critic Arthur Millier of the Los Angeles Times: “The wall has been energized by the genius of Orozco until it lives as probably no wall in the United States today.” Long-legged Arnold Ronnebeck of the Denver Times was even more enthusiastic. Added Sumner Spaulding (see below), architect of Pomona’s dining hall: ”I feel as though the building would fall down if the fresco were removed.” (From “Wall Man,” Time, October 13, 1930).
The same month the Time article was published Orozco was featured in two exhibitions of his lithographs in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Museum and Jake Zeitlin‘s Book Shop. Arthur Millier’s review favorably described Orozco’s ”Ruined House” (see above), “Grief,” “Mexican Pueblo” (see below) and others and ended with the statement, “The appreciation of Orozco in this country is only beginning.” (“Art Season is Under Way,” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 1930, p. II-16).
After leaving Europe for Los Angeles in late November 1930, Neutra took over a month stopover in New York trying to find a publisher for a book on the Lovell Health House. The book was to feature the photos of CAC member Willard D. Morgan which documented construction during Neutra’s “Practical Course in Modern Building Art.” (For much more on this see Mod). Despite not finding a publisher, Neutra was assuredly pleased to see his previously-mentioned Willard Morgan-illustrated Conrad Buff project featured in the November issue of the Architectural Record and likely knew by then that his Lovell Health House with Morgan photos had also been published by the Record‘s modernist managing editor A. Lawrence Kocher in the May 1930 issue.
These important appearances in the East Coast-based Record likely occurred through the coordination efforts of Pauline Schindler who was acting as publicity agent for a modernist circle of Los Angeles architects and designers. She, along with Morgan’s independent submittals and recent friendship with Architectural Record assistant editor Douglas Haskell, was able to strategically place 15 articles featuring work by Neutra, Schindler, Lloyd Wright, J. R. Davidson, Kem Weber, Jock Peters and others with Kocher (and Haskell) between late 1929 and 1931. (PGS and Mod).
Through his aggressive self-promotion while in New York Neutra made some very important connections that would bode well for his career including, besides Kocher, Philip Johnson and his father Homer, corporate attorney for ALCOA, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Joseph Urban, Ely Jacques Kahn, Lewis Mumford, Raymond Hood, Buckminster Fuller, Bruno Paul, Ralph Walker, and many others. Through Urban’s connections, Neutra and the rest of Pauline Schindler’s clients were included in the April, 1931 Architectural League of New York’s 50th anniversary exhibition which was held in conjunction with the Allied Arts and Building Products Exhibition in New York’s Grand Central Palace. (See above). (Note: The exhibition also had the distinction of including soon-to-be Southern California modernist Albert Frey’s (in partnership with Kocher) full-scale “Aluminaire: A House for Contemporary Life” ). Neutra and R. M. Schindler corresponded regarding details of the show during Neutra’s stay in New York. (Hines, p. 99 and note 24., p. 327 and Sheine, p. 256 and note 6., p. 284).
The majority of the Los Angeles work shown in the League’s show was likely a reprise of Pauline Schindler’s “Creative Contemporary Architecture” exhibition which had just completed its circuit of West Coast museums. (PGS). Weber, Davidson, Peters and Wright’s work moved on the following month to the Brooklyn Museum’s American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC) exhibition and was published in the organization’s first “Annual of American Design.”
Auditorium, New School for Social Research designed by Joseph Urban.
Neutra also met Dr. Alvin Johnson, the director of the New School for Social Research whose new building was recently completed by Urban. Through Urban’s help he was also chosen by Johnson to deliver the opening three lectures in the new auditorium (see above) “to test its novel acoustics, as it were.” (Life and Shape by Richard Neutra, p. 258; “R. J. Neutra Lectures Tonight,” New York Times, January 4, 1931 and for much on his self-promotional efforts while in New York see Richard Neutra: Promise and Fulfillment, 1919-1932, pp. 193-209). Neutra lectured on “The Relation of the New Architecture on the Housing Problem,” “The American Contribution to the New Architecture,” and “The Skyscraper and the New Problem of City Planning.” (Hines, p. 98).
Main floor and Auditorium, Art Center Building, 65-67 E. 56th St., New York. Photo by H. Shobbrook. Bulletin of the Art Center, June 1923, p. 244.
Neutra also lectured on “The New Architecture” on January 4th at the Art Center under the auspices of the Art Center, the American Union of Decorative Arts and Crafts (AUDAC), and Contempora and January 7th at the Roehrich Museum (see below) on “New Architecture Shapes a New Human Environment in Europe, Asia and America.” (“R. J. Neutra Lectures Tonight,”and ”What is Going On This Week,” New York Times, January 4, 1931). Neutra’s Art Center lecture was likely facilitated through Los Angeles colleague Kem Weber’s AUDAC connections and his critical acclaim from participating in the 1928 International Exposition of Art in Industry Exposition sponsored by Macy’s in New York. (For more details see my Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism).
Orozco, “Struggle in the Orient” (top) and Struggle in the Occident” (bottom). From Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927-1934pp. 124-5.
“The East’s view of Orozco is obtainable this week at the Metropolitan Museum, Manhattan. Two of his huge canvases [completed in San Francisco during the summer] are part of the loan exhibition of Mexican art circulated by the Carnegie Institute and the American Federation of Arts, sponsored by ex-Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow and Dr. Frederick A. Keppel. Artist Orozco himself is further downtown squatting on a scaffold in the New School of Social Research, (see above) painting great swirling designs on wet plaster with a very small brush. Beside him his master plasterer and assistant Juan Jorge Crespo, prepares the wall for Orozco to paint, two square yards at a time. “Fresco painting,” explained Artist Orozco, “has much to do with the time of day. If I start one piece at ten in the morning, I must start the next piece at ten the next morning so that the colors will dry the same.” (From “Wall Man,” Time, October 13, 1930).
There is a good chance Neutra may also have hooked up with Los Angeles friends John Weber, Jock Peters, Barbara and Willard Morgan and Annita Delano about this same time. The Morgans had recently moved to New York from Los Angeles into a building also occupied by Architectural Record assistant editor Douglas Haskell whom Neutra may also have met. Weber and Peters were putting the finishing touches on the interiors of the L. P. Hollander Building in collaboration with Eleanor Lemaire after completing the Bullock’s Wilshire interiors the year before. Annita Delano was also in town over the Christmas holidays from her internship at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia to visit the Morgans, Lemaire, Peters and Weber and view the Hollander work. At Weber’s 11th hour request, Annita and Barbara rushed a mural onto the walls the night before the store opened. It is thus highly likely that members of this group took in a Neutra lecture or two at The New School for Social Research, the Art Center and/or the recently completed Roerich Museum in early January. (For more details see my Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism).
Neutra’s exhaustive New York networking effort undoubtedly helped secure his place in the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal Modern Architecture International Exhibition the following year and consequently his legacy as well. Correspondence and documents pertaining to the planning of the exhibition indicate that Neutra’s inclusion was decided upon sometime during January, shortly after his return from a Cleveland interlude at White Motors Company where he was designing an aluminum bus in collaboration with the MoMA show curator Philip Johnson’s father Homer’s ALCOA. (Note: Homer Johnson was also a deep pockets patron of the exhibition and was secretary of the supervisory committee. See for example Riley, pp. 30-31, 39 and 214).
Arthur Millier’s January 25th “News of the Art World” column reported that a homesick Richard Neutra was on his way home from his world tour after giving a series of lectures at New York’s New School for Social Research. (“Neutra Homeward Bound,” Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1931, p. III-5). The Times also reported on April 15th that Neutra would receive a welcome home at the next evening’s California Art Club monthly meeting. (“California Art Club Banquet Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1931, p. 20). A couple of weeks later Neutra lectured at the Club on “Tendencies in Modern Architecture” sharing his findings from his recent globe-trotting tour. (“Art Club Will Hear Lecturer,” Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1931, p. I-2). Dione Neutra accompanied herself on the cello (see below) singing folk songs from India in conjunction with a slide lecture by Joseph Choate on his recent India travel experiences at the CAC’s monthly dinner meeting on November 20th at Barnsdall Park. (“Club to Hear of India,” Los Angeles Times, November 19th, 1931, p. I-2). She must have had great feelings of nostalgia performing in Wright’s Barnsdall House after entertaining at Taliesin seven years earlier. (see two below).
About the time of the Neutra-Schindler Chouinard class Arthur Millier wrote a lengthy and enthusiastic review of California Art Club member and lecturer David Edstrom‘s bust of Josef von Sternberg and the movie director’s extensive art collection. A photo of the Edstrom’s bust and a caricature of Edstrom by von Sternberg accompanied the review. (See above). Millier wrote,
“David Edstrom is one of the finest living portrait sculptors. Josef von Sternberg is unique among motion-picture directors. … The character of the short man who willed to become a director – and became a great one – is expressed entirely in a rythmic interplay of sculptured planes that are not nature at all but a magnificent clear counter-point of forms; curving forms, flat forms, large and small ones. And the sum of these makes something that is at one moment a delightful object in polished brass, the next the sternly willful image of a commanding, yet sensitive man.” (Millier, Arthur, “Creative Minds Unites as Artist and Sculptor,” Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1931, p. III-18). (Author’s note: Edstrom was a habitue of Gertrude Stein’s salons in Paris as early as 1906. See “Sister and Brother: Getrude and Leo Stein” by Brenda Wineapple, pp. 258-9).
The plaster cast of the bust was exhibited in January 1932 in the French Room at the Hollywood Plaza Hotel, long-time residence of the artist which was directly across the street from the Braxton Gallery. (See above). The bronze made from the cast was concurrently on display at the new Stendahl Galleries on Wilshire Blvd. (See below).
Wilshire Blvd. looking west with new Stendahl Galleries in the Clark Building designed by Morgan, Walls & Clements at 3306 Wilshire Blvd. under construction just east of Bullock’s Wilshire at lower left. Photo from Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.
During this same summer of 1931, F. K. Ferenz and Jorge Juan Crespo were bringing to fruition their scheme to create the Plaza Art Center in the old Italian Hall (see below) at 53-55 Olvera Street. The Center was part of a plan to create an art and tourist center in what had been the long-neglected heart of the original city championed by Christine Sterling. Fellow Viennese emigre Ferenz commissioned R. M. Schindler to draw up plans for remodeling the building’s arcade shops including a new restaurant which unfortunately was never built. Future Schindler client, CAC member and lecturer and Viennese emigre, Gisela Bennati, also a creative designer of women’s clothing and later instructor at Otis Art Institute, opened an art shop in one of the arcade stores. (See “Plaza Art Center to Open”, August 16, 1931 Los Angeles Times,“Feminine Attire Art Club Topic,” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1929, I-22; “Embassy Restaurant and Arcade,” 1931 project and “Mountain Cabin for Gisela Bennati, Lake Arrowhead, 1934-7“,in Schindler by David Gebhard, pp. 96, 200). Willy Pogany, a famous Hungarian painter and illustrator recently relocated from New York and then working for United Artists, was mentioned as promising to do a historical fresco on the Olvera Street facade of the building which went unrealized.
“Orozco has several superb wash drawings, notably the dramatic “Requiem” (see below) and a small watercolor of peasant women carrying wood past a pink church wall, which is a masterpiece of his art. … By D. A. Siqueiros is a single small picture, “Prisoner’s Wife,” which proclaims this artist one of the masters of Mexico.” (“Mexican Art Seen at Plaza,” Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1931, p. 12).
Orozco, “Requiem,” ink on paper, 1926-28. From Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927-1934, p. 29.
Crespo lectured at the Plaza Art Center on “Mexican Art and Artists” on September 18th. (“Mexican Artists to Speak,” Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1931, p. II-20).
An expanded version of the Pauline Schindler’s previously-mentioned “Contemporary Creative Architecture in California” exhibition under the new title “Contemporary Architecture, Decoration and Store Design” was the second exhibition at the new Plaza Art Center (see photo below) in October in the building’s newly remodeled second floor gallery space run by the Plaza Art Club. (See “Roundabout the Galleries”, L.A. Times, Oct. 11, 1931 and PGS).
Diego Rivera and Ione Robinson, National Palace, Mexico City, 1929. From A Wall to Paint On by Ione Robinson, p. 22.
Although von Sternberg never showed much interest in politics, he frequented the John Reed Clubs, a network of Marxist discussion groups supported by the Communist Party. At their shows and auctions, he bought paintings by Diego Rivera and Manuel Orozco. (Baxter, p. 164). Through Kollorsz he met Ione Robinson, (see above) a remarkably precocious artist who at the age of 19 had traveled to Mexico in 1929 to work with Rivera on his National Palace murals. (“Girl Artist Back from Paris Study; Talented Los Angeles Miss Plans Work as Mexican Master’s Study,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1929, p. II-1, and “Vandals Mar Murals; Los Angeles Woman Will Repair Noted Mexican’s Paintings,” Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1929, p. 2). During the same year she exhibited work at Jake Zeitlin’s Book Shop and the Los Angeles Museum. (“Current Art Exhibitions,” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1929, p. 21).
Ione Robinson, Mexico City, 1929 by Tina Modotti. From IoneRobinson.org.
While in Mexico City Rivera introduced Robinson to former Edward Weston lover and partner Tina Modotti with whom she immediately moved in with. Weston and Modotti had spent most of 1923-26 together in Mexico. (For more on the complex Weston-Modotti relationship see my “Edward Weston Remembers Tina Modotti“). Through Modotti Ione met communist party ideologue and John Reed Club organizer Joseph Freeman, later the founding editor of the Partisan Review, who quickly became infatuated with her. Shortly thereafter she was seduced by Rivera which enraged Freeman. (Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary by Margaret Hooks, p. 195-6). Ione inscribed the verso of the below photo of herself taken while she was studying in France in 1927-8 “For Diego with all my love.” Ione met and studied with Isamu Noguchi (and likely Marion Greenwood) while in Paris in 1928 and became a life-long friend. (Hooks, p. 44). In 1929 both she and Freeman sat for Tina Modotti and soon began a short-lived, tumultuous marriage. (Hooks, pp. 208-9).
Ione Robinson, France, 1927. Photographer unknown. From Frida Kahlo: Her Photographs edited by Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, p. 271.
Ione Robinson and Sergei Eisenstein, Tetlapayac, June 1931. From A Wall to Paint On by Ione Robinson, p. 88).
Back in Los Angeles in early 1931, Ione had a fling with Edward Weston at a party thrown in his honor at the Palos Verdes Beach Club organized by longtime Weston friends Ramiel McGehee and Mere Armitage. Weston wrote,
“Arriving late, I stepped into an enormous room, – one long table, feast-laden, extended the full length. In front of the fireplace in which the great eucalyptus logs blazed, a regiment of lobsters, in uniforms red, awaited the attack. Old friends greeted me, – Merle [Armitage], Arthur, Jose, Fay, Jake [Zeitlin], and a new one, Ione Robinson. I had but entered the room when someone slipped me a glass of scotch (real) and so the fun began. Ramiel, the perfect host, bustled vigilantly everywhere, hawk-eyed to further every want, to provoke all means to joy.” (Daybooks, p. 205).
A couple months later Robinson again traveled to Mexico for more work on Rivera’s National Palace murals after winning a Guggenheim fellowship, secured largely through a 1930 exhibition of her work curated by Orozco at Alma Reed’s Delphic Studios in New York. (“Guggenheim Fellowship Awarded to Girl Artist,” Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1931, p. II-1). During this period she posed for Lola Alvarez Bravo and met yet another close Weston friend Jean Charlot and Sergei Eisenstein (see above), a Russian movie director with ties to Siqueiros, von Sternberg and Dudley Murphy. (See below). (Mexico Through Russian Eyes, 1806-1940 by William Harrison Richardson, p. 169, Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card by Susan Delson, University of Minnesota Press, 2006, p. 214 and Baxter, various).
Sergei Eisenstein, Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg, Hollywood, 1930. From A Certain Cinema.
Robinson had also studied at the Otis Art Institute under CAC member Edouard Vysekal while still in high school and at the age of 17 had also apprenticed with Rockwell Kent and Paul Frankl in New York, traveled throughout Europe and exhibited at the Alma Reed’s Delphic Studios, the Weyhe Galleries, and the New York Art Center. She heard Siqueiros speak on numerous occasions in Mexico City in 1931 and visited him in Taxco in January 1932 at which time he painted her portrait. (See above). She also attended the January 25th opening of Siqueiros’ first one-man show at Mexico City’s Casino Espanol organized through the largess of his friends, the Spanish Ambassador Alvarez del Valle, Anita Brenner, Sergei Eisenstein and others. (Siqueiros: His Life and Works by Philip Stein, p. 72-3 and Harrison, p. 169).
Longtime CAC member Nelbert Chouinard (see above) also visited Siqueiros in Taxco about this same time and invited him to teach a class on mural painting at her Chouinard Art Institute. One of Chouinard’s painting instructors and fellow CAC member, Phil Dike, more than likely accompanied her on this visit as he had a piece, “Taxco Plaza” which won first prize in the water colors category at the Los Angeles County Fair in September 1932. (See below). (“Blue-Ribbon Art as Well Housed as Cows and Pigs,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1932, p. III-13. See more discussion later below).
Phil Dike, Taxco Plaza, Mexico, 1932. Courtesy John Moran Auctioneers.
On March 27th Arthur Millier presciently penned a lengthy piece on fresco painting technique as described by artist Sara C. Dobson, recently returned from France to an audience of eager local artists and architects. Mentioned as locals with fresco mural experience were Phil Dike, Jorge Juan Crespo who assisted Orozco with Prometheus, and the recently returned Ione Robinson who had two stints in Mexico with Rivera. (See above). (“True Fresco Held Key to Renaissance in Painting; Process Described by Artist Here from France; Architects and Artists Eager for Revival,” Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1932, p. III-20). The Dobson lecture and Millier review may have provided the impetus to bring Siqueiros to Los Angeles.
Coincidentally Myrna Nye’s Club Notes column the same day announced that the Friday Morning Club meeting on March 29th would feature Willy Pogany, who was designing a mammoth monument for the Olympic Swim Stadium would speak on “Comparative Murals” and William Garnsley would talk on “The Art of Mural Painting” and that CAC guests of honor with extensive mural experience including Conrad Buff, Dean Cornwell, Hugo Ballin, Barse Miller, Alson Clark and Arthur Beaumont and Times art critic Arthur Millier would be introduced. The timing couldn’t have been better for Siqueiros’ grand arrival on the Los Angeles art scene a couple weeks later. (See also Millier, A., “Monument for Games on Display,” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1932, p. II-5).
The arrival of Siqueiros in Los Angeles quickly energized the art community. His visit was kicked off with a von Sternberg-sponsored exhibition of fifty paintings, lithographs, and mural designs at the Stendahl Ambassador Hotel Galleries where they were on view from May 12th through 31st. A separate exhibition of his lithographs from Taxco, also sponsored by von Sternberg, opened at Jake Zeitlin’s downtown Los Angeles bookshop on May 9th. Arthur Millier’s favorable review of the Stendahl show stated, “Siqueiros creates the most powerful forms that have yet come from the Mexican art revolt. The effect of them as one walks into the Stendahl Galleries is overwhelming.” (“Mexico’s Art Ferment Stirring in Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1932, p. III-13). The Stendahl show moved to the Plaza Art Center from June 1-10.
Earl Stendahl and Arthur Millier. (From Los Angeles Painters of the Nineteen-Twenties by Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, introduction by Arthur Millier, Pomona College Gallery, 1972, p. ). (For much more on Stendahl see Exhibitionist: Earl Stendahl, Art Dealer as Impresario).
Arguably the most important collectors and patrons of modern art in Los Angeles and longtime friend and supporter of Beatrice Wood and Marcel Duchamp from the New York days, Walter and Louise Arensberg hosted Siqueiros shortly after his arrival. Beatrice Wood captured the event in the above drawing in which she includes, besides herself on the left, future husband Steve Hoag, Walter, Siqueiros and Galka Scheyer.
Siqueiros caricature by Wolo von Trutzschler, 1932. California Arts & Architecture, June 1932.
German born artist Wolo von Trutzschler, in Los Angeles since 1927, had recently opened his studio in the Plaza Art Center and was friends with Galka Scheyer and also likely with the Center’s director F. K. Ferenz who comfortingly surrounded himself with German-speaking immigrants. (See below). Wolo met Siqueiros in April or May, shortly after his arrival, and drew the above caricature. The drawing was not only published in California Arts & Architecture announcing the Siqueiros Plaza Art Center exhibition in early June but was also exhibited alongside Siqueiros’ work. His close proximity to the excitement surrounding Siqueiros’ upcoming mural America Tropical slated to go on the second-story facade of the Plaza Art Center prompted him to volunteer for that project as well. (See later below).
Galka Scheyer caricature by Wolo von Trutzschler, 1935. (Galka E. Scheyer and the Blue Four Correspondence, 1924-1945 edited by isabel Wunche, p. 312).
At the Stendahl opening, von Sternberg announced that he had commissioned a portrait from Siqueiros. (Baxter, p. 164). The artist sketched him at work in his office at Paramount and delivered a murky, somewhat sinister oil that von Sternberg chose to unveil as part of an exhibition devoted entirely to likenesses of himself. (See above). The show, “Portraits by Artists of Josef von Sternberg, Paramount Director” took place on a soundstage at Paramount during the shooting of Blonde Venus.
Siqueiros with art students at Chouinard. From KCM Group Blog.
The site posed problems and after consulting with architects Richard Neutra and Sumner Spaulding, Siqueiros decided to experiment for the first time with waterproof cement, stencils and spray guns to apply the pigment. Neutra had much experience with the use of spray guns in the application of waterproof cement (see above) and paint on his Lovell Health House and likely had much advice. (See Mod for much more detail). The mural was completed in only two weeks. The dedication in early July, was sponsored by the “Art Committee for Founding the New School of Social Research in Los Angeles.” The committee was headed by Arthur Millier and also included Richard Neutra, Mexican Consul Joaquin Terrazas, Nelbert Chouinard, Ted Cook, Merrell Gage, Sumner Spaulding and Jake Zeitlin. The idea for forming the committee most likely came from Neutra who had lectured at New York’s New School for Social Research in January 1931 where he was witness to Orozco’s murals in progress. (Arthur Millier, Outdoor Fresco Art Unveiled This Evening, Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1932, A10).
Siqueiros had an exhibition of his work on display the night of the unveiling and also lectured on “The Mexican Renaissance,” in which he attacked “American Imperialism,” “Capitalism” and “snob easel painting” to a crowd of close to 800 people. (Nieto). The mural, depicting a union leader addressing a group of some twenty people drew both tumultuous praise and protests for its social content. (See the brief California Arts & Architecture review below).
Siqueiros was also involved in the Xth Olympiad festivities as a member of the Olympic Art Jury (see above) to select the winners from 1,155 entries on display in the Olympic Games Art Competition and Exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum from August 1st – 14th. (“Art Juries Will Finish Task Today,” Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1932, p. I-1). He helped California Art Club member Ruth Miller win second prize in the paintings category for her “The Struggle” seen below.
Before the Olympic Games were over Siqueiros had a commission to create a much larger mural on the second floor of the Plaza Art Center, part of a plan to create an art and tourist center in what had been the long-neglected heart of the original city. His patrons here were the socialite Mrs. Christine Sterling, who had led the effort to renovate the area, and F. K. Ferenz, the manager of the Italian Hall building in the center of the development and the director of the Plaza Art Center who was also a member of the John Reed Club and a Communist sympathizer. Ferenz and Sterling were in an unlikely alliance to create an ersatz Mexican village to promote better civic relations and better business thus he shrewdly included former Orozco mural assistant Jorge Juan Crespo to assist him as a go between with the Mexican artistic community.
The buzz surroundingStreet Meetingis what led F. K. Ferenz to approach Siqueiros about executing a mural there. The theme, America Tropical, suggested by Sterling was based on a preconception of a work that would fit in with the “pueblo” image of the street itself that, with its cobblestones and “folk art” stalls, resembled a colonized re-invention of a marketplace in “Old Mexico.” Siqueiros began the mural in mid-August assisted by 21 artists from his Mural Bloc, some of whom also participated in Street Meeting at Chouinard. Arthur Millier reported on the mural’s progress, innovative techniques and materials used in it’s creation, listed the participants and reviewed the work in a series of articles in the Times. Mural Bloc workers included Dean Cornwell who had just finished painting the Los Angeles Library murals, Luis Arenal, Jackson Pollock’s brother Sanford, Josef von Sternberg employees Richard Kollorsz and Peter Ballbusch, and sixteen others. (“Huge Fresco for El Paseo,” August 24, “Great Art Work to Be Unveiled,” October 9, “Siqueiros Plaza Art to Be Dedicated,” October 10, and “Power Unadorned Marks Olvera Street Fresco,” October 16).
The moment the mural was unveiled on October 9, however, the audience gasped with astonishment. Instead of tropical fruits and flowers, what the viewers saw was the inert body of an Indigenous man tied and hung from a wooden structure. (See above). Broken images lay around the central figure. Armed soldiers pointed rifles toward the viewer. As a visual commentary on American Imperialism and colonialism itself, it drew the ire of the City Fathers and of Mrs. Sterling. Although praised by Times critic Arthur Millier and mural painter Dean Cornwell, it was also rejected as “Communist Propaganda.” As a result, the mural would be condemned and eventually, “disappeared.” (Nieto). About this same time Conrad Buff was supposed to share his lithographic skills with Siqueiros but the interaction never came to pass. (he Art & Life of Conrad Buff,, p. 57).
Phil Dike, Taxco Plaza, Mexico, 1932. Courtesy John Moran Auctioneers.
In September 1932, Arthur Millier reviewed the art on display at the Los Angeles County Fair which this year was right after the Olympics. The exhibition included work by Siqueiros and his erstwhile mentor Alfredo Ramos Martinez (first prize-winner in the oil painting category), and CAC members Millard Sheets (first prize in landscapes for “Above the New High Street”), Paul Starrett Sample (first prize in marines for “Storm Outside”), Conrad Buff, Edouard Vysekal, George Stanley, Merrell Gage (first prize in sculpture), William Wendt, Maynard Dixon, Phil Dike (first prize in the water colors for “Plaza Taxco, Mexico” (see above and earlier discussion about the Chouinard-Dike 1932 Taxco Siqueiros visit) and others. Commenting on the ever-increasing quality of the work he wrote,
“The sculpture is very well chosen this year, Merrell Gage shows his large Olympic “Shot Putter,” Archibald Garner’s “Head of Siqueiros,” (see above), George Stanley’s “Portrait of a Girl” and “Peter,” we especially remember.” (“Blue-Ribbon Art as Well Housed as Cows and Pigs,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1932, p. III-13).
Millier reported in late October that Siqueiros was exhibiting his recent Taxco woodcut block prints of “prison characters and his memories of the miners’ lives” in a group show at the Southard Gallery with Jean Goodwin and Osar Galgiani through November 5th. He also mentioned that Siqueiros was working on a fresco in the house of Dudley Murphy. (“Orient Meets Occident in Current Art Exhibits,” Los Angeles Times, October 23, !932, p. III-18, 20). In Siqueiros’ last public show before leaving Los Angeles, his and Luis Arenal’s work was on display at the “Exposition of Arts, Crafts and Industries” at the Hollywood Plaza which opened on November 9th. (Millier, A., Brush Strokes: “Thirty Countries Will Be Represented,” L.A. Times, Nov. 6, 1932.
Anna Sten, Sam Godwyn’s ill-fated “Russian Garbo,” in her Neutra-designed living room. (From Hines, Thomas S., “Richard Neutra’s Hollywood: A Modernist Ethos in the Land of Excess,” Architectural Digest, April 1996).
After bonding with fellow Austrian von Sternberg through the CAC and Siqueiros events of the early 1930s Neutra finally got down to the business of designing his Northridge retreat in 1934. This was around the time he was completing the Sten-Frenke House for Russian actress Anna Sten (see above) and her husband, Russian movie director, producer and writer, Dr. Eugene Frenke in Santa Monica Canyon. Traveling in the same social orbit as Sten and Frenke, von Sternberg also undoubtedly saw their house about this time which must have given him confidence that Neutra would provide him a quality product. For example, Los Angeles Times Hollywood columnist Edwin Schallert listed von Sternberg, fellow art collector Edward G. Robinson, Sten, Frenke, and fellow Neutra client Carl Laemmle, Jr. among the numerous celebrity guests at a “brilliant gathering” honoring German movie producer Max Reinhardt in a period column. (“Director Honors Max Reinhart,” Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1934, p. 19).
There is one last link between Neutra and the Los Tres Grandes and it was through Los Angeles-born artist Isamu Noguchi. It seems plausible that Neutra initially could have met Noguchi while in New York on the way back from his previously-mentioned world tour in January 1931. Noguchi created the below bust of Orozco around the time he was working on his New School for Social Research murals with Crespo. It is also known that Neutra met close Noguchi friend Buckminster Fuller during his stay in New York.
Noguchi’s sculpture was also featured in a one-man traveling show, “Drawings and Small Sculptures by Isamu Noguchi” at the Pasadena Art Institute during March 1933, just a month after the previously-mentioned LAPD Red Squad raid at the John Reed Club. (See above). Arthur Millier’s glowing review read in part,
“He is the possessor of a precocious ability. There are some “correct” portraits of children, then, suddenly, one confronts the amazing head of Orozco, just a lump of earth mysteriously endowed with the Mexican painter’s expression. He likes unusual people and makes them live – sometimes as expression, the Orozco and John Erskine heads, for example, sometimes through carefully arranged forms, like the fine head of Marion Greenwood.” (See below). (Millier, Arthur, “East-West Races Join to Produce Art Prodigy,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1933, p. II-4).
Therefore it is highly likely that Noguchi had crossed paths with the remnants of Siqueiros’ Mural Bloc and possibly also Neutra and had become thoroughly familiarized with both Siqueiros’ and Orozco’s Los Angeles murals as well as the damaged frescoes that were intended for the Negro America exhibition at the John Reed Club the previous month. This likely served as partial inspiration for Noguchi’s Death (Lynched Figure) cast shortly after his Los Angeles visit. (See below) (See more at Oles, p. 14).
It seems plausible that Noguchi may have also visited his erstwhile lover Marion Greenwood in Mexico City after his Pasadena show. (“Noguchi in Mexico International Theme for a Working-Class Market,” by James Oles, American Art, Summer 2001, see note 12).
Isamu Noguchi, Helen Gahagan (Douglas), Los Angeles, August 1935.
Noguchi happened to be briefly in Los Angeles during August 1935 while on his way to Mexico to again to visit Greenwood and her sister Grace. His reason for the Los Angeles stopover was a commission to do a bust of actress Helen Gahagan to make some money for his stay in Mexico. (See above). (Millier, A., “Famous Sculptor Returns to This City of His Birth; Isamu Noguchi Pauses in His Search for a ‘Community’ to Model Portraits and Design a Swim Pool,” Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1935, p. A9). The ever resourceful Weston patron Merle Armitage convinced Noguchi and friend E. E. Cummings to both sit for Edward Weston portraits. (Weston’s Westons: Portraits and Nudes, by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., p. 130). Neutra likely heard of this sitting from Weston and invited Noguchi to design what would have become the first ever “kidney-shaped” swimming pool for film director Josef von Sternberg’s home.A plaster model of the pool (see below) was made in the inner court of the Stendahl Gallery while Noguchi was also working on the Gahagan bust.
Isamu Noguchi with model of pool designed for Richard Neutra’s Josef von Sternberg Residence, 1935. From Rosenberg, Karen, “The Far-Ranging Artistic Alliances That Shaped a Sculptor,” New York Times, December 16, 2010.
Model for swimming pool for Josef von Sternberg, bronze, 1935. From Art Work of the Month.
The pool design was such that on one side the water could flow down a ramp, while another area would allow visitors to be completely dry and in the sun. A third part of the pool would be deep enough for swimming. According to Noguchi von Sternberg liked the design but Neutra decided not to use it. (Noguchi’s Imaginary Landscapes by Martin L. Friedman, p. 43). Though his pool was never built, the bronze sculpture seen above is an example of the artist’s inventive use of shape and function. He often included the bronze model in later exhibitions. Noguchi’s interest in making sculptures that were also useful objects led him to his future designs of playground equipment, parks, and plazas.
I have a proposition which calls for 5 X 40 ft. photo-mural. I at once thought of you as the only one I knew who could handle the technical ends and cooperate with me. But the architect wants to get away from paper, wants them on aluminum or silver! What can we do? There should be something worthwhile in this for both of us. Party has plenty of money to spend. But has to be “shown.” Any suggestions? Write me air-mail. How can we land the order on paper? or is metal a possibility? Keep this to yourself. Architect Neutra. Home of von Sternberg.
(No date, ca. 1935. Courtesy of Esther McCoy biographer Susan Morgan via the Edward Weston Papers at the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography).
Right after finishing the Gahagan bust and von Sternberg pool design in September 1935, Isamu left for Mexico City to visit the Greenwoods in a car he had borrowed for the trip from his close friend Buckminster Fuller, carpooling as far as the Texas border with a destitute Cummings and Marion Morehouse who were on their way back to New York. (E. E. Cummings: A Biography by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, p. 402 and “Noguchi in Mexico: International Theme for a Working-Class Market,” by James Oles, American Art, Summer 2001, p. 16). The Greenwoods were working on murals at the behest of Diego Rivera for the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market. Marion was able to get Noguchi in on the action where he created his History as Seen From Mexico in 1936. (See below). Noguchi’s choice of tinted cement and concrete for his three-dimensional sculptured mural was likely influenced by Siqueiros’ waterproof cement-based work in Los Angeles.
Isamu Noguchi’s mural History as Seen from Mexico in 1936, at the Mercado Abelardo Rodríguez, 1936, tinted cement, concrete, and brick, 22 x 2.2 m (72 x 6.5 ft.). From Isamu Noguchi’s autobiography A Sculptor’s World, (Gottingen, Germany: Steidl, 2004). The book was originally published by Harper & Row in 1968.
While in Mexico City Noguchi met Frida Kahlo and began a short-lived, but passionate affair. An irate Rivera caught them in the act and Noguchi had to make a hasty retreat over the back fence of Casa Azul. Noguchi inscribed a copy of his recent Weston portrait of himself to Frida “For my darling, my love.” (See below).
For more detail on many of the same personalities see my: