Modernism Week in Palm Springs, underway now, is the annual holy grail of modernist design weeks that celebrates mid-century architecture, design, and culture from 1946 to 1973, with a FOMO-worthy lineup of more than 350 ticketed events, from swanky home tours to cerebral design talks. There’s even a vintage trailer show, with scores of gleaming, tricked-out Airstream RVs and cartoonish canned ham campers. The 11-day festival, held February 17 to 27, is total #goals for any bonafide mid-century enthusiast. While many of the events may be sold out, there are plenty still available, including new additions and increased capacity at favorite events. (For the full list of choices, see below. For tickets, visit modernismweek.com).
Modernism Week, now in its 18th year in Palm Springs, attracts modernist fans from across the globe. Twenty-five countries were represented at the February 2020 festival, including Canada, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. All 50 United States and the District of Columbia were in the house, with California accounting for the majority of attendees – approximately 44 percent – with Californians from 443 of the state’s 482 cities, according to Modernism Week Executive Director Lisa Vossler Smith.
“Palm Springs is widely recognized as having the largest and most intact mid-century modern residential architecture of anywhere in the country, or even the world. People travel great distances to view the stunning architecture that we have in our backyard,” said Vossler Smith.
Attendance at Modernism Week in 2020 was estimated at 162,000, and generated an estimated economic impact of $61 million for area hotels, shops, restaurants, and other local businesses from Palm Springs to Indian Wells and beyond.
“Since its inception, mid-century modern design has had a lasting impact on our culture due to its elegant simplicity. There are many styles of modernism – Brutalism, Tiki, International – and each style accentuates a different environment,” Vossler Smith continued, adding that prominent mid-century modern architects including John Lautner, E. Stewart Williams, A. Quincy Jones, Hugh Kaptur, and Donald Wexler were drawn to Palm Springs because they were able to produce buildings using modern materials and create innovative, never-tried-before designs. “The pleasant weather of the area allowed these architects to blend inside and outside into one seamless design, which is a core design element with so many of the structures in Palm Springs.”
With weekend temperatures expected to reach a high of 80, dipping to the mid-to-low 50s at night, it couldn’t be a more perfect time to join the party in the desert and partake in some of Modernism Week’s highlighted events. Just remember to bring a mask and your vax card – the City of Palm Springs is maintaining its indoor mask policy, and you may be asked to show proof of full-course vaccination.
Don’t miss the chance to see architect Albert Frey’s meticulously preserved 1955 hillside gem, held for years by private owners. Regarded as the founding father of Desert Modernism, Frey employed an outside-inside design that incorporated the surrounding terrain and took full advantage of the dramatic desert views. The Estate Sale Co., 4185 E. Palm Canyon, Palm Springs. (Meet in the parking lot behind the building.)
One of the most famous examples of mid-century architecture in Palm Springs, the famed Frey House II was built in 1964 as Frey’s personal residence and had the highest elevation of any home in the city. Hosted by the Palm Springs Art Museum, these 30-minute self-guided tours are a rare opportunity to explore this hillside landmark that looks over Coachella Valley. Bonus: the tour ticket also grants free admission to both the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Architecture & Design Center. Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs.
Famed American architect John Lautner is known for his organic environments that promote harmony between man and nature. His award-winning 1947 residential fourplex, renamed as the Lautner Compound, defines iconic desert living, featuring a collection of three restored and designed boutique properties. 67710 San Antonio St., Desert Hot Springs.
With clever, color-saturated interiors that include a lush jade green master bath that will invariably become the background of your next Insta selfie, the 1975 Seventies Sackley residence in the gracious Indian Canyons neighborhood is one of Modernism Week’s Featured Homes, and rightly so. A blend of contemporary furnishings and vintage pieces by Grace Home Furnishings effortlessly complements architect Stan Sackley’s signature style of high ceilings, wide walls of glass, and clerestory windows. 2336 S. Caliente Dr., Palm Springs.
With aquatic colors splashed throughout its sleek interior, Modernism Week’s Featured Home, Maison Bleue Moderne, is a 1950s dream house built by leading desert modernist architect William Krisel and designed by LA-based Michelle Boudreau, who merged modern technology with clean shapes and original mid-century design details. Maison Bleue Moderne, 1177 Vista Vespero, Palm Springs.
One of Palm Springs’ first private gated golf communities, Seven Lakes Golf and Country Club – where President Dwight Eisenhower once scored a hole in one – is considered the grande dame of Coachella Valley’s residential country club enclaves. Dubbed “The Gem of the Desert,” the low-density design features coordinating mid-century homes designed by Richard Harrison in the 1960s and an old school Clubhouse by modernist architect William Cody, graciously situated around an 18-hole executive golf course. Seven Lakes Golf and Country Club Clubhouse, 4100 E. Seven Lakes Dr., Palm Springs.
The first residential subdivision by architectural dream team Wexler & Harrison, El Rancho Vista Estates in North East Palm Springs is a collection of 75 compact homes built in 1960 by visionary developer Roy Fey boasting boldly hued doorways, striking desert landscaping, and breeze-block carports. 1565 Via Roberto Miguel, Palm Springs.
The Palm Springs Historical Society will be hosting a series of residential walking tours throughout Palm Springs, with increased capacity. (See modernismweek.com for specifics.)
From Brutalism to Tiki, all design movements of the 20th century will be in the mix at the 21st annual Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale, featuring 90 premier exhibitors from across the U.S. and Europe displaying a wide array of vintage furniture and lighting, art and photography, jewelry, vintage clothing, and accessories. LA-area dealers include George Billis Gallery (Los Angeles); Den (Los Angeles); Whatever Gallery (San Diego); Lisa Cliff Collection (Pasadena); Peter Blake Gallery (Laguna Beach); and, for the first time, iconic mid-century designer Charles Hollis Jones (Burbank), showcasing his new furniture designs along with a collection of vintage pieces from the 1960s and ‘70 when Jones created custom furniture for Palm Springs’ top celebs, including Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. The show runs concurrently with the 4th annual Palm Springs Modern Design Expo, a showcase of 45 contemporary dealers, which include Light in Art (Los Angeles) and Galerie D’Arts (Santa Monica) – also inside the Palm Springs Convention Center. One $30 ticket grants access to both shows and include return entry all weekend, plus a fancy full-color Modernism Week catalog. Hours: Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Monday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Valet parking, as well as self-parking, available. (For a full list of exhibitors: www.palmspringsmodernism.com.) 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, Palm Springs.
Wear your glitziest vintage cocktail attire for PS UNDERGROUND’s homage to the fabled Chi Chi nightclub of downtown Palm Springs, a favorite watering hole for movie stars in the 1940s and ‘50s. The ticket price includes a four-course “dining adventure.” PS UNDERGROUND, 1700 S. Camino Real, Suite 2, Palm Springs.
Behind the Velvet Ropes of Studio 54 Fashion Show (February 20, $60)
If the mere mention of vintage 1970s Halston has the power to make you hyperventilate, as it does for us, you may want to tuck some smelling salts in your mini bag for designer vintage retailer Mitchells Palm Springs’ Studio 54-themed fashion show. A pristine collection of vintage clothing and accessories by couturiers including Emilio Pucci, Malcolm Starr, Givenchy, and Pierre Cardin will also be for sale at the pop-up boutique before and after the show, held at the ca. 1947 mid-century marvel that is Temple Isaiah (Brutalist facade and all), with a portion of ticket sales donated back to the modernist synagogue. Enjoy a glass of bubbly and an assortment of sweets while social distancing, and be prepared to pop on your mask during the seated presentation; vax cards are required for entry. Temple Isaiah, 332 West Alejo Rd., Palm Springs CA 92262.
An annual crowd favorite is the Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Show over the festival’s second weekend, one of the most well-attended vintage trailer shows in the country, we’re told. Shiny silver Airstreams tricked out with creature comforts such as wood-paneled curio cabinets are displayed by their proud owners, who are happy to share their stories and trade secrets. The curated collection from the 1940s to the ‘70s ranges from full-on buses and motorhomes to diminutive hitch-ables such as the “teardrop shoe” and campy “canned ham” models. Meet custom restoration craftsmen as well as a variety of retail vendors that can help you get ready for a road trip in no time. Peruse the many styles of vintage trailers, including Airstream, Holiday House, Aristocrat, canned ham, and Shasta. Vintage Trailer Spot, 575 N. Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs.
Talks & Book Signings
Alan Hess on Organic Modern Master Architect Kendrick Kellogg (February 19, $15)
Prominent architecture critic Alan Hess does a deep dive into organic modern master Kendrick Kellogg, looking at the groundbreaking architect’s dozens of landscaping-shifting organic residences, including the Lotus House, the High Desert House, and the Onion House. Recommended listening for any fan of modern design. Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Dr., Palm Springs.
Shag Release party and cocktail reception (February 19, 6 pm-9 pm, free)
Shag collectors will have the opportunity for first dibs on the artist’s new print release: “35 Wheels,” a retro bicycling-themed, 20-color silk-screen print. Enjoy live music by the Martini Kings plus complimentary cocktails and conversation with the ever-charming Shag. Free and open to the public. The Shag Store, 745 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
Catch up on your pop culture at this talk on the backstory of Little Island, a 2.4-acre artificial island in the Hudson River Park in New York City that’s making headlines around the world. Nestled among more than 350 species of flowers, trees, and shrubs, the man-made isle includes a 687-seat amphitheater and lawn spaces, as well as spectacular views of other portions of Hudson River Park, New York City. Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Dr., Palm Springs.
Arguably the best known visual pop artist in Coachella Valley, world-acclaimed designer Josh Agle (aka Shag) will hold court at the Annenberg Theater inside Palm Springs Art Museum, talking art and inspiration in his affable, easy-going manner. As a thank you to his fans, Agle is generously gifting all attendees the cutest mini silkscreen print – a Shag pinup lounging with her pet cat, which would look so perfect in your powder room. [Note: The official Modernism Week 2022 poster – artwork by Shag – is available at popular Palm Springs retailer Destination PSP.] Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Dr., Palm Springs.
Art historian, designer, and collector of 1960s and ‘70s art, Ronnie Sassoon, the stylish widow of the late Vidal Sassoon, is one of those incredibly knowledgeable women we’d switch place cards in order to sit next to at a dinner party. From her three significant modernist homes — including a Richard Neutra in Los Angeles and a Marcel Breuer in Connecticut (Hello!) – to her vast collections, Ms. Sassoon has mastered the art of creative living, and then some. Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Dr., Palm Springs.
Artist and writer Justin Beal discusses his book Sandfuture about the life of World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912-86), a first-generation Japanese American whose work had a profound influence on American architecture. Beal graduated from Yale University with a degree in architecture, and Sandfuture is his first book. CAMP Theater, 285 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
Fan of Hungarian-born modernist architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer won’t want to miss this three-for-one Breur extravaganza: A single ticket package of $20 gives you access to three events about the prolific designer of some of the most important chairs of the 20th century, including the bent-steel Wassily Chair. Breur also created singular buildings and residences, many in collaboration with Bauhaus director, architect Walter Gropius. The all-things-Marcel Breur afternoon lineup: A talk on Breuer’s Brutalist masterpiece, the Armstrong Rubber Company Building (popularly known as the Pirelli Tire Building, in New Haven, CT); another talk on Breuer’s work in the suburbs of NYC, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, the 1950s-70s; and a feature-length documentary on the private homes Breuer designed for his clients and friends between the 1950s and 1970s. Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Dr., Palm Springs.
In 1940s post-war America, “The Harvard 5” were the It Boys of modern design, worshiping at the altar of Bauhaus and turning New Canaan, CT into a modernist mecca. More than 120 modern structures were built during the mid-20th century, including Harvard 5 member Philip Johnson’s seminal Glass House, now a museum. Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Dr., Palm Springs.
Photographer Nancy Baron, who is actually allergic to dogs (yet still has an English Shepherd, a beloved member of her family) discusses her third book, Palm Springs Modern Dog at Home, in a slideshow presentation of resplendent mid-century homes, along with design collaborator Gary Wexler. A book signing will immediately follow this presentation. CAMP Theater, 285 N. Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
The story of the Edith Farnsworth House, designed and constructed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe between 1945 and 1951, is one that embraces mid-century modern design, design history, and nature. Learn its fascinating history at a talk given by Edith Farnsworth House Executive Director and Curator Scott Mehaffey. The location will be printed on the ticket.
American visual artist Sister Corita Kent, a pop artist and advocate for social justice during the turbulent 1960s, created thousands of works, including vibrant serigraph editions, watercolors, and public and private commissions. Learn about her prolific body of work that reflects the issues plaguing her times, including poverty, racism, and war. MP Theater, 285 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
A trailblazer and American fashion industry icon, Vera Neumann was a prolific artist and designer who copyrighted 8,000 designs during her lifetime. Susan Seid, owner of the Vera Neumann Art Collection, and fashion designer Trina Turk, famous for her California modernism aesthetic, will discuss Neumann’s legacy. The event will also be live-streamed at $10 a person for those unable to attend the presentation. Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Dr., Palm Springs.
The owners of Case Study House #26 (1962) discuss architect Beverley Thorne’s chic post-war, steel-and-glass design, as well as practical matters such as living in and maintaining the home, plus the house’s upcoming 60th anniversary later this year. Thorne is also known for the homes he designed for jazz musician Dave Brubeck in Oakland and Connecticut. CAMP Theater, 285 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.
“The Lost Tortoise” print release party and cocktail reception (February 26, 6 pm to 9 pm)
Wrap Modernism Week in style with Shag at his print release party for “The Lost Tortoise,” a rather fabulous seven-color silkscreen print in bold purple and greens. Also being debuted is Shag’s ultimate home-decor accessory: A four-gallon, working flask sculpture of silkscreen-printed stainless steel – cheekily entitled “Pick Your Poison.” Yes, a four-gallon working flask, which, if you know Shag, is just so Shag. Would someone we know please buy this? (Not a rhetorical question.) Enjoy live music by The Martini Kings, plus more complimentary cocktails, but of course. Free and open to the public. The Shag Store, 745 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.