Art review: Syd Mead’s believable, progressive futurism


The Forest Lawn Museum retrospective exhibition of Syd Mead’s half-century career as designer, illustrator and artist is composed of more than just renderings of his curious futuristic inventions. Mead shapes a utopian future made believable. His visions of aerodynamic transportation, orbital architecture, sporting robots and interplanetary society are persuasive, delivered with ingenious perspective and fastidious detail.

In his book, “Sentury II,” Mead calls auto design his first love. Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Mead worked the drawing boards for auto industry giants Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, providing progressive and functional concept designs. Many of the artist’s futuristic auto styles are included in “Syd Mead Progressions” at the museum, including a triptych of what he labels “Future Transports,” with luxury yachts, hyperspace crafts, and a folding, telescoping space station.

Many movie fans know Mead best as the creator of futurist concept designs incorporated into such feature films as “Blade Runner,” “Aliens” and “Mission: Impossible III,” reaching an international audience far beyond the drafting table. Other images are the result of commissions by an eclectic collection of clients including National Geographic, Japanese toy designers, Sony and many others.

Mead’s visualization of futuristic sporting events is enormously entertaining. “Running of the 6 DRGXXS” (1983, gouache on paper) was inspired by a photo of greyhound races. His version is dominated by dog-like robots, manned by crews of eight. Blimps hover above futuristic stadiums, and the artist forecasts the use of wireless handheld devices by roaring crowds, waving their electronic tablets to place bets and monitor track stats. The energy and atmosphere of the image are not unlike something from director Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.”

The showpiece of the exhibition is subtle and enigmatic, in contrast to the rest of Mead’s vivacious images. “Moon 2000” (1979, gouache on paper), is not unlike photos we have seen for decades of earth’s moon, but on closer inspection, one can see through the atmospheric haze that this familiar moon is actually foreign. Evidence indicates colonization and an open oculus at the northern pole gives the impression that this moon is hollow.

Mead invents like Buckminster Fuller and executes his thoughts like pop art pioneer Andy Warhol. His narratives are believable and progressive. He started out with concepts ahead of their time and has stayed in front for all these 50 years. “Hypervan” (2008, gouache on paper) depicts a vehicle of serene aerodynamics and reflective surfaces, with a circular window over an inviting passenger lounge area. Elsewhere, super-fit humans are attended to by valet-bots. All of it is very convincing.

Curator Joan Adan has assembled another fascinating “must see” exhibition. Even better, Mead will himself appear at a signing of his new book, “Sentury II,” March 8, 7 p.m.-10 p.m.

TERRI MARTIN is an art historian and art critic.

“Syd Mead: Progressions — A Retrospective”

Where: Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S. Glendale Ave, Glendale.

When: Through April 15. Open every day except Monday, from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Contact: (323) 340-4792 or