Christopher W. Mount talks about his new gallery and what collectors need to know now.

The Professional

By Maile Pingel

There are many paths one can take in the field of architecture and design; those who are lucky explore more than one. For Christopher W. Mount, who launched his eponymous gallery in both Los Angeles and New York last May, it’s been a particularly fascinating 30-year journey. He’s been Associate Curator for the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Editor-in-Chief of I.D. Magazine; Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at Parsons The New School for Design in New York; Executive Director of the Pasadena Museum of California Art; and he’s currently a guest curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Rounding out those prestigious posts are teaching positions with colleges including CalArts, Otis, the Cooper Hewitt, and Bard, as well as contributions to publications both scholarly and glossy. Suffice it to say, Mount, who with his wife and son divide their time between LA and Manhattan, isn’t an easy man to catch. Shortly before hopping a flight to New York, though, Mount graciously welcomed us to his LA garden apartment to talk about the new gallery, architecture in the City of Angels, and what young collectors need to know now.

Maile Pingel: You’ve had a wonderfully varied career. What led you to open a gallery and how did you find your niche with architectural drawings?

Christopher Mount: Museums and magazines are difficult these days and there’s less design history being taught in schools, so a gallery was sort of the next logical step. Out here, there’s a tradition of architecture and design being artistic, experimental. Small firms are doing wonderful things—some don’t even build anything; they do theory and drawings and models for a living. I discovered all this material when I curated the MOCA show, A New Sculpturalism, last summer. It’s work with one foot in fine art and one foot in design. It could be the Eames, Claire Falkenstein, Gere Kavanaugh, or Frank Gehry.

MP: What makes this material ripe for collecting?

CM: To buy a drawing—a one-off piece—is really very nice. For $1,500 or $3,000, you can buy a drawing by a well-known architect of an important building. It’s culturally significant—I like that. It’s not just a young artist making a painting; it has a functional and social aspect to it. This material is sort of where photography was 30 or 40 years ago. I do think these hand-drawn things will be the next big thing.

MP: There’s a lot of talk about LA being the new center of contemporary art. Talk to me a little bit about contemporary architecture in the city.

CM: When I worked in New York, LA architects were kind of giggled about. We would go to Europe or Japan - never LA - when truly the most interesting architectural period, perhaps the most vibrant internationally, has been happening in Los Angeles for the last 20 years. Still, no one’s promoting it. I tell people, “Go to Culver City to see! And have you seen Thom Mayne’s Emerson school? It’s incredible.” If it were an Eric Owen Moss in any other city, people would be getting off the bus to see it! People go to Barcelona for Gaudí. People go to Bilbao for one building. We need to do better here.

MP: Where did your passion for the arts begin?

CM: My father is an African art dealer—one of the first PhDs in the subject—and my grandmother had America’s largest collection of Tiffany lamps. She collected everything from Renaissance tapestries to Japanese armor. We spent our summers going to Europe… I spent years opening up crates from Africa.

Portrait at Christopher W. Mount Gallery, LA Photo © Jessica Sample
MP: So it’s clearly genetic. Tell me a little about your own collecting.

CM: I’ve always been interested in anything design oriented: automobiles, French porcelain, contemporary crafts, graphic design, Scandinavian glass. I’ve picked up a lot on travels, mostly Scandinavian stuff, but we have African masks from my family; the Herbert Matter photograph is from an auction; the Eames splint I bought from a dealer. Someone [once] said to me that people collect to prove they were right, which I thought was interesting. I might buy something that’s relatively worthless, ten years later it’s worth $100, and then one day it’s on eBay for $1,000! I love the object, but also the validation. Imagine how the first people who nabbed Jackson Pollocks felt.

MP: Any collecting regrets?

CM: When I started in the 1980s, it was before the rage for Eames… so now I have this Eames chair, and I think it’s kind of cliché.

MP: Your gallery launched with a pair of beautiful shows—the first focused on works from the estate of architectural photographer Balthazar Korab, and the second featuring Benny Chan’s large-scale photos of industrial, dystopian LA. What’s next?

CM: In the New Year, we’ll launch When the Future had Fins, a show dedicated to automotive drawings from the “Big Three”—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—from the 1960s and ’70s. We’ll present nearly 40 hand drawings spanning design studies to presentation drawings, reminding us of the beauty of the era’s hand-done architectural and design processes, prior to the computer’s arrival.

After When the Future Had Fins, there are a number of things that I am looking into for the late spring/summer exhibition slot. These include a show devoted to new types of architectural drawing. There are a number of architects who, in the spirit of somebody like Lebbeus Woods, only draw and rarely build. They are exploring a multitude of new ways to describe and represent architecture. Additionally, I have come upon a large collection of engineering drawings that were used in the first designs for microchips. These beautiful and often quite large and colorful drawings were actually used by the designers to check that the chip would actually work, a kind of industrial art form if you will.

MP: Fascinating! Lastly, what advice would you give young collectors?

CM: Buy what you love, but buy work that isn’t saturated in the collecting world. In an emerging field like architecture and design, there is a plethora of possibilities.

  • Images by

    • Jessica Sample

      Jessica Sample

      LA native Jessica is the former Deputy Photo Editor of Travel + Leisure. Named one of PDN’s 30 Photographers to Watch in 2013, her clients include National Geographic Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, and Food & Wine.
  • Text by

    • Maile Pingel

      Maile Pingel

      Maile is a design historian and writer. Formerly a researcher at LACMA and an editor at Architectural Digest, she contributes to a variety of design-focused publications. She lives in LA with her husband, dog, and cat.