Charles and Ray Eames at Design Museum, London (1998)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - design | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 4(4), page 51 in 1998.

Charles and Ray Eames at Design Museum, London

The work of influential Americans Charles and Ray Eames (1907-1978 and 1912-1988 respectively) was featured in an exhibition of over 500 objects. The show included video footage, films, an architectural model, promotional graphics and advertisements, materials related to their studio and their trademark chairs. Organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the exhibition at the Design Museum in London demonstrated the husband and wife design team’s significant influence and unique approach to design in the 20th century.

"Recognizing the need was the primary condition for the practice of design," Charles Eames once said. Early in their careers, the coupled identified the need for affordable, high-quality furniture. They combined an appreciation of modern materials—molded plywood, fiberglass, reinforced plastic, bent and welded wire mesh, cast aluminum—with mass production techniques and created a language of design that was economical and accessible to a large number of people.

They also searched for seat and back forms to fit the human anatomy which resulted in dominant organic shapes. Ray Eames, also an abstract painter who studied under Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), appreciated curvilinear form, spatial movement, and color, and this made a significant contribution to the studio. Their most influential designs include the Plywood Group (1964), Fiberglass Chair (1950), Wire Chair (1951), Lounge Chair and Ottoman (1956), and the Sofapad Chair (1969).

Form and line are particularly emphasized in La Chaise (1948), which was submitted to the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s 1948 Low Cost Furniture Design competition. A reproduction of this chair was provided for people to sit on and this was a popular focal point of the exhibition.

While the focus on Charles and Ray Eames’ work is their chairs, the exhibition designers went to great lengths to contextualize the exhibition to reach novices and specialists alike. Included in the show were simulated aspects of the Eames’ studio, and examples of their appreciation and collections of vernacular design, which provided a reconstruction of the creative psyche of the design pair.

For their landmark, Eames House (1949) in southern California, a model and video camera footage was presented. Other videos contained interviews with people in the design office, colleagues, and friends, while a nearby projection room showed a range of Eames’ films that broached a variety of topics such as toy trains, bread, and jelly fish.