Photographed By Gail in the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum
In the mid-to-late 20th century, an atmosphere of innovation and a desire to question the tenets of modernism led some designers to explore a variety of ways in which to shape space. American Architect and Designer Alexander Hayden Girard utilized color and pattern in textiles, particularly in this colorful abstract, or folk art-inspired work for Herman Miller.
Photographed at Albertz Benda Gallery
By 1970, Japanese Architect and Interior Designer Shiro Kuramata (1934 – 1991) was introducing alternative materials such as acrylic and industrial plate glass into his furniture. Utilizing a newly developed adhesive, Kuramata achieved material and visual minimalism with this Glass Armchair (1976). Flat planes of glass are bonded together along their edges, without mounts or screws, to create a functional chair that seems simultaneously visible and invisible. The transparent form invites users to question notions of materiality, utility and comfort.
Utility meets design is this Stylaire Kitchen Stepladder (circa 1950) designed and manufactured by Cosco Home and Office Products. I photographed this piece in the visible storage rooms at the Brooklyn Museum because t reminded me of one just like this that we had in our house when I was growing up (60s – 70s). Nostalgia! Part chair, part step stool, this design was inspired midcentury by the traditional library step-chair, and is still manufactured by Cosco today.
Mushrooms, oysters, tongues, and tulips are some of the iconic shapes French designer Pierre Paulin (1927 – 2009) was best known for creating. Having trained under Parisian designer Marcel Gascion, Paulin was influenced by the Scandinavian aesthetic as well as American pre-fabricated designs by Charles and Ray Eames and Florence Knoll.
Inspired to develop his own brand of accessible luxury, Paulin began designing and manufacturing seats made of molded wood lined with foam padding and fashioned with a stretch elastic jersey fabric for Thonet-France. Paulin’s forward-looking, innovative designs for affordable chairs, divans, and sofas in an array of bright and vivid colors, most notably the Mushroom, Tongue and Ribbon chair, among others, can be found in contemporary art and design collections around the world.
Tongue Chairs and Ribbon Chair (Rear)
Paulin designed his Ribbon Chair (model 582) in 1966, for manufacture in 1967 by Artifort in the Netherlands. It involves a tubular steel frame, latex foam, stretch fabric and a painted wood base.
The undulating form of Mathias Bengtsson’s plywood Slice Armchair is inspired by cutting-edge technology and organic forms found in nature. Bengtsson initiated the design in 1999 and originally executed it in clay. He then used a computer to analyze the shape and precision-cut hundreds of plywood slices, each a unique shape and just a few millimeters thick, which he stacked and laminated to form the sculptural chair. The result is a contemporary take on furniture made from traditional material, combing high-tech manufacturing methods and handcrafting.
Photographed in the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in NYC.
Günther Uecker (German, b. 1930) is a sculptor, op and installation artist, known for his relief nail works first developed in 1957. His three-dimensional work creates a unique experience as it appears to move and cast different lighting effects as the viewer moves around the work. In 1961, Uecker became a member of the group of artists called ZERO, founded by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene. Inspired by the Kinetic Art movement, the collective grounded their philosophy on theories of light, technology, and optical illusion. Uecker also produces sculptures of pianos and chairs with nails sticking out of them, and he creates sets and costumes for opera performances.
Tongue Chair on Display at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum (All Photos By Gail)
With its curvilinear form, the Tongue Chair (1967), designed by Pierre Paulin (1927 – 2009) demonstrates the innovative construction methods and synthetics that allowed Paulin to make highly sculptural upholstered furniture in the 1960s. His forms foretell those of plastic furniture in the latter half of the decade.
Tongue Chair Photographed as Part of a Modern Design Display at the Museum of Modern Art
Each time Geoffrey and I visit The Met, we end up in a section of the Museum that we’ve not only never seen before, but often have no idea that it even existed. On our last exhibit, we randomly wandered into the Art Furniture Galleries (or whatever they’re called), and that was fairly mind blowing. Check out this very ornate, and still quite comfy-looking, pink velvet armchair, which was once owned by William H. Vanderbilt, where it was part of a lavish drawing room. Designed and manufactured by Herter Brothers circa 1881-82, the chair features gilded wood, with beautiful mother-of-pearl inlay details (clearly visible in the photo above), still has its original patterned, pink velvet upholstery, and is simply stunning.