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"First Exhibition to Explore Dynamic Impact of Aluminum on Design Tours to New York, Montréal, Miami, Detroit, and London."
2000-10-28 until 2001-02-11
Carnegie Museum of Art
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

The first major museum exhibition to explore how aluminum has inspired creativity and sparked innovation in design begins an international tour at Carnegie Museum of Art, its organizing institution, from October 28, 2000, through February 11, 2001. The exhibition traces aluminum from its first use as a precious metal in the nineteenth century through its evolving role in daily life and explores how its unique properties inspired designers of furniture, jewelry, architecture, fashion, and consumer and industrial products.

This groundbreaking exhibition demonstrates how aluminum's essential qualities of brilliance, strength, light weight, ductility, corrosion resistance, and ease of recycling have provided an unparalleled medium for design and creative engineering. Aluminum by Design: Jewelry to Jets features work by such visionaries as René Lalique, Jean Prouvé, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Russel Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Gio Ponti, Donald Judd, Shiro Kuramata, and Philippe Starck.

Seeing 150 years of material culture as manifested through aluminum is certain to be both intellectually and visually stimulating, says Richard Armstrong, The Henry J. Heinz II director of Carnegie Museum of Art. It is most fitting that Carnegie Museum of Art is the organizer of this comprehensive examination of so dynamic a material because of Pittsburgh's historic role in the story of aluminum.

The objects tell the story of aluminum as a design medium from its earliest beginnings, when it was an expensive material of great rarity often preferred over traditional precious metals. A table centerpiece, made in Paris in 1858 by Charles Christofle, was presented to Napoleon III, the great promoter of aluminum in France. A French bracelet of the same date combines the metal with gold.

As technological developments made aluminum more widely available, it came to symbolize modernity. The greatest practitioners of the avant-garde used aluminum, whose silvery color, lightness, and malleability made it an ideal medium for the new streamlined modern design. Otto Wagner's 1906 Postal Savings Bank in Vienna was one of the first buildings to use aluminum extensively; Marcel Breuer won first prize in a 1933 international competition in Paris for the best seating designed in the metal. This design sensibility quickly spread to industrial goods, such as the meat slicer made by Hobart or the kitchen utensils and coffee pots designed by Lurelle Guild that were manufactured for a wide consumer audience in the 1930s.

Aluminum production dramatically increased during the Second World War, because the metal was a strategic material crucial to the war effort. After the war, aluminum companies engaged designers to create new applications for aluminum and promote its use in order to sustain production. For example, the exhibition features a rug and two tables by Marianne Strengell and Isamu Noguchi respectively, designed specifically to encourage innovative uses of the metal.

Because it can be resmelted indefinitely without deterioration of its properties, aluminum recycling is economically viable ñ making it an ideal medium for the beverage industry and increasingly so for cars. Masterpieces of recycling in the exhibition include a throne of a chief from the Hwedom in Africa, made of wood with applied decoration recycled from aluminum pots, and Boris Bally's Transit Chairs, 1997, made of recycled aluminum traffic signs.

The final section of the exhibition looks at contemporary uses of aluminum, ranging from a dress made of aluminum disks in 1969 by the haute couture designer Paco Rabanne to a steelworker's protective suit. Furniture includes a series of chairs by the London-based Israeli architect/designer Ron Arad that traces a specific design from its aluminum prototype through the aluminum limited edition to the mass-produced plastic version, 1997 - 99, and Marc Newson's limited edition Lockheed Lounge, 1985 - 86, whose streamlined, riveted surface recalls the bodies of jet airliners.

The exhibition is organized by Carnegie Museum of Art. Curator of the exhibition, Sarah Nichols, curator of decorative arts and chief curator of Carnegie Museum of Art, led a distinguished team of international scholars who contributed to the exhibition and its publication.

This exhilarating exhibition looks at the design uses of one of the most significant new materials of the twentieth century from an innovative and interdisciplinary perspective. It reiterates the impact that aluminum has had on every aspect of the material world. I think the visitor will be amazed by the multifaceted nature of aluminum and the wide spectrum of uses for which it excels,î says Nichols. Working on this exhibition has been a wonderful journey that has broadened my horizons and led me down many fascinating paths. I am astounded at the versatility and prominence of aluminum. If aluminum didnít exist, the world today would be a very different place.

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