Every year in the greater Palm Springs area, Modernism Week celebrates mid-century architecture and design through events, tours, and exhibits. During the recent preview weekend (offering a preview of the upcoming February 2022 event), a double-decker bus tour passed palm trees and tall hedges to reveal examples of significant mid-century wonders. . As they climbed the stairs of the bus, passengers were given a glossary of Modernist design terms. First on the list: “adaptive reuse,” a designation made during the transformation of the 1961 E Stewart Williams Santa Fe savings and loan building on Palm Canyon Drive. In 2014, Marmol Radziner completely restored this classic structure, which now houses the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center. Currently visible inside this historic Class 1 site (as designated by the Palm Springs City Council) is an exhibit titled The modern chair.
We spoke with curator Brad Dunning and Eames office manager Eames Demetrios to gain a better understanding of how the exhibition was organized and to learn more about the importance of chairs in the evolution of contemporary architecture and of furniture design.
First of all, Dunning was, unsurprisingly, inspired by the Williams building. “Space is like a glowing white box. White terrazzo floors bounce back. The white ceiling bounces the light downwards. White translucent solar shades filter light through the fully glazed walls. It’s really the closest Palm Springs has to a Farnsworth house or a Case Study 22 house. ”He says. “Actually, it looks more like a mini Berlin Neue Nationalgalerie in Mies, except all white.”
For the exhibit, Dunning chose 50 examples of 20th century chairs to illustrate the evolution of contemporary chair design, starting with Thonet’s B9 bentwood chair from the early 1900s. chairs on low continuous pedestals, chronologically, all spaced the same distance, facing the viewer clinically so that they have the same importance in the presentation. I wanted everything to give up, for everything to be white except the chairs themselves, ”he says. Beyond Thonet, the galleries feature chairs by Charles and Ray Eames, Rudolph Schindler, Charlotte Perriand for Le Corbusier, Pierre Paulin, Olivier Mourgue, Eileen Gray, George Nakashima and more, with a central room featuring chairs by Californian designers .
“I like the fact that the exhibition begins with the Thonet chair,” Demetrios tells us. “If you think of it as a continuum, you think of these chairs as a way to mold wood in line. Then you look at the Aalto chairs and it’s two-dimensional. And then you have Charles and Ray’s chairs which add that third dimension. By choosing to start from the Thonet chair, it forces us to weigh the way in which materiality has affected the modern movement and this awareness of new materials. Ray and Charles wanted to understand how these materials could make better chairs more useful for people. And useful can be beautiful.
When asked to look at the museum’s collection of chairs, Dunning was surprised at the number of unique and varied examples. “They had a Terje Ekström in exceptionally good condition and a favorite of mine, the avant-garde French designer Roger Tallon. They showed me one of the most beautiful and original Hans Wegner “round” chairs I have ever seen. The original cane and patina are just perfect, ”he says. But he felt the museum was missing key pieces that should be part of the exhibit, which he borrowed from various collectors and museums. “I was delighted to show a rare and antique RM Schindler chair from 1926, from the collection, but to tell the story of the modern chair you have to show a Breuer Wassily chair, a Saarinen tulip and a Mies Barcelona.”
There are several standouts on the view here. Harry Bertoia’s welded wire side chair is popular for its innovative airy structure. Eileen Gray’s design in 1926, the Bibendum armchair (named after the Michelin man’s mascot) features inviting, supple, plush leather curves. The aforementioned Ekström chair from 1972 stuns viewers, incorporating metal tubing covered in polyurethane foam. Tokujin Yoshioka’s somewhat ghostly Honey-Pop chair has been meticulously crafted from glassine paper.
Constructed from nickel-plated steel, leather and horsehair, only two of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chairs were made for the German pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Exhibition. This luxurious and elegant design is considered a modern masterpiece of construction, elegance and ergonomic comfort. .
Looking through the light space also reveals how designers have used color beautifully, from the vibrant red Heart Cone chair by Verner Panton (1959) to the painted Red Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld (1923) and the moss green cantilevered chair. by Rudolph Schindler (circa 1926-1940).
The modern chair is running until April 3, 2022. Modernism Week will run from February 12-27, 2022 and will include neighborhood tours, showcasing properties such as Frank Sinatra’s Film Colony, Frey House, Resort Lautner, as well as numerous events and exhibitions. Visitors who see The modern chair at the museum can then find examples around town in homes featuring classic mid-century modern pieces.
Hero image of Pierre Paulin’s Artifort ribbon chair and ottoman courtesy of Yoshihiro Makino