Ornament Is A Crime:
The Classic Modernism of Architectural Pottery

Curated by Bill Stern
Architectural Pottery

Click Here For Exhibition Photos

On February 16, 17 and 18, 2007, the Museum of California Design presented “Ornament is a Crime: The Classic Modernism of Architectural Pottery“ at Palm Springs Modernism 2007. This exhibition of 22 Modernist works by Architectural Pottery, the recipient of the Museum of California Design’s 2006 Henry Award for its contributions to American design, was curated by the museum’s director, Bill Stern. More than 3,000 people visited the exhibition during its three-day run at the Palm Springs Convention Center. 

Whenever you see a tree or a plant in a white cylinder -- in a home or an office building or at a gasoline station -- it is because of Architectural Pottery. When the company’s designers introduced their large format undecorated ceramic vessels in 1950 -- vessels equally suited for home interiors and patios, as well as commercial buildings - they helped fulfill one of the major goals of Mid-century Modern architecture, breaking down the distinction between interior and exterior space.

Architectural Pottery was founded in Los Angeles in 1950 by Max and Rita Lawrence, John Folis and Rex Goode after the Lawrences, who lived in Gregory Ain’s famed indoor/outdoor Dunsmuir Apartments, saw large-scale modernist ceramic planters and sand jars designed by LaGardo Tackett and his students, among them Folis, Goode, Douglas Deeds, and Lawrence Halperin at the California School of Art in Hollywood.

In addition to revolutionary planters/sand jars, “ORNAMENT IS A CRIME“ included Malcolm Leland’s iconic bird shelter and Gordon Newell’s Matisse-inspired birdbath and. The other designers represented in the show were Marilyn Kay Austin, Raul Coronel, David Cressey, John Folis and Mr.Tackett.

“Ornament Is A Crime,” the dictum of Modernism, was formulated by the Czech architect Adolf Loos in 1922. This phrase sums up the belief of strict Modernists that design should include only those elements essential to the structural composition of an object or a building. And though the strictest of Modernists contend that color is ornament, such eminent practioners of the style as Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson made color an essential part of their designs.

Current production Architectural Pottery pieces by Vessel USA - both white and colored -- are available for purchase through the Museum of California Design’s on-line DESiGN STORE.

“Ornament Is A Crime” was made possible through the lead sponsorship of deasy/penner&partners, Beverly Hills & Palm Springs; Pacific Union, Palm Springs; and Wright, Chicago, with additional sponsorship from Fat Chance, Los Angeles; Reform Gallery, Los Angeles; and Dolphin Promotions, Inc., Chicago


Garden fountains/sculptures, 
c.1957 LaGardo Tackett,
Architectural Pottery,
Collection Museum of California Design
Photograph: Bob Lopez

Sand Jar / Jardiniere, c.1963
Marilyn Kay Austin, 
Architectural Pottery earthenware
Photograph: Lorca Cohen

Architectural Pottery Catalog 64, 1964 
Collection: Museum of California Design
Photograph: Uncredited