The Hammer Museum exhibition opening May 25, “A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living,” redresses what curators consider a major omission in the history of Los Angeles Modernism.
Jones, they argue, had as much, if not more, influence on Southern California architecture before his death in 1979 than many contemporaries who have since become icons of the era. Curators say Jones, who collaborated for much of his career with Frederick Emmons and lectured at USC for nearly three decades, has gone mostly unrecognized beyond his reputation for designing opulent houses for the wealthy, such as Sunnylands, the Walter Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage and Gary Cooper’s stunning home in Holmby Hills.
Using renderings from the UCLA archive and photographs (some almost life-size), the Hammer show points out that Jones and Emmons also designed tract homes -- more than 5,000 in California. Whereas Richard Neutra and Rudolph M. Schindler extolled their residential designs as prototypes for mass-produced housing -- the architectural equivalents to Henry Ford’s auto assembly line -- Jones was the only one of the three to accomplish this goal. And he did it with little bravado and fuss.
The Hammer bolsters its case for Jones’ brilliance by displaying new photographs by Jason Schmidt of the architect’s lauded St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Studio City as well as his last work, the Warner Bros. Records headquarters in Burbank.
And then there are those fancy houses. The section of the exhibition titled “Living Large” is dominated by the epitome of Southern California luxury: Jones’ expansive 1949 home for art collectors Sidney and Frances Brody, set on 2.3 acres in Holmby Hills.
So why isn’t A. Quincy Jones better known? Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, guest curator of the Hammer show and assistant curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, attributes his modest profile to his subdued personality.
“He was a born collaborator and was very professional about crediting everyone he met,” she said.
Dunlop Fletcher devotes one exhibition space to Jones’ unusual office practice, showing how he reached out for inspiration beyond the circle of fellow architects and into the community as a whole.
Jones was even less concerned with the iconography of architecture. According to Dunlop Fletcher, “He chose to design from the inside out.” A fan of post-and-beam construction as well as of the angled roof (a Jones design signature), the architect focused on the experience of living in a house rather than its look -- something harder to communicate, especially in print.
But with this museum show -- the first major exhibition of his work, the Hammer said -- Jones may at long last find the wider audience so many believe he deserves.
Look for a video interview with curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher next week on L.A. at Home. For an easy way to follow the L.A. scene month after month, bookmark L.A. at Home and join us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.