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Neutra, beyond a blueprint

May 10, 2009|David Ng

Nearly 50 years ago, architect Richard Neutra donated a collection of his drawings and sketches to UCLA. They included illustrations of famous projects he had worked on as well as those he had hoped to begin but could never get off the ground.

But the collection was notable because it also included drawings that have nothing to do with architecture: self-portraits, sketches of family members and landscapes that he created while vacationing in Europe and the U.S.

The drawings are stored in the university's special collections and, for the most part, they have remained out of public view. Now, a new exhibition at the Central Library in downtown L.A. is offering a look into this little-seen facet of Neutra's output.

"Richard Neutra, Architect: Sketches and Drawings" runs through Sept. 6. The show is curated by Thomas S. Hines, and it features 140 drawings spanning most of Neutra's career.

"I always regretted that the Neutra collection has been seen by so few people. I felt it would be interesting to see if we could reconstruct his trajectory through his drawings alone," Hines said.

Among the sketches on view are renderings of the Universal Pictures Building in L.A. (1932-33), the Von Sternberg House in Northridge (1935) and the Heller House in Beverly Hills (1950).

One of the show's most interesting curiosities is Neutra's pencil drawing titled "Rush City Reformed," in which he lays out plans for a futuristic cityscape filled with freeways and skyscrapers. The drawing is part of a series of "Rush City" illustrations Neutra created during the 1920s -- a fascinating detour into sci-fi futurism for the modernist master.

"I like to tell people that my father could have been an artist and that he didn't have to become an architect. He always traveled with a sketchbook," said Dion Neutra, the architect's son.

A 1923 pastel and crayon drawing of the architect's wife, Dione, portrays her playing the cello. "He created a number of portraits of her in different forms," explained the younger Neutra. "She was a cellist when he met her, and she even had thought of continuing it after they married, but ultimately she didn't."

A selection of Neutra's drawings will go on sale to the public, according to his son. They can be purchased through www.neutra.org, the official website of the Neutra Institute for Survival and Design. Proceeds from the sale will help benefit the institute's various preservation causes.

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For more arts news, go to the Culture Monster blog at latimes.com/culturemonster.

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