Dave Hampton bought a chair. He hasn’t sat still since.
On a whim about 10 years ago, Hampton bought a Eero Saarinen chair in a local modern furniture shop and deemed it a symbol. He’d spent his young 20s and 30s in bands, playing music.
And now he was transitioning. To what?
He found a coalescing crew of people intrigued by the modern styles of furniture, architecture and design that grew popular in midcentury San Diego. Buying the chair, and finding that crew, sent Hampton down a path of sleuthing the stories of the people who’d lived here and made things in the decades following World War II.
Something pushed him toward art. He decided he wanted to collect nothing but San Diego modern artists, and so he began to pick up pieces here and there. In breaks and after work at the furniture shop he worked at, he’d write emails and make phone calls to the artists he could track down. For nine years, he’d take a weekend trip here, spend an evening there, visiting these midcentury artists at their homes and telling their stories in little ‘zine-like booklets. He found solidarity with others who’d fallen for modern San Diego design and architecture, like Keith York, who runs ModernSanDiego.com.
“It was all I wanted to do with myself,” he said. “Not many people really got it, but we really dug it.”
Soon his collecting love outgrew the space he had. There’s an adage, he said, among art collectors, that once you fill up your house and your garage, you become a dealer. With two friends, he founded Objects:USA, an online gallery and collection of information about midcentury San Diego art and design.
Now, after “10 years of not being sure where it was going,” Hampton knows. He curated the current design and craft show at the Mingei Museum, attracting a lot of buzz for the midcentury design movement in San Diego and the group of craftspeople Hampton’s come to love. He funneled much of the knowledge he’d gathered over the decade into a book to accompany the exhibition.
“Often, artists, they’re just giving me their stuff, because, who else?” Hampton told CityBeat in a profile when the Mingei show opened. “Who else can connect the dots? Who else knows that this goes with that?”
The show and book are part of the giant Southern California exhibition of post-war art called “Pacific Standard Time” the Getty instigated. The Mingei’s show is one of two exhibitions in San Diego; the other, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, features more ethereal art pieces from the “Light and Space” movement.
Hampton sees a stark difference between the show he curated and the one across town.
“Craft has to do with function and utility,” he said. “That ‘Light and Space’ stuff, you can’t even fit it in your house, much less eat off it.”
If checking out the Mingei show has whetted your appetite, you have a chance this weekend to see more of the type of thing Hampton collects.
Objects:USA group’s fall pop-up sale will take over Ronis Fine Art in Golden Hill this weekend. They’ll be showing and selling vintage paintings, furniture, pottery and sculpture from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0531.
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