I never imagined that I’d have the distinct pleasure of meeting Peter Shire, the only American artist to serve as part of the Italian based Memphis Group…. but I did!! It happened on the last day of his recent exhibit at MOCA, West Hollywood, down to about the last hour of his show that closed on July 2, 2017.
I kept nudging my fiance that morning… lets go, it’s closes at 6. Him, you still have a few hours, why rush. Ugh. You know that feeling when you’re so excited like a kid who wants to go to the carnival? Well that’s me when it came to seeing this exciting show, because it held so much history for me. I’d been aware of the Memphis Group, since they burst on the scene in the early 1980’s. As a young guy who’d just moved to Seattle from the boonies, I was awestruck by the bold and colorful furniture that I’d seen in a few of the Italian based furniture stores. And then, there was that crazy fun movie ‘Ruthless People’ starring Better Midler and Danny DeVito in 1986 which solidified the outrageous design movement known as Post Modernism. To be honest, I think they were poking fun at the Memphis furniture style by stuffing the characters Bel-Air home on Belagio Drive with loads and loads of it. But it made an impact that stuck.
To be clear about this design movement, a lot of people hated it. But I’ve always believed in it. My professors at the UCLA interior design school taught us that it takes at least 20 years for the scholars to look back on a design movement and put it in perspective. Well… it’s been 30 years, and guys like Peter Shire and Ettore Sottsass, who founded the group, are getting museum shows all across the country. That’s a good sign. And auction sales for their work are also very strong, another good sign. I own a few pieces of furniture from this era, and I’ve used them daily with great pride. In the photo below you can see the First Chair by Michele de Lucchi (blue disc on the right), that I’ve owned forever. I use it as my painting chair in my art studio because it’s durable and resistant to paint.
So, back to the exhibit. When we walked into MOCA, the receptionist mentioned that Peter might still be upstairs. Whaaaat? Oh my god, really? I was so nervous as I climbed the stairs to the upper gallery. He was there. In the corner. Chatting away. Well…. I circled the gallery, enjoyed and photographed my favorite pieces… but I just couldn’t bring myself to say hello. I was chickening out, but my fiance pushed me: say hello, say hello. You would have thought I was trying to work up the nerve to say hello to Brad Pit or some Hollywood A Lister. The thing is, in my eyes, men like Peter Shire are way more important then Hollywood celebs. They’re artists. They create something from nothing and change the way we view and experience the world. I was just as giddy meeting the iconic photographer Julius Shulman and artist Francoise Gilot.
Mr. Shire was very kind and easy to talk to. He also thanked me for taking the work so seriously and for coming to his show. Please… I would have gotten down on my hands and knees and polished his shoes in that moment. I went downstairs, purchased a book from the show, and went back up for an autograph. He asked his famous architect friend to hold the book while I looked on: Too many famous people!!! In one room. To two very nice people!!!