The façade of Cliff and Mandy Einstein’s house in Los Angeles is as unassuming and welcoming as its owners. But a visit to the inner realm of their home is an experience filled with changing narratives, challenging perspectives, and flat-out beauty.
The story begins in 1972, when the Einsteins purchased a former avocado grove and commissioned architect Ron Goldman to create a timeless house in which they would raise their two children. Goldman suggested multilevel, interlocking shapes that incorporated efficiency, economy, and simplicity. Years later, with their children grown, the couple hankered for a new chapter and set about transforming the same house into a strikingly composed universe of contemporary art.
“We wondered what our home would look like if it were transformed into galleries for contemporary art. As we discussed this possibility, we realized that we could really make it happen. And we began what became our great adventure together,” says Cliff Einstein. Since then, the couple has collected about 200 works, 120 of which are displayed, with others often on loan to museums. “We wish we could see them all at once.”
Their first purchase was John Register’s mournful painting of chairs in a sunlit room that seemed to represent older folks who might have gathered there each day. The collection grew to incorporate works by Rufino Tamayo, Sterling Ruby, Kiki Smith, Mark Grotjahn, Matthew Barney, and Mary Weatherford, to name a few.
Over the years, as their passion exceeded their space, the couple imagined replacing a tennis court with a gallery, no small sacrifice for Mandy, who had once been a tennis pro. Again, they turned to Goldman to realize their concept. “He connected the new gallery to our home in a way that was seamless and gave us a dramatic new space and chapter for our collecting,” says Cliff.
Now the house is a fluid and compelling blend of architecture, art, and landscape. Walls are white, floors are black, and furniture is quiet and classical so as not to distract from the art. Filtered natural light in the morning is fresh and uplifting; in the evening artificial light dramatizes the gallery.
Two of the collection’s most significant pieces are located in the garden but are visible from the gallery: Nancy Rubins’s gigantic 1997 sculpture made out of airplane parts and Second Meeting, a James Turrell skyspace originally created in 1985 for the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. The couple planned to commission the artist to make an original piece for their garden when they were told they could have this work. “Second Meeting was installed at our home in 1989 and became the first freestanding work from James Turrell.”
It would eventually spawn nearly a hundred skyspaces throughout the world, each unique. Every year, scaffolding goes up around the Turrell piece so that a crew can restore and sharpen the edges of the square opening in the ceiling. The walls are repainted with a special moisture-resistant paint and the teakwood benches are sanded and oiled like the deck of a ship. “It’s probably good that we did not initially realize what maintaining a work like this would entail, but it has become the hallmark of our collection, so we have yet to complain.”
A Tour of Mandy and Cliff Einstein’s Incredible Art Collection
Displayed in the hallway at the top of the stairs are, clockwise from the sculpture on the ledge: Joana Vasconcelos’s Amari, 2012; one of Mai-Thu Perret’s Les Guérillères, 2016; Mark di Suvero’s Way Through, 1989–90; an untitled 1994 painting by Albert Oehlen; Kishio Suga’s Disappeared Space, 2005; and an untitled 1953 painting by John McLaughlin.
In the center of the far wall hangs Ed and Nancy Kienholz’s Holdin’ the Dog, 1986. To the right is Sam Gilliam’s Mycenaean Ode, 1965. The rusted-steel sculpture below it is Tony Cragg’s Administrative Landscape,1990–91.
The small painting on the wall to the left is Elizabeth Peyton’s Nick Reading Moby Dick, 2003. On the right is an untitled 2000 photograph by Cindy Sherman.
In a hallway, the work on the left is Gilbert and George’s West End, 2001. To the right is an untitled 1975 work by Sigmar Polke.
Over a table set with John Gerrard’s Bone Cutlery from Artware Editions, hangs Mark Bradford’s Zoom, 2007.
John Gerrard’s Bone Cutlery from Artware Editions.
An untitled 1994 painting by Albert Oehlen.
A close-up view of Yayoi Kusama’s Silver Shoes, 1976
Kerry James Marshall’s Club Couple, 2014.
In the study, the painting over the armchair is Carroll Dunham’s Small Bather, 2009–10. On the wall up the stairs is an untitled 1986 work by George Rickey. At right is John Chamberlain’s Cafe Macedonia, 1984.
An untitled 2003 drawing by Mark Grotjahn and, through the doorway on the right, Yayoi Kusama’s Silver Shoes, 1976.
Rashid Johnson’s Thinking of a Master Plan, 2012, hangs next to Juan Muñoz’s Standing Arab at London, 1999
In the bar and seating area of the kitchen, Ed Ruscha’s The Long Wait, 1995, hangs over the bar. Above the fireplace is John Baldessari’s Green Fissure, 1990. The tiled floor and table in front of the sofa are by Marlo Bartels.
Visible through the gallery’s glass walls are two of the most important works in the Einsteins’ collection. To the left is James Turrell’s skyspace Second Meeting, 1985–86, and to the right is Nancy Rubins’s mammoth untitled 1997 sculpture fashioned out of airplane parts.
Nancy Rubins’s airplane-parts sculpture appears to teeter precariously over the garden and Thomas Houseago’s Dancer II, 2010.
Second Meeting, installed in 1989, was James Turrell’s first freestanding work. Annual maintenance includes repainting the walls with moisture-resistant paint and sanding and oiling the teakwood benches.
Outside James Turrell’s Second Meeting.
Excerpted from City of Angels: Houses and Gardens of Los Angeles, by Firooz Zahedi and Jennifer Ash Rudick, published by Vendome Press, out now.