“Carefree California: Cliff May and the Romance of the Ranch, 1920-1960”

I remember a woman named Zala, from when I was a boy growing up in Southern California. A friend of my parents, she lived in a Cliff May-designed ranch house in Southern California, which I recall nearly as fondly as Zala. The architect, May, is credited with popularized the ranch house and made it an icon of casual California living in the post-war era by designing for developments during a time of prosperity and expansion. May’s California ranchers mixed tradition, with midcentury modern influences.

I remember Zala to be as cool as the midcentury house she lived in. Sliding walls of glass opened the house to the outside--perfect for the summer pool parties she would throw in honor of some visiting academic. Always in a dark turtleneck and skinny slacks (the precursor to the skinny jean) she tucked perfectly into her Eames lounge chair, or draped elegantly over a Barcelona chair.

And now, an exhibition at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum of UC Santa Barbara captures that ranch house cool, which dates to modest designs in the 1930s and transitions to luxury ranch houses later in the architect’s career. “Carefree California: Cliff May and the Romance of the Ranch, 1920-1960” which includes photographs, drawings, scale models, sales pamphlets, site maps, publications, film and television clips.

As part of the exhibition, photographer Catherine Opie was assigned to shoot two Cliff May homes, including his famous Experimental Ranch House. The exhibit is part of the amazing Pacific Standard Time arts initiative led by the Getty Foundation, bringing together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene. “Carefree California” runs through June 17.



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