Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography

These sunny images are included in Palm Springs Art Museum’s latest exhibition Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, in 1945 – 1982. The show opens Jan 21, 2012 and closes May 27, 2012. 

Senior curator Daniell Cornell amassed 135 carefully selected photographs, including David Hockney’s sun-flecked scenes alongside Herb Ritts and Lawrence Schiller’s glamorous Hollywood-style portraits and more surreal takes from pop-art master John Baldessari. “These individual water-based environs in the arid landscape are an integral part of the region’s identity,” says Cornell, “a microcosm of the hopes and disillusionments of the country’s post-World War II ethos.”

As a private setting, the backyard pool became a stage for sub-culture rituals and clandestine desires. As a medium, photography became the primary vehicle for embodying the polar emotions of consumer optimism and Cold War fears. Crossing the boundaries of popular and high culture, commercial merchandising, journalistic reporting, and vernacular memorabilia, photography conveyed the developing ideologies of the period. As such, its visual language forms a network of discursive topics that open onto each other, offering a rich study of physical and cultural geography. For the first time, this exhibition, its catalogue, and attendant programs trace the integrated histories of photography and the iconography of the swimming pool, bringing new light to aspects of this complex interaction.

The exhibitions’ companion catalogue shows work from noted names of post-war photography and offers lengthy essays on the cultural relevance of the pool as a symbol not only of the rich and famous but also narcissism and escape.

The show and exhibition catalogue are organized thematically into: California Architecture and Design, Hollywood and Celebrity Culture, The Shape of Desire and Dreams, The Utopian-Dystopian Topos of Suburbia, and The Pacific Ocean as Context.