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"Aluminum by Design: Jewellery to Jets"
2001-08-23 until 2001-11-04
Montreal Museum of Fine Art
Montreal, QC, CA

Considered to be as precious as gold when it was first produced in France in the mid-nineteenth century, aluminum has long been part of our daily lives. Aluminum by Design: Jewellery to Jets, an exhibition that will be on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts features a selection of some 180 artifacts. Organized and circulated by the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, this groundbreaking exhibition shows how aluminum and its unique properties have inspired designers in fields as diverse as sculpture, furniture and home decor, jewellery, architecture, fashion, the aerospace and robotic industries.

Aluminum's essential qualities of brilliance, strength, lightness, ductility, resistance to corrosion, and ease of recycling have provided an unparalleled medium for design and creative engineering. Aluminum by Design features works by gifted designers like René Lalique, Jean Prouvé, Marcel Breuer, Frank Lloyd Wright, Russel Wright, Gio Ponti, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Philippe Starck and Isamu Noguchi.

Initially rare, expensive and often preferred over traditional precious metals, aluminum was promoted by Napoleon III, who was presented with a magnificent table centrepiece made in Paris by Charles Christofle in 1858. The exhibition showcases jewellery combining aluminum with gold from the same period, as well as an aluminum, gold, glass and copper perfume bottle and case. In 1893, one of the greatest British sculptors of the nineteenth century, Sir Alfred Gilbert, created Eros, the first aluminum public statue, to crown the Shaftesbury Memorial in London's Piccadilly Circus. The exhibition also presents the sculpture Venus de Milo, produced at the F. Barbedienne Foundry in 1889.

As technological developments made aluminum more widely available, it came to symbolize modernity, and its malleability was soon appreciated by practitioners of the avant-garde. Otto Wagner's 1906 Vienna Postal Savings Bank was the first building to use aluminum extensively. Marcel Breuer won first prize in a 1933 international competition in Paris for the best seating designed in the metal. Its use quickly spread to industrial goods like the Hobart meat slicer, also seen in the exhibition, and the kitchen utensils and coffee pots designed by Lurelle Guild that were manufactured for a wide consumer audience in the 1930s.

Owing to the metal's strategic importance, aluminum production increased dramatically during World War II. After the war, aluminum companies hired designers to create new applications for the metal in order to sustain production. For example, the exhibition features a rug made of aluminum, jute, wool and viscose by Marianne Strengell, and two tables by Isamu Noguchi that were designed specifically to encourage innovative uses of the metal.

Because aluminum can be easily recycled, it plays a significant role in a wide spectrum of uses - from beverage containers like Coca-Cola cans to automobile components like the Audi chassis. It has even managed to seduce the fashion world. A 1969 mini-dress of aluminum and polished silver or the aluminum and steel Atomium Bruxelles Dress created by haute-couture designer Paco Rabanne could be accessorized with bags and shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo, and jewellery by Arline Fisch, Frans van Nieuwenborg or Shiang-shin Yeh. Two Aibo robotic dogs by Sony Electronics Inc. could complete the fashion statement. Furniture includes Marc Newson's astonishing aerodynamic Lockheed Lounge (1985) and a series of chairs by architect/designer Ron Arad that traces a specific design from its aluminum prototype through the aluminum limited addition to the mass-produced plastic version.

The exhibition has been seen at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, in New York. Following its Montreal presentation, it will travel to the Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami, the Cranbrook Art Museum in Detroit, and the Design Museum in London, England.

Marc Newson (born in 1963)
Lockheed Lounge, 1985
Riveted sheet aluminium over fiberglass, rubber
63.5 X 88.9 X 152.4 cm
Pittsburg, Carnegie Museum of Art
Women's Committee Acquisition Fund

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