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Michael Webb
writes on modern architecture, design, and travel. He is the author of 26 books, most recently Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House, Boyd Collection (Rizzoli) and Venice CA: Art +Architecture in a Maverick Community (Abrams). He travels widely in search of new and classic modern architecture and contributes to magazines around the world. Michael lives in the Neutra apartment that Charles and Ray Eames once called home.

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Thursday
Nov172011

Design Polymaths

Five celebrations of Charles and Ray Eames are on show in LA through early 2012, recalling the landmark exhibition of their work, which ended its international tour at LACMA, eleven years ago. That ambitious show attempted to bring all the designers’ achievements under one roof, and it overwhelmed many visitors.  Small, specialized exhibits make the Eames’s genius feel more visceral.

© 2011 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com)

The best starting point is the iconic house (203 Chattauqua Blvd, Pacific Palisades). The living room has been emptied and its furnishings are displayed in a recreation of the house as a highlight of the LACMA exhibition “Living in a Modern Way: California Design, 1930-1965” (5905 Wilshire Blvd, through June 3). That gives the Eames House Foundation the opportunity to replace the floor tiles (which had cracked and buckled) and stage two fund-raising events in the empty space. Visitors can see the house as bare as it was when Charles and Ray moved in on Christmas Eve 1949, and return for a festive Christmas and participate in a tea ceremony, as the Eames and friends did in the early years. It’s a first step in the plan to preserve the house for another 250 years.

© 2011 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com)

The Eameses had a passion for communicating ideas, notably in the IBM-sponsored exhibition “Mathematica: a World of Numbers …and Beyond” which dramatizes the principles and chronology of an arcane discipline. Launched fifty years ago, it is still on display in Boston, and key elements from the presentation at the 1964 New York World’s Fair are on display in the Eames Gallery (850 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, through April 28). “The A+D Museum is presenting “Eames Design: the Guest/Host Relationship” (6032 Wilshire Blvd, across from LACMA, through January 16). It juxtaposes Charles’s pithy comments on design with the artistry of Ray, recreated by two alumnae of the office, Deborah Sussman and Tina Beebe. “The role of the designer,” said Charles, “is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests.”  His love of toys, raw materials and things that work well (like the original Jeep) comes alive in the short films and seductive displays.  Eames Designs captures the combination of earthy commonsense and sensual delight that infuses everything their office did and made.

A+D Museum

That fusion—and their obsession to perfect every detail—is apparent in “Collecting Eames: the J.F. Chen Collection” (Chen Gallery, 941 N. Highland Ave, LA, through January 14). Prototypes and early production models of the furniture are shown chronologically alongside the incremental improvements that were made over three decades. There are 425 examples, all of which are for sale and may never be seen together again, though a good selection are illustrated in the handsome exhibition catalogue. This is a rare opportunity for collectors—and for students of design, who need to learn that every project should be rigorously tested and constantly upgraded.

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