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Domestic Bliss

“Built In” at the Neutra VDL House

Zara Kand
October 15, 2021
Neutra VDL House, Photographs by Erik Benjamins

After a yearlong hiatus, the Neutra VDL House is luring visitors back with an array of new, site-specific artifacts against the backdrop of its storied setting. Neutra VDL Studio and Residences is a national historic landmark and house museum located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. Initially conceived by legendary architect Richard Neutra in 1932 as a space for his artistic practice, it continues to serve as grounds for experimentation and creativity in the field of architecture for current and future generations.

The space expands upon its scenic appeal in “Built In,” an exhibition of recent works by 32 Los Angeles-based artists, designers, architects, and creative practitioners. These works, curated by artist and writer Erik Benjamins and local gallery Marta, were all created in 2021 and are inspired by Neutra VDL’s numerous structures. Built-ins, such as cabinetry, shelves, and benches that cannot be removed, provide a glimpse into the personality and desires of a home’s original owners.

With its rich architectural history, the house provides an intimate—and culturally significant—setting for these modern-day artists to display their own creative offerings. These works, a complementary mixture of modern and vintage, breathe new life into the space. Easily overlooked household elements such as lamps, curtains, and pots elegantly accentuate the built-ins, underscoring Neutra’s attention to domestic detail.

On the first floor, a series of clay pots by Candice and Darren Romanelli, titled Campbell’s and inlaid with hand-painted Campbell’s Soup brand imagery, are scattered about an outdoor platform. Placed within the ivy strewn deck of the house’s courtyard is The Frank Lucian Neutra Memorial Bench. Made from plywood and laminate by TOLO architecture, this bench is a tribute to Frank Lucian Neutra, the eldest of Richard and Dione Neutra’s three sons, who suffered from emotional and cognitive difficulties throughout his life. Serving as a place of reflection and commemoration, the bench rests close to Frank’s ashes and is adjacent to the Nuetra Family bronze plaque.

Campbells, by Candice and Darren Romanelli

Other pieces include Jason Lipeles & Janet Solval’s Stack Piece series, which speaks to the romantic relationship between Richard and Dione Neutra. What appears as an ordinary bar of soap perched on the kitchen sink is, upon closer inspection, a sculpture titled All Senses—inscribed with the words “Dione plays the cello – Richard listens”.  In I Have Recurring Visions of Us, a stack of poems has been cut to fit the peculiar dimensions of a built-in shelf in the living room.

While roaming throughout the home’s three stories, the viewer may be surprised to encounter an array of interactive, sensory installations including visual, auditory, and even olfactory augmentations. Having researched Neutra’s propensity for scent and sensation, Emily Endo offers a twist on how we experience aroma molecules in a 3-piece series (Nature Near, Life and Shape, and From Floor to Clouds). Glowing, honey-colored micro vials are nestled like jewels within translucent bowls. These vials are filled with fragrances Endo crafted with specific consideration to each floor (such as aluminum, elm leaves, and white stone for the first floor). The vials are free for the taking to all visitors.

On the second-floor patio, we come across Song of Saint James II, a fountain by Charlap Hyman & Herrer that offers both visual and sonic elements. Centered within the frame of a stone-filled reflection pool, a cylindrical base—designed in reference to a piano leg crafted by Nuetra himself and located on the ground floor—sustains a large clamshell from which water gently cascades.

A sound installation by Jeremiah Chiu, titled Dione and Her Own Space, is situated on the top floor. A musical arrangement is played on a continuous loop, composed of layers of Dione Neutra’s voice, combined with a musical performance of hers from 1976, intertwined with field recordings of the home’s construction and local street noise from the era.

Charlap Hyman & Herrer’s Song of Saint James II

Such touches communicate the intrinsic spirit of the Richard and Dion Neutra VDL Research House II, which paradoxically entrances with its timeless serenity and attempts to connect with its history and its creators. Guests will want to leave behind their daily concerns and surrender to the serene environment this unique exhibition provides.

“Built In”

Neutra VDL Studio and Residences
2300 Silver Lake Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039

September 18 — November 07, 2021

Zara Kand is the editor of The Gallerist Speaks. She is also a Symbolist painter based in southern California.