Melrose’s Reform Modern is basically what you pray to see whenever you visit a thrift store but, of course, it’s never what you actually find in a thrift store. The gallery, furniture, and object seller is focused on celebrating California design from the latter half of the twentieth century and exploring the history of West coast makers, which they share through occasional exhibitions. Their latest–and very recently closed–showing was Robert Strini‘s Fluidity In Wood, a showing of an artist whose aesthetic was formed in California during the late 1970s. His work is a collection of influences made at a time when art and design in California were changing at a very quick speed.
The piece on view was Sheridan Piece, a curving, giant, intricate manipulation of wood. It sat on Reform’s front-of-the house staged gallery area, The Landing. It appears to be something of an alien contraption, this large amber wood baseball bat that morphs into many wooden tentacles–some with wheels, some without–eventually reaching out with a paddled arm. It has movement and balance and makes you wonder how pieces of wood could be manipulated in such a way: how was this even made? A smaller piece off of The Landing, a few feet removed from Sheridan, has a similar effect and asks you to investigate it further since it too has so many moving parts. Both appear like they could run away, returning to whatever woody space ship they helped to build.
Strini’s work comes from a specific time in the seventies. He completed the piece in 1975, a dynamic time for making in California. He completed his MFA at UC Berkeley and lived and taught in the area in this time period. While visiting the work for a closing dinner, we were treated to a very special screening of a film that helped contextualize the atmosphere in which Strini was building: we got to watch a screening of the documentary The Incredible San Francisco Artists’ Soapbox Derby by Amanda Pope, an event that the artist participated in. The film is a twenty four minute feast of fun that captures a very specific time in California making when SF MOMA asked artists to make soapbox cars and trophies for a fundraiser, allowing them to let down their guard and have a little fun with making. The result was an explosion of creative fun and reflected a unique time period where artists wanted to perplex as much as they wanted to play.
These wooden pieces fit in like old friends on the floor of Reform, which was filled with wooden mid-century and beyond items to match Strini’s work. The space is what you dream your grandparent’s house would look like so that you could cherry pick chairs and books and tables to take and place within your home. Reform owes its well executed vision to owner and curator Gerard O’Brien, who has an intense dedication to late twentieth century design from California. He’s taken it upon himself to find and share these works with Los Angeles and beyond, using his showroom as both a resource in design history and a place to furnish your home with lusted after belongings. We also must note that there is quite an extensive library of books in and around the subject that you could lose yourself in–and Reform gladly would like to see you explore it.
As Californian as the designs on display and present in Strini’s work, there’s something equally as California happening here: it is stressed that every piece in the showroom should be used. Yes, they are beautiful objects for the home–but what good is a beautiful object if it isn’t lived in? At this closing dinner, it was only right that we sat at Sam Maloof-ish woody tables and on chairs so that they could be experienced. The makers whose work fill Reform didn’t build these tables and chairs and plates and lamps simply to stare at: they were built to function and work with you. In a category of art and design that can be so precious, Reform reminds that design is based in purpose–and if that purpose isn’t employed, we are doing it wrong.