Monday, April 28, 2008

Julius Shulman: Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Art Museum currently has a smashingly good exhibit of the Palm Springs architectural photography of Julius Shulman, who I had never heard of before, even though just about every iconic photograph of Southern California Modernism was taken by him.

In concert with the exhibit, a Rizzoli coffee-table art book has just been published that's the most beautiful book about Palm Springs I've ever seen, focusing on Shulman's collaborations with eight modernist architects, including Richard Neutra and Albert Frey, along with the work of a few significant others.

The book was written by Michael Stern and Alan Hess (above) and includes graceful essays on Palm Springs' architectural history and how it was conveyed to the world at large through Shulman's commercial lens, which include some of the most gorgeous black-and-white photographs I've seen in my life.

Since so much of the architectural work has either been torn down or rehabbed in disastrous ways, the book also has the feel of an artistic and political manifesto.
"There is still much of Palm Springs that is not well known. It should be, though. Shulman has been regularly adding to his exploration of Palm Springs for seventy years. The story of Palm Springs architecture has been sitting there that entire time, and yet it has been only in the past decade or so that the architectural community (let alone the wider world) has begun to glimpse the fullness of that story. The small desert resort town, we now discover, is a textbook of California Modern architecture...No other town of its size can boast such a range. It's as if Palm Springs was created as a summary, an exegesis of all that's important about California architecture in the twentieth century."

What's even cooler is that Julius Shulman at age 97 is still alive and kicking (above left), and was atttending the Palm Springs Art Museum for a panel discussion and a Q&A after a showing of a documentary about his work.

His brain is mostly still there and his humor is sharp and delightful. He had retired after fifty years in the business back in the 1980s, but a young German named Jurgen Nogai approached Shulman and convinced him to get back to work with Jurgen as his partner.

"In truth, Jurgen is who's been keeping me alive, and I can't thank him enough," he graciously announced at one point, before going upstairs and signing copies of his new book.

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