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Admirable Insanity: Robolights

Kitsch and art are parallel lines that never cross. Some artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and I could even argue Klimpt, sort of brush up against that line, but the whole genre of pop art acts as a buffer between the two making absolutely sure that those lines do not cross.

Unless you are in Palm Springs.

Imagine the Watts Towers but replace the Antoni Gaudi influence with Tim Burton. Just as the Watts towers are a backyard monument built “just because”, so is Robolights. But Robolights has a bazillion more Christmas lights- and toilets.

Approximately 30 years ago Kenny Irwin Jr. started building giant robots in his backyard. He was 9. Since then he has graduated art school and inherited the family house, but he has never stopped building. When I say never stopped, I mean I am unsure when he stops to eat because this place is the macabre junkyard version of kudzu. It is thick, ever growing, and covers everything.

When I first visited the place and posted pictures online, the most common questions were what and why? Neither can nor should be answered. Robolights is the kind of place that must be experienced not explained.

I can tell you that there is a feature touting itself as one of only two microwaved microwaves in the world, which would be Kitschy, but while viewing the torched appliance you are standing on a path lined by thousands of little skulls flanked by microwave legged robots under an archway holding up a roller coaster of shopping carts filled with aliens.

Everywhere you look something is spinning and flashing and probably features a skull or a toilet. And it is all in some dude’s backyard in residential neighborhood. Which on paper makes this completely kitsch. I am arguing that it is not.

When Duchamp presented a urinal as artwork it was initially rejected but is now considered by many as a foundational piece of 20th century art. Comic books aren’t necessarily taken seriously, but when Lichtenstein paints one single comic frame and blows it up larger than life, collectors pay millions. It is hard to say where the line really is.

Typing out descriptions of Robolights just doesn’t work. I’m not saying its on par with the Mona Lisa, but writing that there is this painting of an acceptable looking woman who is kinda smiling but not really, would not do justice to DaVinci. Same idea here. I’m not sure Kenny Irwin is really “saying” anything, but I’m also not convinced Leonardo had some grand message when he painted Mona.

What I am definitely saying is that we should all go see the Louvre, and Kenny’s house.

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Mid Mod: Palm Springs and unmet expectations

I love design and style. I love the clean lines and angles of mid century modernism, but I now have a greater appreciation of how hard mid mod is to pull off without looking like an outdated gas station.IMG_6739

I think maybe it is because this particular aesthetic only works if the clean lines are accentuating other stuff that is equally cool. You have to go all in. Otherwise those clean lines just look like half baked, half finished, cheap construction.

I learned all of this while growing up in 1980’s suburbia but I realized it in Palm Springs.

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So the above is the Edris house built in 1954. I like it. Well done Mr. Architect. I drove past it but did not go inside as someone lives there and they don’t know how awesome I am and consequentially did not invite me into their living room. A loss on both our parts.IMG_6704

I have no idea who owns this house, when it was built, or anything other than that the triangular roof stretching down to the ground, coupled with the straight horizontal wings works for me. It also makes me dislike the standard mailbox standing at the curb. Come on mailbox, your address is THAT and all you got is this? Disappointing.IMG_6686

Now this place is nice but maybe not all that remarkable till you realize it was built in 1936. Back then people drove big giant Buicks, wore fedoras sans-irony, and George Jetson hadn’t been born yet. Still, someone I’ve never met lives there now so we kept on driving.

And right about here, about the time we just drive past another place that is probably cool, I realized mid century modern isn’t all that hot when the later half of said century was spent recreating the mid part with no attention to style but solely because of speed and cost. That stuff is everywhere. There is a word for it I won’t use, but I will say it is done half-way and that ruins everything.

That is how I felt about Palm Springs when I didn’t get to go inside anything.IMG_6682

For instance Elvis used to live in this house. Him and Priscilla spent their honeymoon here. But they don’t live here now and since those days the 1970’s happened and consequentially this place feels kind of “meh”.IMG_6679

This place looks great. The orange chairs are a perfect place to sit while wearing white linen pants and a fitted pink button down. But maybe not a great place to have a sink full of dirty dishes or an overstuffed sofa.

I didn’t get to sit in the chairs and my own apartment has a sink filled with dishes and driving around in the heat I didn’t really feel anything. I was never immersed and this style doesn’t work if you only skim the surface.IMG_6703

Not sure I’ll head back out there without a real good reason… like maybe a dinner party with a dress code. at the end of the day, the below was the most interesting thing in town. Sadly, everyone there thought kava was a word for coffee.

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