“One of my dreams,” Pauline Schindler wrote to her mother in 1916, “is to have, someday, a little joy of a bungalow, on the edge of the woods and mountains near a crowded city, which shall be open just as some people’s hearts are open, to friends of all classes and types.” Six years after this letter was written, Pauline and husband Rudolph Schindler designed and built a place to live on the edge of the woods and mountains in the center of Los Angeles, but the hard-edged, modernist building that became the Schindler House has little of the features that come to mind when one envisions “a little joy of a bungalow.”

That is, at least, the impression one gets when walking through the hollowed building several decades later, following its acquisition and renovation by the Friends of the Schindler House (FOSH) in 1980, with the intention of repurposing it as an event and exhibition space. The year used as a point of reference for the renovation was 1922, predating the bohemian life that once took place within that made the house a home.

Many of the items on display in Soft Schindler, an exhibition currently running in the space and throughout the grounds, capture much of the essence erased by renovation by treating ephemerality itself as a medium. Curated by local design critic Mimi Zeiger, Soft Schindler exhibits the work of artists and architects as they creatively interpret the “century of fluid, alternating domesticities” since the Schindler House was first built, while also redefining modernism as softer than they had originally been described.

The most thought-provoking pieces in the exhibition, however, are both time-based or site-specific. One installation which brilliantly embodies these two qualities is The Garden of Earthly Delights, a series of curtains by Colombian architecture firm AGENdA Agencia de Arquitectura that nearly fill the entirety of Rudolph Schindler’s original studio while establishing soft volumes of their own. The curtains are dyed using coffee and tobacco—two consumables which were once the “silent witnesses to discussions, encounters, and disagreements” within the home, and the piece’s layout takes the gridlines of the home’s floor plan and renders them translucent and permeable. Visitors are invited to walk through the spaces created within The Garden of Earthly Delights to recall the “social dynamics of the Schindler’s table” during its early years.

Interior of a house with nude sculptures on plinths

Alice Lang’s (left to right) Better Half #2, 2018; Better Half #4, 2017; Cut Out, 2019, and Better Half #5, 2018

New York-based firm Leong Leong initiated a four-month “culinary experiment” with their outdoor installation Fermentation 01. Three marble-block vessels designed by the firm were placed in the Chace Patio, each one filled with a unique recipe by local fermentation experts Jessica Wang and Ai Fujimoto. The vessels will ferment the recipes, using the home and the Southern California climate as a sort of outdoor kitchen, and become the centerpiece of a tasting event near the end of the exhibition’s run. Like The Garden of Earthly Delights, Fermentation 01 reestablishes the home as a place of evanescent pleasures.

Though not as site-specific to the Schindler House as others in the exhibition, Jorge Otero-Pailos’s Répétiteur 3 and Répétiteur 4 is a remarkably inventive take on the prompt outlined by Zeiger. The artist peeled the “dust and other residue” left on the walls of choreographer Merce Cunningham’s rehearsal studio in New York and placed them in two lightboxes occupying either side of Pauline Schindler’s original studio. The result is an uncanny reflection of the endless hours of practice that took place in Cunningham’s studio through a method unachievable with archival photography and correspondence. Had the Schindler House not been so thoroughly renovated, it would have been a real treat if Otero-Pailos presented its own decades of residue in the same format.

Soft Schindler reminds its viewers to not only think of the Schindler House as “a little joy of a bungalow,” as it truly was once, but also to seek out the diaphanous between the hard lines of modernity as we know it. The show will be on display through February 16, 2020.

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