On March 4th 2012 the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig opened the final part of their permanent exhibition.
An exhibition very close to our hearts.
Now you know us, we ‘ve nothing against baroque or ancient Japanese furniture and objects.
But our hearts do beat a little faster when we get to the late 19th century.
Mies van der Rohe bending metal. Alvar Aalto bending wood. Verner Panton bending plastic. Axel Buether bending light.
It’s all there in “Art Nouveau to Present”
Plus a monumental bedroom ensemble by Ron Arad constructed from scaffolding poles.
A 1980s bedroom/study ensemble by Ron Arad. As see at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig
As the name tends to imply “Art Nouveau to Present” starts in the late 19th century before continuing over Art Deco and the uncontrolled pomp of the early 20th century until Functionalism, Bauhaus and Modernism rip everything back down to the bare bones.
The second world war is then poetically skipped via the most delightful staircase.
Aside from the collection of porcelain coffee pots, the first thing that attracts your attention on the ground floor is the Charles and Ray Eames‘ RAR. And then a table and chair ensemble by Eero Saarinen, perfectly illuminated as they are by an AJ Royal hanging lamp from AJ. Arne Jacobsen.
The exhibition then continues over the uncontrolled pomp of pop art and post modernism before ending with Sinneslandschaften, a multi-media room installation by Axel Buether and a team of his students from Burg Giebichenstein Halle.
Among the numerous highlights in “Art Nouveau to Present” one real star is the re-creation of Lilly Reich’s display stand for Wilhelm Wagenfeld‘s Vereinigten Lausitzer Glaswerke (VLG) glassware collection as seen at the 1936 Grassimesse. Fascinating as the works themselves unquestionably are, for us the principle interest is how the display beautifully underlines that the principle role of museums is documenting.
In this context a further highlight is the numerous “room set-ups” scattered throughout the exhibition. Although not especially large, they do allow one to view the furniture in situ; a little detail that really helps in understanding the relation of the pieces to one another.
What “Art Nouveau to Present” also does very well is to mix design from “East” and “West” and so one finds, for example, a 1962 vacuum cleaner from VEB Elektrowärme Altenburg sitting next to a Braun SK 5 by Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot. Or the aforementioned Eames RAR next to Erich Menzel’s “Model 50642” for VEB Sachsenholz Hellerau. A mixture that works. Because it simply ignores the political situation in which the works were created and concentrates fully on the objects and their relevance.
Kinder Schaukelwagen by Hans Brockhage & Erwin Andrä. If you'd been in our office in the past six months you'd understand why this amused this....
Where for us the exhibition does suffer is the curators less than successful attempt to deal with the depth of the subject. The Grassi Museum obviously have a wonderful collection of objects. And equally obviously don’t have the space to display them in a fashion that allows for a dialogue of any real depth.
And so for “Art Nouveau to Present” they have brutally compromised with a very old fashioned exhibition concept that sees the majority of the objects simply placed in a room with a description of what it is. A concept that crams an awful lot into too small a space and as such overpowers the visitor. Even we found our interest occasionally waning on account of the monotity and lack of genuine interaction.
As we said in the context of “From Aalto to Zumthor Furniture by Architects” for a permanent exhibition one can get away with such a concept. The question is of course if one is satisfied with having gotten away it.
Or if as with having gotten away with cheating on your partner, you shouldn’t at least have the decency to feel a permanent twinge of guilt. And possibly eventually admit the error.
It will be interesting to see how the forthcoming special exhibitions redress this situation.
That said “Art Nouveau to Present” remains an exhibition that we recommend viewing
Because aside from the obvious joy at the individual items, it truly does “close” the Grassi Museum’s permanent exhibition in that it allows one to follow the development of design and so to understand where modern design comes from. And how “modern design” is to be understood in the context of “historical design”.
Eero Saarinen & Arne Jacobsen in Art Nouveau to Present @ Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig
Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows Tagged with: Art Nouveau to Present, Eero Saarinen, Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig, Ron Arad, Tulip chair
Eero Saarinen, 1910 - 1961
August 20th marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Finnish architect/designer Eero Saarinen.
Eero Saarinen had – in all probability – very little career choice other than that of architect: Not only was his father Eliel Saarinen one of Finland’s most celebrated architects, but two of his uncles followed the same profession. In addition his mother, Loja Gesellius Saarinen, was a sculptress and textile designer.
Eero Saarinen spent his first 13 years in his birthplace, Kirkkonummi on the outskirts of Helsinki. In 1923, following the positive feedback to Eliel Saarinen’s entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower competition, the family emigrated to the USA – initially to Evanston, Illinois before in 1925 Eliel Saarinen was commissioned by G.G. Booth to build the new Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
The Cranbrook Academy Campus, designed by Eliel Saarinen
A commission that was later to have a large influence on Eero’s career.
In 1930 Eero travelled to Paris where he spent a year studying sculpture at L’Académie de la Grande Chaumière before enrolling at Yale School of Architecture from where he graduated in 1935. After a year travelling Europe and North Africa, Eero Saarinen returned to America where he began working in his fathers office at Cranbrook; and where he met Charles Eames for the first time. The young Eames both studying at the college and being employed in Eliel Saarinen’s office.
The meeting was to be the start of a lifelong professional and personal relationship; Saarinen even naming the first son from his second marriage “Eames”.
Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen at Cranbrook Academy (photo © Cranbrook Archives)
The professional careers of Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen were equally close and both effectively started with joint projects; the 1940 “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition and the 1945-49 “Case Study House #9” for Arts & Architecture Magazine.
In response to an increasing boredom in the USA with the minimalist steel/leather/glass objects of the Bauhaus School, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised in 1940 a competition entitled: “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” to find the best new American furniture design concepts. The competition rules called for designs that were functional, affordable and based on new, modern production processes.
Eames and Saarinen submitted an entry comprising eight designs based largely on their early experiments with moulded synthetic furniture and that included, amongst others, the Conversation Chair or as it is more popularly known today, the Organic Chair.
The jury, including such luminaries as Marcel Breuer and Alvar Aalto, awarded Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen first prize.
The Organic Chair by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen through Vitra
While the award brought the pair recognition, the mass production of the Eames-Saarinen designs was still impractical in the early 1940s. The technology simply not being rife enough to either produce the chairs nor the machines required to produce the chairs. The approach used, however, was to be important in both designers later furniture design work. Charles Eames employing it for his fibreglass/plastic chair series; while Saarinen used it in his works for Knoll International, most notably the Womb Chair and the Tulip Chair – arguably his two most important designs.
Eames and Saarinen’s architectural careers also involved an early joint project. In January 1945 the US Magazine Arts & Architecture publisher John Entenza wrote an editorial calling for greater use of mass production technology in house building. In the following years a series of leading architects were commissioned to design and build their vision of the industrial mass produced house of the future.
In 1949 “Case Study House #9″ by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen was completed. Showing the typical quadratic nature of most of Eames and Saarinen’s early work,”Case Study House #9” is filled with fixtures, features and furniture that illustrate both mens belief in the unity between architecture and design and the importance of the relation between a building, its contents and its user.
Next door to “Case Study House #9” is “Case Study House #8” the so-called “Eames House”: officially accredited to Charles and Ray Eames, but where one also detects the influence of Eero Saarinen.
For both Saarinen and Eames, their participation in such a prestigious project was to bring the two, still relatively young, architects a greater public and greater authority.
In 1946 another of Eero Saarinen’s “Cranbrook Connections” lead to the start of his collaboration with Knoll International.
Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll International
At Cranbrook Saarinen had met Florence Schust. In 1944 Florence married the young German furniture producer Hans G. Knoll and became the Knoll International “in-house interior designer”; and it was Florence Knoll who approached Saarinen to ask him to develop his moulded chair concept for the company.
In total Saarinen developed over a dozen products for Knoll International, many of which have been in continuous production since their launch.
Despite the importance of his work, for Eero Saarinen furniture design was a side project to his architecture career; a career which saw him build, amongst other buildings, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St Louis, the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport New York and Dulles International Airport, Washington. That said it was never a lesser value work for Saarinen, who was fascinated by the concept that each part of a work could reflect and compliment the others, that outside and inside could be united as one entity. In that sense Saarinen’s furniture designs can be seen as a direct extension of his architectural work. And his architectural work as an extension of his furniture design.
On September 1st 1961 Eero Saarinen died following an operation on a brain tumour.
Despite dying young, in his 25 year career Eero Saarinen created a canon of work – both architectural and furniture designs – that not only helped redefine architectural theory and shaped future thinking, but also laid the foundations for much of the modern designer furniture industry.
Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.
Eero Saarinen, 1910- 1961
Posted in Designer, Knoll, Producer, Vitra Tagged with: Charles and Ray Eames, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Florence Knoll, Knoll, organic chair, Tulip chair, Vitra, womb chair
After the strenuous match against Alexander Girard, France decided to rest Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for the match against Eero Saarinen.
Their replacement, the enfant terrible of contemporary French design Philippe Starck however failed to match the old Finnish master; too often Philippe Starck strove forward with fairly predictable and poorly considered approaches.
Eero Saarinen was able to make use of the gaps produced by Philippe Starck to good effect scoring with his Tulip Chair and a pedestal table for a thoroughly deserved 2:0 victory
The Group D table and all Group D results can be found here.
Philippe Starck failed to get the better of Saarinen's Tulip Chair through Knoll International
Posted in Designer, Knoll, Producer, Product, smow 2010 Tagged with: Alexander Girard, Eero Saarinen, Knoll, Philippe Starck, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Tulip chair
Organic Chair by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen through Vitra
It may not be the most universally recognised example of either Charles Eames‘ nor Eero Saarinen‘s canon however their 1940 “Conversation Chair” is without doubt one of the more important examples of 20th century furniture design.
Designed for the New York Museum of Modern Art’s “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition the Conversation Chair was a concept piece and Eames’ and Saarinen’s first attempt at moulding synthetics.
At that time however the technology lagged somewhat behind the designers imagination and it was to be almost a decade before either Charles Eames or Eero Saarinen could transform the lessons learnt into commercial products: Charles Eames with his fibreglass/plastic armchairs for Herman Miller and Eero Saarinen with his Tulip Chair for Knoll.
Tulip chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll
For the sake of completeness we should also mention George Nelson‘s Swag Leg Chair, a design which relies heavily – albeit with permission – on both the technology and narrative of the Conversation Chair.
Currently marketed by Vitra as the “Organic Chair” Eames and Saarinen’s pioneer work remains a wonderfully confident yet unassuming chair that can be used in all domestic, commercial and retail settings.
And you can win one.
The designer furniture retailer network Creative Inneneinrichter – of which (smow) is a member – is offering an Organic Chair as first prize in their “My way to the VitraHaus” competition.
Second prize is a Vegetal by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec and third prize a Panton Chair.
The rules are very simple: Document your journey to the VitraHaus; the most imaginative, creative and original entry wins.
And so whether your planning skydiving onto the VitraHaus, negotiating the Alps Hannibal-esque with elephants or rafting down the Rhein simply register at the Creative Inneneinrichter website and upload your photos/videos/certificates.
Full details can be found at “Mein weg ins VitraHaus”
Although Jasper Morrison built a bus stop next to the VitraHaus - travelling by bus probably won't win you the Organic Chair.
Posted in Designer, Knoll, Producer, Product, smow, smow offline, Vitra Tagged with: Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, panton chair, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Tulip chair, Vegetal, Verner Panton, Vitra, vitrahaus