Eames, Eames and More Eames…
Pacific Standard Time was originally conceived as a retrospective of the oft-overlooked fine art of the postwar years in California. But it expanded to include the modern design of the period — an outpouring of experimentation in architecture, craft and industrial design that arguably achieved greater prominence than the fine art, especially through the mass-produced goods of Charles and Ray Eames. For Eames aficianados, this is a great time to be in Los Angeles because there are so many Eames-related events and projects. We have already touched on some in this blog. Beth Topping reports on the current must-sees :
COLLECTING EAMES: THE JF CHEN COLLECTION
This massive collection of Eames design and production history, on show in the Highland Avenue warehouse of the inimitable antique dealer Joel Chen, includes more than 400 pieces and spans nearly six decades, from 1939 to 1998. Chen began the collection when he bought 175 pieces from Eames scholar and collector, Daniel Ostroff.
Curated by Ostroff (seen here with Bookworm’s Michael Silverblatt at a recent KCRW staff tour of the show) the collection evokes a museum exhibition, rather than a simple tableau of gallery pieces. It includes a timeline, with some of Charles Eames’ earliest and rarest collaborations with Eero Saarinen. Their 1940 molded wood chair with a fabric covering was created for MoMa’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. It is a beautiful and embryonic example of the molded plywood chairs whose design and production would become a near obsession for Charles and Ray Eames in later years.
The collection also exemplifies key philosophies of the Eames. Because their designs were based on need and utility and not simply aesthetics, Charles and Ray always sought to improve their furniture. The timeline shows the gradual changes in materials and design as technology and experience guided them.
The Eames are also famous for producing “the best for the most for the least,” making affordable, quality pieces to last a lifetime (their furniture was mostly made in America by Herman Miller, whose workers made a comfortable enough wage to put their children through college). One great example of this quality craftsmanship is a single family collection from the Valastro family, who bought a nine piece set of Eames furniture with their dowry when they married in 1954. Even after continuous use (with two boys in the home), the furniture is still intact and fully functioning, having been removed from the Velastro home in 2009.
In a departure from Chen’s previous shows, which tend towards dark and mysterious, the exhibit design itself is clean and light — creating the perfect stage (sometimes literally) for the Eames’ iconic pieces. The structures that house many of the pieces — from chairs and audio speakers to skateboards and leg splints — are reminiscent of the Eames’ famous home in Pacific Palisades. Stacked shelves with brightly colored panels and layers of Eames fabrics are the perfect backgrounds to show off the simple and brilliant Eames designs.
The Eames were leaders during a prolific time in design history — a time in which the perfect storm of post-war America, new materials, technology and a fresh perspective drove modern design. The collection is an opportunity to glimpse both rare and common pieces and get a full understanding of the Eames’ place in American culture — how they were inspired by it, met the needs of it and helped create a new world in the process.
Collecting Eames: The JF Chen Collection, is a Getty Pacific Standard Time Participating Gallery show, is open to the public through January 14, 2012. More information at jfchenantiques.com or 323-466-9700. See more from Dan Ostroff here and at Pacific Standard Time’s Eames site here.
LOS ANGELES MODERN AUCTIONS: IMPORTANT MODERN ART & DESIGN AUCTION
There was a time when you could pick up an old, original Eames chair at a flea market for a few dollars. Not anymore. The midcentury modern revival that started around 20 years ago changed all that and one of the engineers of that change was Los Angeles Modern Auctions(LAMA), the auction house founded by Peter and Shannon Loughrey. Now located in Van Nuys, in an anonymous-looking warehouse that reveals its treasures on entering, this weekend they are holding what they describe as “the Most Important Selection of California Design Ever Offered in One Auction.” The Important Modern Art & Design Auction nicely parallels the Pacific Standard Time era and, , like the JF Chen show above, displays its artefacts as if in a gallery. The offerings include Raymond Loewy’s personal Studebaker Avanti car, a Richard Neutra custom table and chair, a Greene & Greene linen press, as well as several rare and Eames items. One of the lots is a Charles & Ray Eames DCW prototype that was produced at the legendary Eames Office and included in the 1946 Eames show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
EAMES: THE ARCHITECT AND THE PAINTER
This film is an incredibly personal account of Charles & Ray Eames life together that goes beyond the carefully-crafted public image of the iconic design team. Made by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey, it uses interviews from Eames Office colleagues, art historians and design scholars (and a solid narration by James Franco) to take an in-depth look at the genesis of Charles and Ray’s creative coupling, their passions, inspirations and journey together. The breadth of the film covers a wide-range of topics, from the Eames Office (a virtual circus relative to the design studios of their day — chock full of whimsical inspirations for filmmaking, photography and design) to furniture, films, corporate clients, exhibitions and their personal lives. And while it gives a clear picture of how the Eames influenced America from the 40s to today, I found that the moments featuring Ray and how she dealt with her personal challenges were the most touching. Whether it was the lack of recognition she received, being marginalized during the Eames expansion into more scientific and mathematical projects or how she quietly dealt with her husband’s infidelity. The film is available on DVD.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
It turns out that rapper/actor Ice Cube has a background in design and is an Eames buff. He was enlisted by Pacific Standard Time to add his imprimatur to the Eames lovefest, which you can see in the poster above and in this video.
And just in case you haven’t gotten enough Eames, here’s a 1970 video from Herman Miller that shows the amazing production behind Eames famous fiberglass shell chairs.