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Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury [Hardcover]

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Item description for Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury by Michael Boyd Elizabeth Armstrong...

Miles Davis's seminal recording, known as "Birth of the Cool", is the starting point for this colorful, multi-disciplinary journey through 1950s West Coast America. 1950s West Coast style exuded "cool": from the smooth, hypnotic strains of a Miles Davis riff through Richard Neutra's elegant, modernist residences to the hard-edged paintings of Helen Lundeberg and Karl Benjamin. This richly illustrated volume casts a fresh eye on Fifties West Coast style with illuminating commentary from a variety of perspectives. Designed to echo the period it celebrates, this catalog explores modernist innovations in art, architecture, design, film and music. Prominent cultural critics write on an array of topics: Thomas Hine about the culture of cool; Elizabeth Smith on domestic aspects of the period's architecture; Francis Colpitt on hard-edged abstract painting; Dave Hickey on jazz, and Bruce Jenkins on the crossover between animation and experimental film. The result is a multi-faceted exploration of the 1950s West Coast.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   301
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 10.79" Width: 10" Height: 1.18"
Weight:   3.97 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Oct 20, 2007
Publisher   Prestel USA
ISBN  3791338781  
ISBN13  9783791338781  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Humanities > Art & Music > Studio Art > Design
2Books > Subjects > Arts & Photography > Art > Art History > Regional > United States
3Books > Subjects > Arts & Photography > Art > Museums & Collections > General
4Books > Subjects > Arts & Photography > Graphic Design > Design > General
5Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > State & Local - By State > California

Reviews - What do customers think about Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury?

Great modern images with suburban prose.  Jul 30, 2008
This book is beautiful, and would look great on any book shelf or coffee table. It really gives a good feel for the time. But it seems like all of the contributors have read the same sources, and have nothing to add of their own. This makes the reading (rather than the perusing of the great photos) tedious as the writing is very repetitive. A book about the modern movement in art, design, and culture should include more ideas and discussion.
Tailfin times  Mar 9, 2008
A brave and fascinating attempt to pull together the various strands of, mostly, commercial creativity in southern California in the middle of the last century. Case Study Houses and other modern architecture, the output of Pacific Jazz and Contemporary records, abstract art by John McLaughlin, Frederick Hammersley, furniture design by Charles and Ray Eames are some of the exciting design ideas that blossomed during the affluent tailfin fifties in the sunshine of the Golden State.

The book concentrates on architecture, abstract art, movies, furniture and graphic design. Missing (and I would have thought a good contributor to 'cool') is beat writing but as the book is a catalog to a visual exhibition it's hardly surprising that it only gets a passing mention. Of the nine essay contributors I though those by Elizabeth Smith and Thomas Hine the most interesting. Smith is the author of the most thorough book on Southern California architecture (Blueprints For Modern Living) and her essay `Domestic Cool' puts architecture exactly in context. Hine's contribution: Cold War Cool really belongs in the front of the book as a succinct overview of the subject.

The visual importance of 'cool' in the book is revealed by a chapter that looks at the photographic work of William Claxton. He probably took a photo of every West Coast cool jazzman which were used extensively on the LP covers of Pacific Jazz and Contemporary Records, he designed many of them, too.

As the book is a permanent reminder of the exhibition it covers I thought it was a pity that the editorial has several flaws. There is a thirty page chapter devoted to the year 1959. The editors considered this a pivotal time and wanted to put the book's essays in context. These pages just contain large news photos and related graphics and as such assume much more importance than they are worth. The idea is a good one but a spread devoted to a text timeline would have worked as well freeing up pages for more images in the rest of the book.

The page design seems very arbitrary to me. Many pages have a deep eau de nil band running horizontally across the middle but on some spreads it is missing. The inclusion of this band seems pure designer whimsy and if it wasn't included readers would not be aware of something missing. They unfortunately would be aware of the many missing page numbers though. Frequently captions refer to images on a particular page by their number, also the forty-three pages of historical printed material have no numbers at all but items in this section are often referred to in the index. All of this is really inexcusable for a quality publication though I understand it is not untypical of exhibition catalogs.

The book celebrates the up-market aspects of cool in a particular place and time. To read about down-market cool have a look at 'The Catalog of Cool' by Gene Sculatti. He surveys popular culture at the other extreme in mid-century California and America.

***FOR AN INSIDE LOOK click 'customer images' under the cover.

Cool!  Feb 8, 2008
This is a wonderful book, beautiful looking and a delight to read. The credits above omit several of the contributors who make it so good. These include Thomas Hine, Bruce Jenkins, and Elizabeth A.T. Smith, who wrote essays, and Lorraine Wild, who wrote an essay and was one of the book's designers.

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