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Modernism Rediscovered: Pierluigi Serraino & Julius Shulman

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This revealing book shows just how selective architectural history can be, writes Andrew Mead

Pierluigi Serraino & Julius Shulman. Taschen, 2000. 576pp. 19.99

This revealing book shows just how selective architectural history can be, writes Andrew Mead . It does so by exploring the archives of one of the most acclaimed post-war architectural photographers, American West Coastbased Julius Shulman, whose images of Neutra’s Kaufmann House and Koenig’s Case Study House 22 (among others) really do deserve the adjective ‘iconic’.

But the point of Modernism Rediscovered is precisely to exclude such familiar photographs - already the subject of a book by Taschen (AJ 7.1.99). It presents instead works that may have been published on completion - for instance, in the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine rather than a professional journal - but have seldom been seen since.

In a brief, pertinent introduction, Pierluigi Serraino discusses this ‘mechanism of memory’ and how, for reasons other than architectural merit, current databases leave some buildings in ‘a state of effective invisibility’.

More than 500 pages of Shulman’s photographs then make them visible once more. While it is far too extravagant to claim, as the jacket does, that we are given ‘300 forgotten masterpieces’, the book certainly includes many accomplished and seductive houses in a Modernist idiom - a tribute to the clientele and climate of post-war California.

Shulman makes the most of his opportunities, especially in lighting his shots to keep interiors and exteriors in balance, which is crucial when the continuity of inside and out is so central to the designs. Artefacts and people alike are deployed in his carefully contrived scenes, which serve as an inventory of fashions, furniture and fabrics in the 1950s and ’60s - a high gloss portrait of the enviable life. No wonder magazines such as Wallpaper* have recognised him as a kindred spirit.

There are striking images too when Shulman leaves behind the Californian domesticity to which he was so attuned - of Clorindo Testa’s monumental Banco de Londres, Buenos Aires, for instance (pictured above). And, ironically, whereas Taschen’s book of Shulman’s famous photographs was poor in its production and design, Modernism Rediscovered is done with flair.

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