Looking at Los Angeles

The Architect, the Artist, and the House That’s Become a Star

 

Xavier Veilhan, Lautner, Aluminum and polyurethane paint. From the exhibition "Architectones" in 2013 at Goldstein Sheats Residence Los Angeles. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Xavier Veilhan. “Lautner,” 2013. Aluminum and polyurethane paint. From the exhibition “Architectones” at Goldstein Sheats Residence Los Angeles, 2013. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

“Sometimes a house can be deceptive,” said comedian Joan Rivers in 2009, when she stood outside the fantastically triangular Beverly Hills home designed by architect John Lautner. [1] She was shooting an episode of How’d You Get So Rich?, the two-season TV Land show for which she went around the country asking wealthy people about their wealth. Rivers wore a long black and white jacket over silky black pants and bracelets jangled from her wrists, an outfit that paled in comparison to that of the house’s owner, Jim Goldstein. A real estate maven with a distinctive wardrobe, he wore a black cowboy hat that glistened slightly and a snakeskin jacket with irregular patterns of brightly-colored flowers on its sleeves and back. Cameras followed Rivers down a narrow stone and glass path and over a pond to met Goldstein in the entryway.

She asked of his jacket, “Is it made out of my old manager’s skin?”

“Is your old manager a python?” Goldstein replied.

“Trust me, he was a snake,” said Rivers.

Goldstein went on to demonstrate for Rivers how the skylights over the kitchen and dining room opened up. Then he showed her the wide-open living room that juts out toward the pool. Ahead of that is a panoramic view that makes Los Angeles look a little like the Emerald City. “The whole idea is to feel as though you’re outside when you’re inside the house,” said Goldstein, who is no stranger to cameras crews. His living room has been the set for numerous movies, including the Big Lebowski scene in which “The Dude” visits pornographer Jackie Treehorn’s house.

Joan Rivers dangles her feet off the roof of Jim Goldstein's bedroom in "How'd You Get So Rich?"

Joan Rivers dangles her feet off the roof of Jim Goldstein’s bedroom in “How’d You Get So Rich?”

I bring all of this up—Rivers, Goldstein’s jacket, and The Dude—because it’s hard to imagine that Helen Sheats, who commissioned this house in the early 1960s and initially lived in it with her children, foresaw its pop culture future. Sheats was a neo-fauvist painter, which means she made images that vaguely recalled Matisse, and she took Lautner seriously. A Michigan boy who apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright before coming out to L.A. to “wrestle with the transitory infatuation of L.A.,” Lautner was serious. [2] He had big ideas for houses that echoed and accented their surroundings but had their own majestically progressive logic. It’s not that the house’s pop presence and Goldstein’s fashion sense undermine his seriousness. They just complicate it a bit.

Xavier Veilhan, Rays (Lautner), Rubber, polyester, steel, variables dimensions. From the exhibition "Architectones" in 2013 at Goldstein Sheats Residence Los Angeles. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Xavier Veilhan. “Rays (Lautner),” 2013. Rubber, polyester, steel, variables dimensions. From the exhibition “Architectones” at Goldstein Sheats Residence Los Angeles, 2013. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

In April of this year, I visited the Sheats-Goldstein house to see an intervention by Paris-based artist Xavier Veilhan. Under the series he calls Architectones, Veilhan has completed a number of projects in modernist architectural landmarks, spending time in a house and making work that specifically responds to its quirks, structures, and history. Before the Lautner house, he intervened in a Richard Neutra house in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood. Architect Francois Perrin curates the series, and Nicolas Godin of the band Air has composed soundtracks to accompany the installations.

Veilhan’s work for the Lautner house seemed to grapple with the contrasting narratives associated with the place, while also moving to channel its cool, majestic ingenuity. The first sculpture installation was set on a table near the entrance to the living room, beside one of the wrap-around leather couches. Called The Architect, the Owner and the Dog, it included three bronze figures: one tall stately man resembling Lautner, a representation of Goldstein in a cowboy hat with his puff of hair popping out from beneath, and an afghan dog beside them. Apparently, the dog was the reason Goldstein started house shopping in the first place. He bought the Sheats’ residence in 1973, hired Lautner back, and continued to improve on the house until the architect’s death in 1994.

Two delicate pyramids Veilhan built out of thin wood triangles sat on another living room table. The installation Rays was outdoors and especially good to look at around sunset. According to Veilhan, it served as “a metaphor of the continuity between inside and outside proposed by modern architecture.” White polyester ropes angled down from the house’s roof to the edge of the pool, twisting just a bit, shimmering and sometimes altogether blending with the disappearing sunlight. At night, the rays cast shadows across the water.

Downstairs, in Goldstein’s bedroom, a funny aluminum figure meant to evoke the architect, painted with bright green polyurethane paint, stood at the corner where two walls of glass came together and could also come apart again at the push of a button, turning the edge of the bedroom into an open air ledge. When she visited, Joan Rivers yelled from that ledge, “I’m queen of the world.” Lautner probably never yelled that when he stood there, surveying the landscape.

But Veilhan’s rendering of him, all geometry with no defined features, with rectangular arms positioned as if in pockets that weren’t actually there, wasn’t the Lautner who said, “I’ve never designed a façade in my life.” [3] This was a theatrical version whose confident stance suggested that he had absorbed his house’s present-day status as home to a fashion star, a movie backdrop, and a glamorous place that a crass comedian would visit for reality TV.

___________

[1] How’d You Get So Rich? Episode 106. Producers Mark Burnett, Sal Maniaci, Barry Poznick, Amy Rosenblum and John Stevens. Performance: Joan Rivers. (Zoo Productions, DVD, 2009.)

[2] Barbara-Ann Campbell-Lang, Lautner (Cologne: Taschen, 2005), 9.

[3] Campbell-Lang, 9.

Contributor
Catherine Wagley is a writer and artist living in Los Angeles. She primarily writes about art, architecture, and visual culture and is currently exploring decadence and empathy in contemporary photography. She justifies her obsession with primetime TV by calling it “research.” Wagley contributes the Art21 column “Looking at Los Angeles."
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