On Today’s Show: Bad Girls, Bad Boys: Art and Architecture in Counterculture New York and LA

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A novel and an exhibit bring alive the experimental art and architecture scene in LA and New York in the counterculture years. Pop Art expert Christopher Finch talks about his first novel, “Good Girl, Bad Girl,” a crime yarn set in the Soho art scene in the late 1960s; Sylvia Lavin talks about her MAK Center exhibit “Everything Loose Will Land,” about the “loose” artists and architects in 1970s LA. Were these “innocent” times before the commodification of art and architecture?

Good Girl Bad Girl

Who amongst us hasn’t dreamed of writing detective stories (Sylvia Lavin, below, says it’s an English thing)? It’s got to be one of the smartest, most fun, and most underappreciated, of literary forms.

Good Girl Bad Girl coverWell, Pop Art expert and artist Christopher Finch harbored that same fantasy, and decided to do something about it. Better yet, he did it in a way that employed his life experience living among the artists in New York’s onetime “loft district,” now the exorbitantly expensive Soho.

He’s produced the first of what will be a series, Good Girl, Bad Girl, featuring the slightly hapless private eye Alex Novalis (Finch describes him not as a hard-boiled PI, but rather “scrambled on bagel,” ), a former art fraud detective, on the hunt for a missing “bad girl” amidst the garbage, grunge, and sexual and political radicalism of the era.

It’s a great read — Finch has an amusing, slightly ironic, take on the Chandler style —  and a light way of visiting art and urban history, in the moment before the art world exploded, Manhattan cleaned up, and Soho became accessible only to stockbrokers.

Chris Finch in the Loft District, later known as Soho, in 1968On this DnA, Christopher Finch talks about the novel, what propelled him to write it, his own teen experience living among young criminals, and later in Soho (see him in picture, right, circa 1968; he recalls: “It was at around this time that Salvador Dali told me that my Edgar Alan Poe moustache meant that I would commit suicide.  Looking at this picture, I think I see what he meant.”) He also says that in a future book Alex Novalis just might come out to LA and hang out with the “artists floundering in Venice.”

Everything Loose Will Land

Of all the Pacific Standard Time Presents shows on right now, there is a small exhibit at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House that has garnered a big response. It is called “Everything Loose Will Land.” The name is borrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright’s observation: ‘tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles,’ but, as Lavin explains on this DnA, it also refers to the “looseness” of the experimental artists and architects as they played with form, materials and societal expectations.

05BZoiUjYaMar1Aj84M-2rPn4tItnbaiBn4im5T58lk,fG-B5_ztAEoaSZqN4HalCcx2HCqxODgeg6d2zlzeT9AThe exhibit (which shuts its doors on August 4th; a very substantial catalogue, complete with additional research and documentation, is now available) was curated by Sylvia Lavin, a professor of architectural theory in the architecture department at UCLA. It looks at the ways Los Angeles artists and architects – among them Craig Hodgetts, Frank Gehry, Billy Al Bengston, Judy Chicago, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, Bruce Nauman (whose structure is shown, left), Archigram, Ed Ruscha, Ed Moses, Superstudio — “worked with, leaned on, stole from and influenced one another in the 1970s,” to quote the Los Angeles Times.

The show reveals the crossovers and asks what constitutes architecture – Nauman, the artist, is the only one who has a building on display; Gehry is depicted not as we know him now, but as a jobbing architect drawing plans for spaces for artist friends; Womanhouse, the experimental art project by Miriam Shapiro, Judy Chicago and others, in an abandoned house in Hollywood, that served as an installation and performance space for three months. Lavin’s includes to draw attention to the fact it is unheard of in the canons of architecture, because it is deemed as “feminism” by a male-dominated profession.

cover elwl Lavin talks about some of the intriguing exhibits on display, whose installation was designed by architects Johnston Marklee. She also addresses why this show has resonated with people – beyond having a strong idea, being extremely well researched and featuring now amusing photos of the new establishment when they had drooping moustaches, oversized glasses and flaired corduroys.

Might it be, I wondered, for the same reason that Good Girl, Bad Girl is so refreshing? “Loose” takes us back to the period before Reaganism and Thatcherism, before art and experimentalism in architecture were thoroughly commodified, when land in the West (and Soho) was still cheap and for all its limitations (Nixon, bad drug trips, Vietnam, and chauvinism towards women, gays, minorities), the 1970s seems in retrospect like a period of innocence and creative protest.

Photo-Joshua White-9281