Exhibition review: University of California Santa Barbara Art Museum, ‘Carefree California: Cliff May and the Romance of the Ranch House’ February 26 –June 17, 2012

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University of California Santa Barbara Art Museum, ‘Carefree California: Cliff May and the Romance of the Ranch House’ February 26 –June 17, 2012

This is a small show, but a genuinely great one. Architecture shows often disappoint, but ‘Carefree California’ really doesn’t. The subject is Cliff May (1908-89), the de facto inventor of the ranch house, whose extensive papers are housed at UCSB. May was prolific, and hugely influential, but also self-effacing. He only built one kind of house, he said: ‘I just had one style.’ He lacked a theory, other than some hokey, rule-of-thumb wisdom: ‘if it lives like a ranch house, then it is a ranch house.’ And the only formal device he was committed to was the internal patio. That, if it did not exactly define the ranch house, was certainly a critical element.

May’s pragmatism – not to mention his commercial acumen – set him at…

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About Richard J Williams

Professor of contemporary visual cultures. Writes about and teaches cities, takes pictures, and does many things at University of Edinburgh, UK. Books on cities include 'The Anxious City' (Routledge, 2004), 'Brazil' (Reaktion 2009), 'Regenerating Culture and Society' (edited with Jonathan Harris, LUP 2010), and 'Sex and Buildings' (Reaktion, 2013). In preparation is The Creative City (Reaktion 2016).

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