Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Recap: Pedro E. Guerrero in Hollywood

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I thought I was on time at 6:30, but it turns out everyone else was early. The Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) gallery was filled to the brim with architecture and design aficionados, mostly of an older age group than my usual crowd, probably because of the headliner, Pedro E. Guerrero. While California had Julius Shulman, the East Coast had Guerroro, a self-described "brown, small, fat--but very cute" man who had extensively photographed the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Alexander Calder, Marcel Breuer and other modernist icons.

Visitors flock to the gallery to view Guerrero's photography.
At 94, Guerrero was hosting his first career retrospective organized by the Julius Shulman Institute at Woodbury University. Despite his age, Guerrero was energetic, funny and soon had the audience wrapped around his little finger. He would pull quips without warning, leaving the audience to laugh at the suddenness of it all. Hey, this is a man who has spent time with the greats, who would expect such humor? 

United Church of Rowayton, Rowayton, Conn. Designed in 1962 by architect Joseph P. Salerno, photographed in 1962.
Credit: Pedro E. Guerrero
Guerrero says his down-to-earth-ness was probably why Mr. Wright (as he called Frank Lloyd Wright) enjoyed his company. "I think he liked me because he was tired of people talking to him ponderously," says Guerrero, "I was full of small talk!" The one hour artist talk zoomed past all too soon while Guerrero regaled us with his foibles and insider stories, mostly of his work with Mr. Wright.

Diamond Service Station, Macon, Ga., designed circa 1960 by architect Thomas Little and photographed in 1961.
Credit: Pedro E. Guerrero
Sick and tired of the bigotry in Arizona, Guerrero left his hometown for Los Angeles, where he found photography at what is now the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. "I photographed everything. A little girl and dog at the beach, a dead pelican, net menders," says Guerrero. Because Guerrero had never really exerted effort in his other classes, the Art Center had given him a bad grade.

Back in Arizona, schooling done, Guerrero wandered aimlessly until his father, who followed Wright's career suggested, "Why don't you go see that man, he might need a photographer." It turns out that Wright did. Guerrero showed up and said, “My name is Pedro Guerrero, and I am a photographer.” At that point, Guerrero points out, he had never made a nickel on photography, never held a job in it, but Wright hired him based on a portfolio that dead pelicans, net menders, a plate of fried eggs, oh and nudes of course (hey, it was for class!)

Guerrero has led a remarkable life and he has kept his humor as well. This wasn't a man who grew airs as he morphed from a Mexican-American boy in small town Arizona to a major interpreter of architecture in the 50s and 60s. Today, he lives in Florence, Arizona making sculpture out of rusted objects, inspired the work of Calder. His eyes light up as he shares he might get to exhibit those works at a gallery as well. 

After his talk, the audience proceeded a few doors down to the Woodbury University Hollywood gallery where his photographs were on display. I enjoyed seeing the many forms of architecture, but I especially appreciated the portraits he took of the people that defined the era. I was drawn not just to the form, but to his signature identifying the photograph. There's something so very personal about a signed object, which is probably why his book started selling like hotcakes that night, as people purchased and asked him to sign.

Hear Guerrero's story and a bit of his infectious humor here. The exhibit runs at the WUHO gallery until April 25. 

Pedro E. Guerrero surrounded by satisfied fans.
Handwritten captions.
Signed by the artist.


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