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A show that's oh, so California

June 23, 2005|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

Some designers dream about building a better mousetrap. David Wiseman just wanted to create a cooler clothes hook. Casting a simple profile of a deer with flocked ears or antlers as a place to hang one's hat, the 23-year-old Pasadena native cleverly updated those cartoon-cute plaster wall sculptures of the suburban 1950s.

Wiseman's Deer Hat Hangers are among more than 100 works on display in the California Design Biennial, a new exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of California Art featuring the state's top artisans. There are lighting fixtures made from 6,000 drinking straws, eco-conscious storm drains in the shape of fish, and Frank Gehry outdoor furniture that resembles models of Walt Disney Concert Hall.

From nearly 500 pieces submitted for consideration, the exhibition presents a multitude of disciplines, including pottery, packaging design, home furnishings and video.

Living up to its name, the California Design Biennial also includes quintessential West Coast products such as sports cars, skateboards, blue jeans, sunglasses and cellphones.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 25, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Design exhibition -- A photo caption in Thursday's Home section with an article about the California Design Biennial referred to designer Lindsay Dakota and "her minimalist iSit lounge." It should have said "his minimalist iSit lounge."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 30, 2005 Home Edition Home Part F Page 6 Features Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Biennial -- An article on the California Design Biennial in the same issue included a photo caption that referred to designer Lindsay Dakota and "her minimalist iSit lounge." The caption should have said "his minimalist iSit lounge."

The exhibition follows the tradition of California Design, a furniture and crafts show at the now-defunct Pasadena Museum of Art that ran from 1954 to 1976, first as an annual event and later as a triennial. Those shows launched the careers of many midcentury designers and artisans, and the accompanying hardcover monographs are eagerly collected by 20th century furniture dealers, often fetching as much as $100 for rare editions.

"California Design '05," museum Executive Director Wesley Jessup said, is in the spirit of the historic show though it "has much more of a technological edge than a crafts emphasis."

"It is an overview of what's happening in California design right now," he said. "There's a lot of juried design shows, but when you come to this one, you're going to see fashion alongside graphic design next to transportation."

Perched on Shawn-Ian Bruce's Push Over SD, a boxy orange cube with six seating surfaces at six different heights, head juror Ravi K. Sawhney further defined the show.

"The prevailing trend in California design is that every object in your household should speak about you, and to you," he said during the show's opening reception last Friday night. "It doesn't have to be sculpture. It could be a stereo or a wine rack."

The Puzzle wine rack, an amoebic plastic jigsaw piece in shades of red, orange and topaz by Israeli-born Venice designer Gideon Dagan, spoke volumes to the international, multigenerational crowd.

"I think it's fabulous," exclaimed art consultant and "lapsed interior designer" Merry Norris, a baby boomer decked out in a Pop art floral jacket and sandals with opalescent vinyl straps.

"California has an interesting fusion of designers from all cultures -- Latin, Asian, Indian, American, European," Sawhney added. "And there's a free-spiritedness, probably a carry-over from the hippie era that still resides in us."

That vibe was most evident in Greg Tate's Lawn Lounge, a sofa built from sod, and Adam Silverman's stoneware vases for Atwater Pottery. Christina Kim, the designer of the clothing line Dosa, transformed her Laurel Canyon bohemian fashion sense into silk curtains hand-sewn with mica discs, patchwork pillows and poufs, and an angora rug that '60s siren Marianne Faithfull might have lolled on.

Jay Novak integrated a back-to-nature impulse with contemporary lines designed for Modernica, his Los Angeles store famous for midcentury reproduc tions. A dowel rod bowl made from maple scraps sat atop a table that made a design virtue of its value-oriented stacked plywood legs.

Much of the furniture, however, served to illustrate the marriage between advanced manufacturing processes and contemporary minimalism. Tim Sharpe's deceptively simple Bow sconce is a cross-section of a lamp made from wood veneer. Lindsay Dakota's iSit lounge, an elegant swoop of fiberglass, looks like a giant stick of winter-blue chewing gum molded to fit a sunbather's curves.

"The heritage of California Modernism has had an enormous impact on furniture," the museum's Jessup said. "The aftershocks are still being felt in new and interesting ways."




The California Design Biennial showcases innovative consumer products: furniture, lighting and decorative objects for the home, as well as personal electronics, dresses, sunglasses, cellphones, surfboards, bicycles -- even volleyballs. The work of Frank Gehry and other established artists is featured with that of emerging artisans such as 23-year-old David Wiseman, creator of the Deer Hat Hanger. The juried show runs through Aug. 28 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena. Museum hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, and free to children younger than 12. For more information, call (626) 568-3665 or go to

David A. Keeps can be reached at

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