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Indepth Arts News:

"The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention"
1999-10-11 until 2000-01-09
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
New York, NY, USA United States of America

Charles and Ray Eames, who are among the designers most responsible for modernizing postwar America, are subjects of a major international retrospective opening Oct. 12 at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 2 East 91st Street, in New York City. The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention features more than 500 artifacts--furniture, drawings, models, photographs, slides, films, videos, toys, one-of-a-kind prototypes and experimental pieces--all exemplifying this husband-and-wife teams altruistic and ambitious goal of improving society through design. The 7,000 sq. feet, museum-wide exhibition remains on view through Jan. 9, 2000.

At a critical moment in American history, Charles (1907-1978) and Ray (1912-1988) Eames responded to emerging postwar consumer needs and demands with experimentation and an aesthetic approach that was a uniquely American interpretation of European modernism. The Eameses broadened the scope of that tradition by incorporating the design traditions of diverse cultures and bringing renewed attention to the vernacular of the everyday. They infused their work for both corporate and private clients with a new and strong sense of play, a fresh, open informality and a recognition of the needs of a diverse American population. Everything they created was imbued with the democratic ideals of accessibility and affordability. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museums mission to explore both the processes and products of design, as well as the role of design in daily life, is exemplified in this comprehensive presentation of Charles and Ray Eamess prolific careers.

Highlights of The Work of Charles and Ray Eames include: - Experimental chair shells leading to the epochal 1946 molded plywood chair

- A model of their Case Study House

- A full-scale working replica of the rotating drum used to test plywood chairs

- Sculpture by Ray Eames

- The original mold used by Herman Miller, Inc. to make their signature fiberglass chairs

- An experimental wire sofa, on display for the first time ever

- The film, The Powers of Ten, reconstructed especially for the exhibition, as well as other examples of their approach to presenting complex science to various audiences

- Christmas cards, bulletin board ephemera, slides, dolls, toys and other personal collections and professional artifacts that provide insight into the private lives and careers of the two designers

The Eameses participated in unique collaborations with some of Americas largest businesses during a decisive moment in international corporate relations. Following World War II, giants of industry such as IBM, Polaroid, Westinghouse, Herman Miller,Inc., CBS, Boeing and Time, Inc., sought to promote high-technology and communications worldwide through design. The Eameses contributed directly to the rise of what we now know as multi-nationalism and globalization. The Eameses created the first user-friendly presentations for then unheard-of inventions, such as instant photography and data processing--the daunting electronic brain or computer. Their films, videos and spectacular slide shows not only explained such products, but also made these and other new technologies approachable, accessible and attractive to people around the world.

Each of the five sections of the exhibition focuses on critical challenges the Eameses posed for themselves and resolved for their clients through enormously varied projects. These are:

- How to produce affordable, yet high-quality furniture

- How to build economical, yet well-designed space for living and working

- How to help people see beauty in the everyday

- How to help Americans and other cultures understand each other

- How to make science more accessible

Through their partnerships with major American corporations and the federal government, the Eameses helped to fulfill the objective they had set for modern industry: to get the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least. The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention has been organized by The Library of Congress in partnership with the Vitra Design Museum, in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The U.S. tour was organized by the Library of Congress. Additional support for Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museums presentation of the exhibition has been provided by Herman Miller, Inc., Maharam and Shaw Contract. Miller Freeman provided additional support for educational materials. Donald Albrecht, Adjunct Curator for Special Projects at the National Design Museum, is the exhibition director and catalogue editor for The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention. Craig Hodgetts + Hsin-Ming Fung, Hodgetts + Fung Design Associates, are the exhibition designers. Responsibility for concept development was shared by Donald Albrecht and Hodgetts + Fung Design Associates, in collaboration with the organizing institutions.

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