I came to Palm Springs to visit a friend, and not because I am midmod mad. I know a lot of people who are, and I like the midmod ascetic quite a bit. But unlike my sister Becky, who tosses about phrases like “Sputnik lamp” and “kidney table” like so many bougainvillea petals, I enjoy midmod—that’s mid-century modern, for those of you who haven’t ever seen the truly glorious Atomic Ranch magazine. I just don’t freak out at the possibility of seeing clean lines upon clean lines, decorated with spiky plants.
The domestic architecture is stunning, with house after house a variation on the themes of straight lines and color pops…
My friend lives in the same neighborhood as the house Sammy Davis Junior had built for himself. It’s an easy walk from the Racquet Ball Club, one Mr. Davis could stumble down when drunk off his butt. (That, btw, is not gossip but an actual directive from Mr. Davis to his builders.)
Then there’s the downtown, which time warps me back to the California of my youth. My pal drove me by Suzanne Somers’ home (big gates, boxy) and once bumped into Barry Manilow emerging from the back of a grocery store. There are stars in the sidewalks of the main street Palm Canyon Drive, people like Monty Hall, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and a woman whose name I forget but who was “Hostess to the Stars!” There’s a statue of Sonny Bono that I thought was of Pat Boone, causing my friend to howl with mirth. But…really? That doesn’t look anything like Cher’s ex, does it?
There are crazy, swoopy Jetsons-type buildings, like this bank.
Palm trees with hula skirts….
When you keep your eyes open, you find little visual amuses bouche all over the place, like this steel fence thing….
…and LOTS of kitsch.
Typically, when I’m someplace new, I walk around and just try to observe and pick up any particular vibe. But, as my friend told me, Palm Springs is shopping, eating in restaurants, midmod architecture, and gay bars. And that’s all good, but none of those things are so much my thing. Now my friend had told me about the Palm Springs museum, but I just wasn’t feeling a museum, because I really wasn’t feeling Palm Springs. It just seemed so….I dunno, people don’t really stride anywhere with purpose. They’re kinda like shoppy versions of people around the slot machines in Nevada casinos.
But then…..I walked past the Palm Springs Museum Architecture and Design Center, which is right on the main drag, and thought, well, come on, Bauer. At least check it out. Maybe it’s free. And since it was only 5 bucks (close enough), I took a gander.
Man, what a cool building—which, alas, I didn’t take a good picture of, because I was kind of swoopy architectured out at that point. The docent explained that the building had been a bank, restored to truly dazzling midmod glory. The main exhibit featured reusing materials—saris, in the case of these works by artist Christina Kim.
It’s the detail of the work that takes it beyond a display at Anthropologie.
And naturally, a gift shop.
Well, ok. I’d gotten a little more open to doing a museum, and the admission at the design center gave me 5 bucks off going to the Palm Springs Art Museum proper. It’s massive…
…and a genuine treasure inside. First stop was the downstairs gallery, which featured some pretty swell contemporary work for sale, including this crazy painted tansu, apparently a Japanese version of a credenza.
Titled “The Fox and Persimmon Tansu” and created by artist Georg James, this featured some of the most ridiculously amazing trompe l’oeil I’ve seen. I mean, those aren’t drawers. That’s a painted flat surface.
The gallery is flanked by two separate sculpture gardens. My favorite, the Elrod, could charm the most manic Type A into a puddle of bliss.
The current main floor exhibit, “Unsettled: Art on the New Frontier,” deals with colonialization, displacement of indigenous people, and American mythology as relating to both. This piece, “Erasing the Border,” is represented on the exterior of the museum. By Mexican artist Ana Teresa Fernández, it’s a joy to behold, big and powerful, and accompanied by a film where a woman dressed like the one in the picture paints over a fence.
This massive arrangement of spices in bowls, “Campo de Color” by Bolivian artist Sonia Falcone, beautifully introduces the film beyond it. A docent came over while I was looking at it. “Can you smell the spices?” I inhaled. Faint turmeric, pepper, a little coconut. “It’s never overwhelming,” said the docent, “but it’s there if your nose knows to look for it.”
Leaving those behind, I headed to the second floor and stopped in my tracks.
I’m not a Chihuly fan. I think his stuff is massively kitschy and I just don’t feel all that yellow. But seeing this piece in a midmod setting—be still, my heart.
If all Chihuly pieces were displayed singly and against this type of architecture, I’d be a big old fan. I mean, here it is again with a little more architecture in the shot. I seriously have about 30 pictures from different angles, I was just kind of blown away.
Also a delight to see a work from Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed. I’d seen one of his works at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.
He creates a carpet design, manipulates it in Photoshop so that it looks like it’s melting, then has weavers reproduce the new version.
It’s like a waterfall of color, and such a fresh way to visualize this ancient art form getting poured into the 21st century.
There’s tons more cool stuff in the Museum, and I left with some bounce restored to my step. But it was a slow step. Appreciate Palm Springs at a saunter; it’s not for the power sightseer. Just suck up that bone dry, crisp blue air, feast your eyes on the surreality of it, and realize that sometimes, staying on the surface is the best way to swim. Especially when the surface shimmers like this one.