Julius Shulman:

Oklahoma Modernism Rediscovered

Organized by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Julius Shulman: Oklahoma Modernism Rediscovered was the first-ever retrospective of photographs taken in Oklahoma by legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman. The exhibit featured over 65 images – many unseen by the public for decades – of buildings designed by such world-renowned architects as Bruce Goff, Herb Greene, William Caudill, Truett Coston, Robert Roloff, and Paul Harris. Twenty-one architectural projects from six Oklahoma cities and towns were represented in the exhibition, including homes, banks, churches, museums and hospitals.

Perhaps best known for his iconic photographs of Los Angeles’ Case Study houses and of Palm Springs architecture, Shulman’s incredible body of work includes more than 70,000 images. Now archived at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Shulman’s photographs encompass a 70-year-and-counting career that includes thousands of images of buildings that would have been likely overlooked by the architectural world had he not photographed them.

Throughout his long career, Shulman often ventured inland from his base in California to explore the modernist movement in other regions of the United States. During these trips, which spanned over 30 years, he frequently stopped in Oklahoma and photographed some of the state’s most innovative modern architecture. The long, low lines and bold forms of mid-century architecture were an especially good fit when placed against the backdrop of Oklahoma’s flat plains and vast, often mercurial skies. Shulman’s lens dramatically captured this symbiotic relationship in images of Greene’s “Prairie Chicken” House, Goff’s Bavinger House, and Roloff’s State Capitol Bank, among others.

In September 2008, with support from the University of Oklahoma’s Bruce Goff Chair of Creative Architecture, Mr. Shulman returned to Oklahoma for the first time in many years to lecture at the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture and ArtSpace at Untitled. During his lecture, he observed that “Some of the great memories of my life in photography I did in Oklahoma City and all throughout the state. Oklahoma had, and still has I’m sure, many geniuses who were able to create remarkable buildings. Look at the wealth of architecture in Oklahoma. There is a richness to the architecture of Oklahoma that the public hasn’t seen for years.”

Indeed, Shulman’s stunning Oklahoma photographs – and his tenacity in getting them published in national magazines – brought much-deserved attention to the Sooner State and helped launch the careers of Greene, Robert Alan Bowlby, Conner & Pojezny, Murray-Jones-Murray, and other area architects and firms. “I am blessed. I can see architecture in a way that even the architects themselves don’t recognize their own buildings,” remarked Mr. Shulman. “Our mission in this world is to convey information about architecture to the public, to make our lives better for our children.”

Julius Shulman has become an icon in the architectural world, and this exhibit celebrated his incredible life and career. In addition, it paid tribute to the visionary architects whose designs continue to be appreciated and admired.