In the fall of 1979, Los Angeles’ first gallery for architecture came into being in Thom Mayne’s home in Venice, California. Here, in a loft that doubled as his design studio, the temporary “Architecture Gallery” lived out an intense, 10-week run, staging a different exhibition each week. Though makeshift, the series proved pivotal, limelighting a local cast of independent, mostly young and emerging practitioners (all men), some on the cusp of bigger things: Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi, of Morphosis; Craig Hodgetts and Robert Mangurian, of Studio Works; Eric Owen Moss; Peter de Bretteville; Frederick Fisher; Eugene Kupper; Frank Dimster; Coy Howard; and two slightly older, more established architects, Roland Coate, Jr. and Frank Gehry. In the spirit of improvisation and energetic experimentation that characterized architectural culture on the city’s Westside, each practice mounted its own five-day show, paired with a lecture at nearby SCI-Arc. (A scratchy video of the talk-of-the-week played on a TV monitor at every show.) Almost simultaneously, architecture critic John Dreyfuss reviewed each installation in the Los Angeles Times, providing a running commentary that amplified the bang of this grass-roots production. This compelling and little-known story is the subject of A Confederacy of Heretics, an exhibition at SCI-Arc’s current home in downtown Los Angeles.
Curated by SCI-Arc faculty Todd Gannon and Andrew Zago, with Ewan Branda, the show is part of the Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., 1940-1990, with exhibitions at 17 venues across the region this spring and summer. If a Los Angeles-specific architecture truly emerged from the city’s unique circumstances and culture (arguably in more than one incarnation between 1940 and 1990), then this moment in the late 1970s was a game-changer. But brewing here was not a Los Angeles, but a Venice, architecture, rising from what was then a gritty, edgy, God-forsaken neighborhood, where virtually every architect in the series had migrated.