The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

Carefree California: Cliff May and the Romance of the Ranch at the UCSB University Art Museum

February 26, 2012-June 17, 2012


You need no memory of the past to enjoy this modernization of an old form.
-Cliff May 1946


Carefree California explores the phenomenal rise of the ranch house, casual living, and the western mystique, as promoted by Cliff May, the designer of thousands of modern California ranch houses. The exhibition will concentrate on the modernization of the ranch tradition and its transition from a low-slung luxury recollection of historic adobe, brick, tile, and stucco, to the modest wood and glass tract house of the forties, to the near-minimal system-built ranches May designed and sold in the late 1950s. Through drawings, models, sales pamphlets, photographs, site plans, publications, film and television clips and stills, building toys, and popular magazines, the exhibition will address the opening up of the plan, the emphasis on patio and glass corridor to suggest additional space, and the integration of house and garden. It will also explore wartime industry, post-war in-migration, and the federal subsistence and military building programs that set many of the material terms and language for postwar tracts and for May’s ubiquitous Californian solution that helped create an important regional identity. Works from other key architects and designers of the period will also be featured.


Carefree California is part of Pacific Standard Time, a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California, coming together for six months beginning in October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a major new force in the art world. Pacific Standard Time is sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Trust.

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