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Art Review: “Visualizing a New Los Angeles: Architectural Renderings of Carlos Diniz”

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Edward Cella Art + Architecture recently moved from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and a pair of first-rate exhibitions fills its handsome mid-Wilshire galleries.

‘Visualizing a New Los Angeles: Architectural Renderings of Carlos Diniz” introduces L.A. viewers to the stylish designs of the architect-turned-illustrator who was the go-to-guy for the most talented and ambitious architects working in Los Angeles in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
Organized by guest curator Nicholas Olsberg, the fascinating survey features 16 large, ink on vellum or tissue paper drawings and a suite of four richly tinted silk screens.

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Visual resplendence was the name of the game for Diniz (1928-2001), whose sharp drawings made streamlined efficiency look luxurious, a little racy but not so far out there that investors and committees would be scared off. It isn’t difficult to imagine the folks who bring us ‘Mad Men’ poring over Diniz’s drawings for inspiration.

Sensitively rendered images of L.A. landmarks are abundant, including Cesar Pelli’s Pacific Design Center, Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica Place and Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza Hotel. Some of Diniz’s most exciting works depict buildings that were never constructed, including a blocky rocket of a skyscraper (designed by Welton Becket as part of Century City’s master plan), a glass silo of a hotel that emerges from the middle of Santa Monica Bay (by Pelli and Tony Lumsden) and “The Hollywood,” an airy hotel that seems to float (by Paul R. Williams and David Jacobson).

Think of Diniz as the Julius Shulman of buildings before they existed: a connoisseur of possibility and an aficionado of atmosphere who turned ideas into dreams.

In two back galleries, ‘Drawings and Objects by Architects’ presents a discriminating selection of fantastic drawings alongside a small treasure trove of curiosities.

The tone sometimes turns toward the fetishistic, especially with Diniz’s 1964 drawings of interior and exterior views of the World Trade Center and, to a lesser extent, with Frank Lloyd Wright’s brittle, colored pencil drawing of Ayn Rand’s cottage studio. Gehry’s fish-shaped lamp, cardboard chair and internally lighted relief sculpture give one part of the show the feel of a high-end IKEA.

In contrast, three solid drawings of domestic residences by Richard Neutra stand out for the way they make bold color and rugged, unlovely messiness intrinsic to architecture. Similarly, a suite of 20 pastel and graphite drawings by Lebbeus Woods leaves the world of souvenir collecting behind to explore darker, more consequential fantasies. Woods’ haunting dystopias make the future appear as if it has come and gone, leaving us to sift through the ruins of plans gone bad and dreams dashed, trying to make the best of the present mess.

‘Visualizing a New Los Angeles: Architectural Renderings of Carlos Diniz,” through Sept. 5; “Drawings and Objects by Architects,” through Oct. 10. Edward Cella Art + Architecture, 6018 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 525-0053. Closed Sundays and Mondays. cedwardcella.com

--David Pagel

Above: Theme Building, Century City Master Plan, 1963. Photo credit: Courtesy Edward Cella Art + Architecture


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