Esther McCoy at her drafting board, mid-1940s.
Courtesy of Esther McCoy Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian
Esther McCoy at work, Santa Monica, California, c. 1985. Courtesy of Esther
McCoy Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Pier at Santa Monica, California, September 5, 1949. Esther McCoy (foreground)
with husband Berkeley Tobey, Vera Dreiser (left) and Helen Dreiser. Courtesy of
Theodore Dreiser Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of
Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture
September 28, 2011 - January 29, 2012
(West Hollywood) The MAK Center celebrates writer and historian Esther McCoy, the pre-eminent voice of 20th century California architecture: Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design, the first exhibition to present the life and work of Esther McCoy (1904-1989), recognizes an American original and affirms her unassailable role as a key figure in American modernism. Co-curated by MAK Center director Kimberli Meyer and writer Susan Morgan, Sympathetic Seeing will be on view from September 28, 2011 - January 8, 2012, with a public opening reception on Tuesday, September 27 from 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. The exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time, the Getty-organized initiative that brings together more than 60 Southern California cultural institutions to explore the birth of the Los Angeles art scene.
"No one can write about architecture in Southern California without acknowledging her as the mother of us all," declared Reyner Banham. In 1945, McCoy's formidable career was launched with the publication of "Schindler, Space Architect." Now, the Schindler House hosts the first Esther McCoy exhibition, a resonant homecoming, a celebration of McCoy's work and the rich legacy of California architecture.
Esther McCoy, born in Arkansas and raised in Kansas, landed in Greenwich Village during the 1920s where she pursued her vocation as a writer and apprenticed with novelist Theodore Dreiser. In 1932, she moved to Los Angeles and wrote for literary journals, popular magazines, and progressive broadsheets. After completing a wartime stint in Douglas Aircraft's drafting department, she went to work as a draftsperson for R.M. Schindler. By 1945, McCoy's attentive writing had turned significantly to architecture.
For more than 40 years, McCoy's work articulated the concepts and vibrant character of West Coast modernism. Her writing appeared regularly in the Los Angeles Times, Arts & Architecture, Zodiac, and Architectural Forum. In 1960, McCoy published Five California Architects, her groundbreaking book that remains a seminal volume on California architecture. As Robert Winter and David Gebhard noted in A Guide to Architecture in Southern California (1965): "Our present awareness of Southern California architectural heritage has been due to a one-woman crusade on the part of the critic and historian, Esther McCoy."
McCoy worked variously as an author, editorial scout, lecturer, and exhibition curator. Among her exhibitions, Felix Candela (1957) and Juan O'Gorman (1964) introduced major Mexican architects to North American audiences. Throughout Arts & Architecture's legendary Case Study House program, she chronicled mid-century modernism as it was being created. McCoy's final essay, commissioned for the exhibition Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses (MOCA, Los Angeles), was published one month before her death in 1989.
Exhibition co-curators Susan Morgan and Kimberli Meyer have worked closely with the Esther McCoy papers--an invaluable primary source comprised of thousands of documents and photographs--housed at the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art.
Sympathetic Seeing will highlight--through photographs, drawings, texts, videos, and audio interviews--the extraordinary range and importance of McCoy's work: starting in the 1930s and her activist journalism focusing on fair labor practices and Los Angeles slum clearances; the Arts & Architecture years and the rise of innovative domestic architecture; her campaign to save Irving Gill's 1916 Dodge House; and her always incisive stories that deliver an irresistibly compelling, first-hand view of American modernism.
For more information please visit: The MAK Center