The Design Show That’s Lighting up the Hollywood Hills
Nestled in an idyllic cul-de-sac perched atop L.A.’s Laurel Canyon is Pierre Koenig’s 1959 Case Study House 21, a gem of California Modernism and the home to Seomi International. This winter, the house sits aglow, inhabited by the South Korean design gallery’s current exhibition, “A Case Study in Lighting.” Featuring work by nine artists with a focus on contemporary design, the first installment of the two-part show activates the residence, its site-specific venue, allowing for viewers to experience lighting as a sculptural element of functional design.
By day, guided by plentiful natural light, one can truly study the material properties of the expertly crafted objects on display. Lee Hun Chung’s floor-based ceramic sculpture, symmetrically balanced by two spherical bulbs and a daub of inky glaze, stands out for its bold construction and its historical nod to traditional Joseon Dynasty ceramics. Other notable works include Thaddeus Wolfe’s colorful yet somewhat Brutalist pendant light Facet Assemblage (2013), and Bahk Jong Sun’s minimal, Judd-esque wall lamp. The show draws from SEOMI’s own stable of South Korean designers, as well as that of New York’s R & Company, including young, prominent L.A.-based designers The Haas Brothers and David Wiseman.
The house serves as the ideal environment for experiencing these works; nonetheless, its architecture also acts as a frame that sculpturally guides and contains the emanating light. Upon viewing the works in daylight, it seems as if something is being withheld, as if the objects themselves were keeping their cards to their chests—this becomes evident upon seeing the works by night. The show begs for a visit after sundown, when the works on display are the space’s sole light sources.
By evening, the house becomes a glowing modular structure illuminated from within by orbs of light that stream through the glass walls, creating reflections that appear as floating beacons in the sleek pools outside. As myriad light sources envelop the house, they transcend physical containment and seem to subtly switch roles with the surrounding architecture. In one room, the house’s mid-century modern design elements seamlessly orbit Jeff Zimmerman’s bulbous, biomorphic hanging sculpture. His adjacent wall-mounted pieces, while decorative in daylight, mimic moonlight when lit—their reflections against the exterior glass wall poetically read as full moons in the sky.
Viewing the exhibition’s transition from day to night reveals that the objects on view, while contemporary, nonetheless serve to bolster the relevance of lighting in the context of historical design.