Alvar and I

Musings about vintage design furniture

Archive for the ‘Imaginary museum’ Category

Bauhaus in Mexico

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Discovered recently: modernist furniture designers in Mexico while looking up Klaus Grabe material and the MoMA 1941 competition  “Organic Designs for Furnishing” (hopefully more on both later).

It is well known that after the Bauhaus was forced to close in 1933, most of its artists found refuge in the United States. But the Bauhaus diaspora also reached less likely places like Palestine, South Africa or Mexico. In Mexico, the spirit of the Bauhaus left a strong legacy of Mexican modernist furniture designers: Clara Porset, Arturo Pani, Pepe Mendoza, Luis Barragan, Francisco Artigas, and Michael Van Buren. If you want to know more check this article (Word document) by Jorge S Arango and this one by Oscar Salinas Flores (in Spanish; Google translates it fairly well).

Anni and Joseph Albers, the most famous of the Bauhaus expatriates associated with Mexico, frequently came from nearby U.S. to visit Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, among others. The Albers also visited Clara Porset. Porset, who became interested in the Bauhaus while visiting Europe, was a former student of Joseph Albers at Black Mountain College.

Clara Porset – El Butaca Chair

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Other Bauhaus alums that came to Mexico include Hannes Meyer, and closer to our vintage pursuits, Klaus Grabe and Michael Van Beuren. Grabe, another Albers student, Van Beuren, also a former student of the Bauhaus, and Morely Webb together won first prize for a lounge chair in the 1941 MoMA competition. (Mexico scored a double as Porset also won a prize). The chair was subsequently edited by the company Domus, established by the three designers as the premier modern furniture editor in the country.

Organic furniture competition lounge chair

Tomo van beuren chaise lounge alacran chair

Grabe soon left Mexico to settle in New York where he ran Klaus Grabe Inc. and pursued his quest for modern low-cost furniture, including plywood variations of the Organic furniture competition winner.

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Michael Van Beuren stayed in Mexico, where he started a company in his own name. His work has recently been rediscovered thanks to last year’s exhibition “Footprints of the Bauhaus” at the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico city.

Domus chair – Michael Van Beuren and Klaus Grabe (c. 1942)

Domus Chair

Reminds one of something…

Giuseppe Pagano Pogatschnig – Chair for Bocconi University (c. 1940)

Pagano

Low Cost Furniture Competition: 1949

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With the Internet, serendipidity takes a whole new meaning. Stumbled recently upon MoMA’s press releases of the iconic Low Cost Furniture Competition: here is the press release announcing the winners, and  here is the exhibition press release. The competition advert can be seen here. See also here for a candid discussion of production challenges .

The 1949 International Low Cost Furniture competition revealed to the public Don Knorr, Robin Day, and Ernest Race. The competition was featured in Life magazine  and Der Spiegel.

With about 3,000 entries, the list of designers who submitted reads like a Who’s Who of 1950s design and architecture: Marcel Breuer, Ilmari Tapiovaara, Hans Wegner, Marco Zanuso, Franco Albini, Jorn Utzon and Willy Guhl among them. Here is an overview of the competition catalog courtesy of Modernism 101.

Don Knorr chair – upholstered

The brainchild of Edgar Kaufmann Jr., the competition used the successful formula of the MoMA 1941 “Organic Designs and Home Furnishing” of collaboration between MoMA and retailers (Kaufmann was the son of the owners of Kaufmann’s department store in Pittsburgh). You could well say that Edgar Jr. was a man of taste and vision having studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and being of the Kaufman family that commissioned the Fallingwater house in 1936.

he has the right to look pretty smug, no?

Some of the furniture presented at the competition…

Robin Day and Clive Latimer storage unit

Alexey Brodovitch chair (3rd prize)

Charles Eames- La Chaise: it was not so low cost, so it did not win (2nd prize)

Full Scale Model of Chaise Longue (La Chaise) by Charles and Ray Eames, 1948. ©2008 The Museum of Modern Art

Written by Alvar and I

June 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Le Corbusier’s Indian masterpiece Chandigarh is stripped for parts

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Chandigarh’s furniture again. A recent article in The Guardian reports the campaign led by Manmohan Nath Sharma, to preserve the capital of Punjab and Haryana and prevent the “removal” of artifacts, including furniture from the numerous public buildings. Sharma was the first assistant of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh and later took over as chief architect of the city. A petition to support this effort can be signed here.

It’s true that emulating the success of dealers with salvaged Prouvé furniture from Africa and elsewhere, many of Chandigarh’s furniture, most of it designed by Jeanneret, have surfaced on the market. The forthcoming Philips de Pury & Company sale being the latest example. Atelier also reminds us of this Wallpaper* piece from about 2 years ago.

Some will view this as the market enabling the salvage of beautiful pieces of furniture that would otherwise be lost forever, others will see it as plundering of universal patrimony by unscrupulous merchants. In the absence of facts, hard to tell which is right. The case of Chandigarh is however specific in that there is the need to preserve the whole integrity of the place, its architecture and artifacts (including furniture).

Since there is an effort to draw the attention of Indian and international authorities to the preservation of Chandigarh, we believe this should be supported. Philips de Pury and others can make their profits on what is already and legitimately on the market.

Written by Alvar and I

March 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

From our 50’s couch – McDonald edition

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A collector’s dream: the immodestly titled Mark McDonald sale at Sotheby’s on 10 March, already featured on the ever interesting MONDOBLOGOThe North Elevation and Mid-Century Modern Interiors. Really great and instructive to see the beautiful pieces assembled  by a collector ahead of his time. Particularly nice to find a couple Nana Ditzel piece too, including this beautiful modular seating system below: pretty stiff competition for our very own 50’s couch!

Check also the Aalto Chair No. 31, a favorite around this blog. The estimate is pretty low: something wrong with it?

Let’s dream a bit of future blog posts written on this delightful desk by Charlotte Perriand. A similar table was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2004 for $7,200.

Finally check out the Anatomy of a Sale videos about the McDonald auction.

Written by Alvar and I

March 6, 2011 at 10:19 pm

A Critique of Tubular Steel

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“In 1925 modern tubular furniture was born. Its birthplace was the Bauhaus, famed German school of architecture and design which Nazis later turned into a domestic science school for girls. It had a bony infancy. Fad-hungry interior decorators pounced on its chromium steel chairs and glass-topped tables. But many a buyer found it short on fun, however long on function. Trouble was – and still is – that metal furniture was cold in surface and line, clammy or hot according to the weather.

Alvar Aalto – Model No. 21

Meanwhile, in Finland, a brilliant young architect named Alvar Aalto and his architect wife, Aino, really got somewhere with modern furniture. Influenced by the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier (real name: Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), but experimenting in plywood instead of steel, they smoothed out geometric kinks, turned out chairs which combined the functional with good sense and charm. The Aaltos were the first to make chairs with pliant one-piece backs and resilient seats. They pioneered also in welding together layers of plywood with synthetic cement, cold-pressing them for six weeks into posture-pleasing shapes.

Alvar Aalto – Model No. 31

Exhibited on the Continent, in London, at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (in 1938), their light, satiny furniture brought the Aaltos international renown, put them in the front rank of modern furniture designers. (Also well acknowledged by then was stocky, bush-browed Alvar Aalto’s high rank among living architects.)

Alvar Aalto – Model No. 42

Last week Alvar and Aino Aalto opened their own furniture store (Artek-Pascoe, Inc.) in Manhattan. The Aaltos’ plywood sandwiches of maple and birch are shaped in Wisconsin, shipped East for assembly. Colors of the finished pieces of furniture – many of them Aalto-patented – ranged from natural finish through cellulosed red and blue to black. On display also went Aalto-designed screens and glassware.

Alvar Aalto – Lounge Chair Model No. 43

The excellence of the Aalto furniture may help to discourage manufacture of some furniture that now passes for modern. The Aalto purpose is to use U. S. mass production to get their designs into ordinary U. S. homes. Though their simple, substantial furniture is well fitted for mass production, the Aalto assembly line has not yet cut prices to the ordinary buyer’s range. In full operation, it will retail an armchair now priced at $29.50 for $19, a $47 chest of drawers for $24, a $15 side table for $9. The Aaltos have already attained space-saving by designing stools that nest into each other, side chairs and even armchairs that can be stacked 20 high to save space.”

[TIME magazine, “Furniture by Assembly Line“, July 15, 1940 issue; with due thanks to Modernism101 for the pointer]

Aalto felt that steel tubing was unsuited to living spaces and he disliked its tinny sound. He took advantage of the elasticity of birch wood, whose spring qualities had hitherto only been only used for skis. Around the same time different solutions were followed by other designers, most notably Heinz and Bodo Rasch’s “Sitzengeiststuhl” (“the spirit of the sitting chair”) and Gerrit Rietveld.

Gerrit Rietveld – Zig-zag chair (1934)

Gerrit Rietveld. Zig-Zag Chair. 1934

The radical innovation of Rietveld’s design was that it did not follow the imaginary lines of a cube, but instead a diagonal.

Charlotte Perriand for the Exhibition “Tradition, Selection, Creation” (1941)

Phillips, de Pury & Company-Experimental armchair

This one was designed while Perriand was in Japan and made out of plywood and bamboo elastic bands. This armchair, an interpretation of Alvar Aalto’s designs (Model No. 31 in particular), was made for her exhibitions at the Takashimaya department stores in Tokyo and Osaka in 1941. The exhibition Tradition, Selection, Creation was opened under sponsorship of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the French Embassy. It can be considered the immediate outcome of Perriand’s official appointment as advisor to Japanese industrial art production from 1940 to 1941 and her collaboration with Junzo Sakakura. More from the Philips, de Pury & Company catalog description here.

Werner Panton – S Chair No. 275 (1956)

Manufacturing a chair out of a single plywood sheet had been achieved long before Panton’s design by Gerald Summer and Hans Pieck, but it is only with Panton that a cantilever design was made possible. Hugo Häring had proposed in 1949 a prototype made out of a single sheet of metal; the model was intended for production in plywood but never came to be.

[Most of the above information – including this post’s title – is taken from Stebastian Hackenschmidt’s essay “Cantilevered: Chairs as Material Experiments” for the MAK Exhibition Cantilever Chair: Architectural Manifesto and Material Experiment]

Written by Alvar and I

February 12, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Minimal Desks circa 1950s

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The 1950s were a great period for desk design. Economic expansion and the rise of the tertiary sector perhaps explain that. There is still a lot of sobriety in the designs, as if reminiscent of the deprivations of the war. Only towards the end of the decade do we see more expansive lines.

Finn Juhl (1948)

Franco Albini, #80 desk (1949)

Jacques Adnet (1950)

Jean Prouvé – Standard desk (1950)

Charles and Ray Eames – ESU desk (1952)

Greta Magnusson Grossman (1952)

Pierre Paulin – (1953)

Hans Wegner (1954)

Jean Prouvé – Compas desk (1955)

Jules Wabbes (1955)

Franco Albini – stadera desk (1958)

FRANCO ALBINI

Ico Parisi –  (1958)

Nana Ditzel (1960)

Virtual Exhibits

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We just discovered these great virtual exhibit visits from Jacksons’ Berlin antenna. Wish that they will add to the collection very soon.

If you have the occasion to visit Stockholm or Berlin pay a visit to their gallery. We have yet to visit the Berlin one – it had just opened the last time we had the pleasure to visit them on Sibyllegatan. Great space.

Bruno Mathsson Exhibition

Finn Juhl Exhibition

Finnish Design Exhibtion

Written by Alvar and I

January 29, 2011 at 7:53 pm