Space Age Electronics

Although the first man-made rocket to breach the boundaries of space was the German made V-2 rocket in 1942 Space Age is considered to have begun with the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite in 1957. The fear of the Cold War (1946-1991) and the imaginations of the Western world at the time surrounding the race into space dramatically influenced popular culture. From fashion, product, graphic and interior design to music and technological advances – the world from the mid 50s to the late 70s was fixated on Space Age. Tie in the psychedelic qualities of the 60s and you easily have a revolutionary departure from the calm pastels and utilitarian designs that accompanied the “white flight” of the growing suburban 50s.

Many describe the bright colors, bold and transformative designs of this era commonly as mod, retro, or vintage. Perhaps those descriptions are misnomers as they never quite define Space Age. Astronaut helmets, flying saucers, planetary-referencing orbs, spaceships and satellites all became part of the pop culture landscape of the time. It could be said that few designs since have reflected a more futuristic optimism than these electronic gizmos of the past.

Here we take a look at how the Space Age influenced electronics. A common similarity is the absence of or high saturation of color. Until this point in design history, electronic devices – be that of the radio, telephone, record player, television and later the 8 track and reel-to-reel players etc. – were commonly pretty bland. Occasionally you’d have rouge aluminum-encased Victrolas designed by some early out-of-the-box thinker and great Bakelite radios from the art deco period, but all-in-all your options came in wood grain and black. The 50’s introduced a number of brighter plastic models but the standard corals and avocados were about as daring as the American consumer would or could buy. Space Age electronics were a departure.

It was no mistake that at this time the technological switch was being made from massive, heavy tube and circuit boards to Solid State. Designs from Europe, the Americas and all over Asia trickled into the magazine pages and then onto the department store shelves. That trickle soon turned into a flood as Asian manufacturers worked with willing superpowers to produce the fun objects that were not only design icons but also much more portable. Portability was key in the development and popularity of these items and consumers flocked to these new designs.

Considering collecting Space Age Electronics?

If ever on the hunt for Space Age electronics be sure to look for the following popular brands; Weltron, Aquatron, Philco, Grundig, Panasonic, Magnavox, Brother, Prominent and Wyndford Hall. Many more fantastic designs exist that were specifically sold to the European market. You may find that very similar designs have different brand names on them. This is because patents for the internal works were often sold or copied. Weltron could have produced the iconic 2001 model and then sold the patent to a Korean company who manufactured the same radio system but housed it in a different case.

A few details to keep in mind: The quality and condition of the case, missing knobs, tested working or not working units and most importantly – the condition of the battery compartment (you don’t want corroded and acid-filled units). If the seller of the unit notes that the sound is “scratchy” when adjusting the knobs – don’t worry! These sets are anywhere from 30-50 years old. Dust is normal and a quick trip to the electronics store can solve this problem. On the other hand, you could just enjoy the “sweet spots” on the dial where the sound comes in perfectly. Happy hunting!

The Wire Chair

The birth of the wire chair’s popularity can easily be traced back to Charles and Ray Eames’s wire side chair released in 1951. This iconic object for everyday use fit right along with their fundamental principle for its use of new material. Wire rods were by no means new material in that era although their use as a structure for seating certainly was. As is the case when it comes to iconic forerunners, this simple side chair was not the only one of its kind. Beyond this side chair by the dynamic Eames duo, Harry Bertoia’s 420 side chair is just about the only iconic wire chair recognizable by name to the modern enthusiast.

A designer, engineer or architect has much to think about when concocting a chair from this rigid, yet flexible material. The chair needs to hold up to the weight of the average human body, needs to to be functional as a chair (subsequently, a chair’s many uses), all the while maintaining its shape – must we add it should be comfortable? Designer’s like Russel Woodard, Verner Panton and Harry Bertoia have produced real-life visions that embody all of these aspects and often is the case a cushion is needed to address the matter of comfort.

The contemporary wire chair of today knows only the limit of a designers computer software and the available funds to produce the project. Take Verner Panton’s iconic plastic cantilever chair – a first in its field for being molded from a single mold of plastic, virtually indestructible for daily use and naturally produced in its bold colors. Now, from a CAD computer program’s wireframe rendering those curvaceous lines and shapes of this plastic chair can be produced through the process of meticulously bending each rod of chrome-laden wire to intersect just right – mirroring the chair itself. It is any wonder how the Bertoia and Eames chairs of their day were executed without the aid of a computer. Contemporary masterminds such as Brodie Neill blew the minds of furniture and design lovers in 2011 with the release of his Reverb chair. This spherical vortex of wire mesh reminds one of  a theoretical wormhole – have a seat in the center and take a load off!

For collectors

Reproduction of a Harry Bertoia Side Chair – click to view detail

Wire chairs are hard to make. Production costs can easily outweigh the benefits of selling at an affordable price. Therefore it is usual that the best of the best (and easiest to produce) designs are sent to the open market. Chairs by Warren Planter, Verner Panton and most contemporary designs are a safe bet as far as authenticity are concerned. Chairs by Charles and Ray Eames and by Harry Bertoia don’t have that luxury. To some imitation is the best form of flattery, so it is left to the consumer to decide whether or not to buy authentic or to buy a reproduction. For the most popular Harry Bertoia side and diamond chairs, take a look at their main outermost structural elements. You’ll notice that on the originals there is one wire holding together the structure with the mesh of structural wired welded to this one. Now, take a look at an inexpensive knock-off. The eye instantly sees the two wires holding the structure together around the entire chair and back of the seat. These pieces of lesser quality are designed in this fashion to allow a manufacturer to use a thin gauge of wire – not as Harry Bertoia had originally planned.

The Pantanova and Planter chairs – as with the more complex designs – are usually out of reach for the beginning consumer. A Pantanova Chaise can run between 4000-7500USD with the wormhole-like Reverb chair (created in a very limited production) costing 25,000USD. Our best bets are to find the chair (or chairs) you love and research! Then, stalk! Original Bertoia and Eames wire side chairs can be found at your local mid-century dealer in the 175-400USD range. As always, check the web and eBay. If you miss out on a bargain, never fear, there will always be another chance as millions were produced for the global market. On the higher end if you find what suits you best, never be afraid to ask a dealer if they can come down on the price. Even the most high end of dealers will consider a slight discount if they know they will receive a certain sale. Whatever your choice you’ll find that a wire chair will bring a unique linear openness to your space – making these useful structural objects a great addition.

Pawel Przewlocki – Paintings and Sculpture

Following Pawel Przewlocki’s larger body of work one can handpick elements that suggest political and social commentaries. However we chose to focus on this recent body of acrylic on wood and panel paintings. Minimal representations of objects and figures frozen within a reduced – seemingly 3 dimensional plane – contorted and often struggling with other objects or themselves. We asked Przewlocki to give us a bit of insight about this series.

My acrylic paintings on wood panel begin in a setting where subtle landscapes are occupied by solitary subjects that are both figurative and architectural. I intentionally try to merge the two so as to leave the viewer uncertain of what is being represented. This is not an attempt at optical trickery but rather a decision made to place the subject matter and the viewer on a precipice between two possibilities. This of course happens less with the smaller works that are clearly figurative. The larger works tend to point at architecture more and that merger becomes evident when the size of the canvas is comparable to the actual size of a human body. That’s when the viewers relation to the artwork becomes a visceral experience.

pawel-przewlocki-9Some pieces suggest specific narratives more than others but the entire catalogue deals with the disconnect created when formal aspects of the work disagree with the concepts they represent. For example, a number of the pieces clearly represent a figure in some kind of physical discomfort or inconvenience. The more recent work Trouble in paradise is even more aggressive referencing auto-fellatio resulting in injury and possibly death. The disconnect I speak of happens when these topics (often regarded as taboo) are illustrated using playful colors with simple shapes. The figures doing these sordid acts resemble children’s toys or even classic video game aesthetics and therefore visually distance themselves from what’s really happening.

I find this creates a kind of balance, like an argument. When two people disagree with each other they are often unaware of the fact that they have created their own little antagonistic harmony between each other. That’s how I feel about these acrylic paintings.

As for the paintings that are more obscure where sometimes I even omit the figure, these function as invitations to a place where little is suggested therefore a much more diverse interpretation can occur. This ambiguity doesn’t mean I’m avoiding responsibility for my pieces’ concepts but merely an offering where I ask the viewer to share my own questions and concerns about painting. Which leads to the bigger question: What does it mean to make something that’s supposed to be hung on a wall, looked at, potentially sold and then interpreted and judged?

Klasema Collection of Modern Art

The Klasema ART abstract Modern Art collection covers a unique selection of prominent early European, North America and Russian Modernist artists, painters and sculptors. Driven by passion for beauty and quality, these (geometric) abstract Modern artworks have been carefully collected over the past forty years, with a special focus on abstract Modern artworks from the influential post-war period (1945–1976).

klasema Art Collection - the netherlands

Klasema Art Collection – The Netherlands

Stumbling upon the Klasema Art Collection is like stumbling upon a treasure trove – an encyclopedia of modernist art. All abstract and predominately geometric in nature, the collection as a whole is fascinating and inspiring in its vision. Yet, surprisingly, Klasema ART remains accessible and educational in its overall approach.

I found Klasema in my young and eager searches for inspiration and in my hunt for adding to my own collection of geometric abstraction. Searches for Joost Baljeu, Jean Gorin and Silvano Bozzolini kept leading to the same place.

At first apprehensive to make first contact and inquire I found the site an exceptional source of knowledge. I am happy that I did. You see, I am in the United States – Klasema, the Netherlands. Although fond of early American geometric abstraction my tastes and curiosities have grown to European works which inspired (and were inspired by) the same vein of mostly non-representational art. Our esthetic tastes are very well aligned with painting and sculpture dominating the collection.

Helen Gerardia, 1951

Helen Gerardia, 1951

I would have never realized that the people I’d make contact with at Klasema were so very open and approachable – not to mention as passionate. Almost like a close friends I’ve known for years whom I just so happen to have never met. Not yet anyway. Equally open to a question from a young artist or from a seasoned collector interested in their next acquisition.

Original founder Henk Klasema had little by way of serious connection to art in his youth, but always, an appreciation stood very close by. As he matured and became successful in his business endeavors his appreciation exploded into a life-ling passion. Much like a collapsing celestial being his passion’s gravity soon caught hold of his immeadeate family.

Unexpectedly, Henk Klasema passed away in 2011, now the collection and its private museum-like grounds are continued by his wife Anneke Klasema van Loenhout, who stood at his side for forty years and is as passionate an knowledgeable about Abstract Modernism and the artists in the KLasema ART collection.

As is usually the case with any serious art collector the family made friends with the artists, acquiring bodies of work that often span their careers. This collection often exhibits the nuances and changes within several of their artists works over a span of time. As the collection grew the family started acting as both collector and dealer of these works by placing important works into other collections and publishing multiple books and catalogs.

Follow and learn more from Klasema on Facebook.

Visit the Klasema ART – Collection of Modern Art  online. I like that each piece is accompanied by a description and information about the artist/creator.

A few questions

…with the collection’s director Anneke Klasema

CI: All of the work represented is abstract and geometric in nature. Some is very tight and what one thinks of as hard-edge geometric abstraction (Jean Gorin for example) – and some work is very loose, bordering on abstract expressionist (Hendrik van Bottenburg and Willy Boers). Can you give us some insight into how the collection has evolved to include this mix of esthetic over time?

(AK): As do most Artists, we started out with an interest in high quality figurative art. Names like Gino Severini, Isaac Israels, Reimond Kimpe, Hendrik Willem Mesdag and Max Peiffer Watenphul were part of our early collection . We however changed gradually into acquiring more and more early Modern abstract artworks. As my husband once put it ‘Abstract art is very personal and touching. For me, the feeling of equilibrium and beauty is important. Exaggeration of colour and composition must be avoided. In my opinion an artist should always focus on the heart of the matter and should try to keep things as simple as possible’.

CI: If you and your family were to choose one or two works in your current collection that could be considered a quintessential work which piece would it be? What about this work makes it such a great representation of the collection?

(AK): This is always a difficult question. This is a very personal thing. Different people have different tastes. But for me the works that have very special meaning and can be considered quintessential to our collection are the Joseph Lacasse (1952), Nicolas Warb (1945), Dolf Breetvelt (1950) and the Walter Helbig (1932). These works are all absolute masterpieces by the artists. The use of colour and composition, the quality and uniqueness. Over the years my husband Henk and I have always focused on collecting top quality art, and these works are just that.

Neo-Plasticism & De Stijl

Neo-Plasticism, De Stijl and its contemporary influences.

Piet Mondrian

Twentieth century art is seen by many as a series of movements evolving from either an opposition to or an extension of concepts of previous movements. While some movements quickly pass the newness stage in their lifespans, their philosophies continue to live on, even though greater attention may be given to even newer movements. In the case of De Stijl and Neo-Plasticism, the theoretical end of this “life span” came with the death of one of its founders, Theo Van Doesburg. Here we explore the fascinating art movement and its influences on contemporary culture.

De Stijl, Dutch for “The Style”, also known as Neo-plasticism, was a Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917 and staked its place in the history of art and design at nearly the same time as its close counterparts Suprematism and Constructivism.  The group’s principal members were the painters Theo Van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian with a number of others artists like Bart van der Leck and the architects Gerrit Rietveld and J.J.P. Oud contributing shortly after the movement’s birth. The artistic philosophy that formed a basis for the group’s work is known as Neo-plasticism — the new plastic art.

Proponents of De Stijl sought to express a new utopian ideal of spiritual harmony and order. They advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour; they simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white. De Stijl was built on the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetricality; the predominant use of pure primary colors with black and white; and the relationship between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective forms and disections.

These strict guidelines lead to works heavily weighted on their compositional structure – works whose subjects were produced as “pure” and non-representational abstraction and are not to be mistaken with the later Abstract Expressionist movement. These guidelines were very limiting yet have lead to an artistic language that has stood strong and influenced many throughout the ages as in fashion and typography design, product design as reinterpreted through the Bauhaus school, architecture and visual art later in the 20th century. Artists working in the template of Neo-Plasticism and De Stijl had just begun to experience success in the early 1940s when the emergence of Abstract Expressionism swept aside the public recognition of those achievements. It was not until Minimalism ushered in a renewed enthusiasm for geometric abstraction in the 1960s that their works began to receive serious attention.

Architecture

The Schroder House designed by Gerrit Rietveld in the Netherlands is one of the very few examples of Neo-plastic architecture. Although there are many examples of murals, ceramic and interior installations designed to reflect the principles of Neo-plasticism there are very few architectural structures. The Schroder House is the only shining example remain to this day.

Rietveld’s Shroder House

 Neo-Plasticism in America

Burgoyne Diller

Burgoyne Diller

De Stijl and Neo-Plasticism were late arrivals to the American art scene in terms of its development as an art movement. Only through a few select gallery and museum exhibitions were American artists introduced to the works of European artists including that of Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg. The few drawn to the new plastic way of seeing had already established roots in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting.

Burgoyne Diller was the first noteworthy American painter to embrace the tenets of Neo-Plasticism. Diller was already on his way to making an important contribution to the development of non-objective art in the United States and his works were the footers in the foundation that lead to the development of the Minimalism movement of the mid 20th century.

Born in New York in 1906, yet raised in Michigan, he began painting and drawing as a teenager. Periodic trips to the Art Institute of Chicago proved monumental in his development – he found himself drawn to the Impressionist paintings and their use of color and composition to create volume on a two dimensional surface. Moving to New York City in 1929 and enrolling in the Arts Students League exposed him to progressive working artist’s work and the growing popularity of Cubism, German Expressionism and other Avant-garde styles. His first solo exhibition was in 1933 at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in Manhattan where he experienced a frustration with the fact that he could not sell any of his paintings. 1935 brought forth the opportunity to act as director for the Mural Division of the WPA Federal Arts Project where Diller was not only at liberty to create and execute public art projects but to commission other abstract artists to do the same. Diller was also a member of American Abstract Artist which promoted alternating sects of non-representational art through exhibitions and collaborations with museums and galleries. He continued to paint through the 40s and 50s defining his own personal graphic voice while serving as the acting director of the War Service Art Section and in the design department at Brooklyn College.

As is true with many artists, Diller’s work did not receive great recognition until after his death in 1965. His work is now considered a fundamental addition to the development of Abstract art and has been the subject of a number of important museum exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. For the contemporary collector; Diller works are hard to get one’s hands on with works on paper (usually ink and/or gouache) ranging from 5000USD – 40000USD. Original paintings and wall constructions at 40000USD and up. Diller created no limited edition prints, limiting the entry level purchase to a work on paper – usually only available at auction Houses and fine art galleries.

Ilya Bolotowsky

Ilya Bolotowsky

Highly influenced by Piet Mondrian, Ilya Bolotowsky constantly searched for order through his visual expressions. However, unlike the earlier adapters of the tenets of Neo-plasticism Bolotowsky’s visual language was fueled by the now popular Suprematist, Cubist, Constructivist, and Abstract Expressionist art movements. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, he immigrated to America in 1932 and attended the National Academy of Design. He quickly associated himself with “The Ten Whitney Dissenters”, a group of artists who, unhappy with academy and museum structures soon began to mount their own exhibitions. It was here that he credits his magnetic draw to Mondrian’s work.

Bolotowsky was also a founding member of American Abstract Artist where he met other artists such as Burgoyne Diller. It was Diller who gave him the commission for the mural for the Williamsburg Housing Project which was one of the first purely abstract murals created under the Federal Art Project. Bolotowsky’s career was temporarily put into suspension while he served his country, stationed in Alaska. From 1946-48 he was a teacher at Black Mountain College where he was not only influenced by his fellow teachers, but also by his students.

One may suspect by looking closely at Bolotowsky’s late work that clear, precise control of his images was of utmost importance. He did however emphasized the role of intuition over formula in determining his compositions and in many of his interviews states that the pieces are just as much an abstract composition as they are what the viewer saw in them. After all, one man’s Neo-plastic composition in yellow and blue was another man’s reduced aerial depiction of a farmer’s pasture dissected by roads and property lines!

Later in his career (the 1960’s – 1981), he began combining his two-dimensional works with three-dimensional forms, usually vertical and straight-sided columns.

Ilya Bolotowsky’s works are in multiple important public and private collections worldwide. Thankfully, since he was steadily producing work through the mid 20th century, he created many varied serigraphs and prints which are relatively easy to find from galleries, resellers, auction houses and online.

Pierre Clerk

Pierre Clerk

Pierre Clerk

Pierre Clerk was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1928. He studied fine arts at McGill University, Loyola College and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada. He traveled to Europe to seek further instruction at the Academy Julien in Paris, France and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence Italy.

Pierre Clerk first gained recognition in the United States and Canada with his large sculpture and painting installations – the most recognizable of these is still installed outside the Toledo Art Museum in Toledo, Ohio. Clerk was often quoted as having been strongly influenced by De Stijl. Well into the 21st century (in his 80’s) he continues to produce an astounding array of large-scale abstract geometric paintings from his studio in France. One can see an obvious tie to the fundamental rules of Neo-plasticism and De Stijl in Clerk’s work – however they beg to call these rules into question. Subsequently, he not only calls them into question, but disregards these rules just enough to define his work as a unique addition. Absent from his work are compositions adhering to strict primary color usage. Although black lines and shapes are often present in his work, rarely are they horizontal or vertical. Big, bold and commanding – his work is a perfect combination of art movements such as De Stijl and Minimalism as they presented themselves and evolved in his lifetime.

The Clerk image shown is from his Africa Suite. As with Bolotowsky, Clerk often produces work that is not just pure abstraction. Although abstract in nature the work often represents a theme, a place, an idea that is only known to Clerk and only slightly alluded to in a brief title.

Lucky for collectors, Pierre Clerk is still producing work (and large powerful work at that) to this day. For the beginning collector there are an array of serigraphs of excellent quality available at auction houses, galleries and online. Be sure to check out these recent paintings, on exhibit through his gallery representation at Cortex Athletico in France.

Bryce Hudson

Bryce Hudson

Bryce Hudson

Bryce Hudson is among a small set of contemporary artists presently working to decipher the boundaries of geometric abstraction as they relate to past art movements and the present day. Hudson, who is biracial, began his career with the production of symbolic works in which he would combine this geometric abstraction with an underlining tie to race and class stereotypes in American society. His black and white color frequently represented Black and Caucasian races, yellow and orange represented Asian and Latin races.

Hudson’s work has always been weighted on its compositional structure – he also produces multimedia prints and altered digital representations from the graphic advertisements and images of the 20th century. In his paintings the reductionist influences of De Stijl and the later Minimalism movement of the mid 20th century cannot go unnoticed.

Presently, Hudson has withdrawn from his original approach to these either tongue-in-cheek representations or direct reinterpretations from American census surveys and allowed his work to follow a more abstract nature.

Are they purely abstract geometric compositional works or are they interiors reduced to their most basic elements of shape, light and color? Whichever the case they, too, are part of the new plastic reality that his contemporaries set out to explore and define a century ago.

Bryce Hudson’s work can be seen on his site: Contemporary Artist Bryce Hudson

Cassandra C. Jones – Multi Media Artist

It is no wonder why we are instantly attracted to the work of Cassandra C. Jones. Her bodies of work are composed of borrowed and collected imagery that has been deconstructed and constructed in numerous compositions that allow the viewer an opportunity to experience the work on multiple levels. Jones presents the viewer with her own iconographic style where further inspection often leads to delightful surprises, but more so down a path of investigation into our on common cultural habits.

Cassandra currently lives between Brooklyn, NY and Ojai, CA.  On top of the dual home base situation she travels a great deal and over that last 7 years has fostered a practice where she considers her laptop and wherever she can find a WiFi signal to be her main studio.  Everything she produces starts there – searching for and collecting thousands of other peoples snapshot photos from stock photography agencies, eBay, public domain archives and every image exchange known to Google.  She then compiles these photographs in groups of like subject matter, from lightning bolts to every possible increment of a horses gallop.  She then organizes each lot in various ways (via video, print or installation) that tell stories about human observation and the power of photographic imagery in our snap-happy contemporary lifestyle.

“My photography archives and the works I create from them are documents of a banality that have emerged from an over-abundance of common imagery.  Led by a desire to create a counter to convention, I am attempting to liberate specific visual clichés by embracing them.  I draw connections between theses images to demonstrate that the most prevalent scenes we are compelled to capture, somehow link us.  Alone, these photos have diverse meanings but when linked together they reveal much larger stories of history, ritual, desire and innate human aesthetics, regardless of author.”

Flamingo Flowers

Rara Avis, meaning “strange bird” or “something rare”, is a series of projects made from Jones’s collection of bird photography.

This includes wallpaper and prints composed of photographs taken of real pink flamingos that are discernibly reminiscent of their retro plastic counter-part, the lawn ornament.  Through collecting these photos she discovered that one of the most common snapshots taken of a wading flamingo, indeed, to be the profile of the bird’s long, soft, curved neck and down-bent bill. This particular collection led her to ponder whether it is possible that an item of now historical kitsch might influence the picture taking of the real, live thing?  After all, Americans are much more familiar with the nature of the stylized, florescent version, than the actual bird itself.

In Rara Avis, Cassandra speaks to the relationship between Americans and nature; how nature is commonly brought into the home in safe and often artificial ways such as lawn ornaments, floral wallpaper and media reproductions of moving and still imagery.  This body of work also relates to the tendency of taking and viewing photographs as a safe replacement for actual experience.

Lightning Drawings

In a nod to traditional mark-making techniques, the series entitled “Lightning Drawings” connects photographs of lightning bolts, end to end, to create continuous lines that are distinctively bold, thin, feathered, overlapping and/or meandering.  She then uses this approach of “line quality” to make large-scale drawings of urban animals in mid air.  These animals exist within a pile of arranged photographs – dogs and rabbits appear to be leaping through time, space and different rural and suburban locals. This has become an analogy for the way she navigates through the sea of photos in her massive collection.

One finds it very interesting that Cassandra works in these sets and series. These at first disparate and disconnected visual mash-ups achieve spatially expansive visual planes successfully attractive as they are a call to further inspection.

Memphis Milano: The Dennis Zanone Collection

Dennis Zanone’s Malabar Room with Various Memphis Collections

The Memphis group comprised of designers and architects (mainly Italians) who created a series of influential products in the 1980’s. They challenged the idea that products had to follow conventional shapes, colors, textures and patterns. Expensive elements such as granite and marble were paired with materials such as plastics, plywood, laminates and Formica. Often was the case that color and pattern were saturated beyond many observer’s level of comfort. Form followed function – or did it?

The Memphis group was founded in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass who called Memphis design the ‘New International Style’. Among its members were Alessandro Mendini, Martine Bedin, Andrea Branzi, Aldo Cibic, Michele de Lucchi, Nathalie du Pasquier, Michael Graves, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Shiro Kuramata, Matteo Thun, Javier Mariscal, George Sowden, and Marco Zanini

Certainly ground breaking at the time, the creations – which ranged from small housewares to entire buildings – were a stark contrast to the chrome-laden black and brown leather creations stemming from the much earlier Bauhaus School and mid 20th century modernism. They took this approach to the “redefinition of design” and soon began exhibiting clocks, lighting, furniture and ceramics created by internationally famous architects and designers.

The work of the Memphis Group has been described as vibrant, eccentric and ornamental. Art Deco, Pop Art, and Futurism were some design inspirations although the work coming out of their group were certainly unique creations.

Sottsass dismantled the group in 1988 and although Memphis may no longer exist it has certainly influenced many and designers in all fields to this day.

The Memphis Milano collection of Dennis Zanone

Dennis Zanone is a photographer and avid Memphis Milano collector living in Memphis, Tennessee. With over 20 years of investment it would be harder to believe that any individual (or museum) has a larger and more comprehensive Memphis Milano collection – even though the likes of MOMA and even Karl Lagerfield  have/had also caught the Memphis bug. We are very fortunate that Zanone meticulously documents and shares the pieces on his Memphis Milano Flickr stream and shares the love and knowledge via his Memphis Milano Facebook Page.

Ethan Stern – Contemporary Glass Artist

Drop Duo by Ethan Stern, 2011

Glass is not a forgiving material. It demands an involved process and requires careful planning and manipulation. As the most direct way for Ethan Stern to leave his mark, engraving has become his voice within the medium. The process of carving is a reductive one; material cannot be added once it is removed. This action of continuously revealing layers adds a significant amount of weight to each step and the choices made, allowing the process to play the ultimate role in defining the relationship between the surface and form of each piece

“At the most basic level, my work is an ongoing exploration of abstraction and the expressive qualities of form, color, texture and light. I use glass as a catalyst to help answer questions about how we see our environment, the objects we use everyday and the spaces we occupy. I am very aware of how my physical surroundings influence the qualities of each piece. I live in an urban area and work in an industrial part of Seattle. I cannot help but allow the hue of the day and the contrast between the engineered and natural landscapes permeate my sense of beauty. Translating this information into my recent work has led to imagery and form inspired by design, architecture and the visual deconstruction of my surroundings.

In the past, my formal investigation has been limited to shapes that are flattened and sculpted to have geometric edges and tight corners creating a strong silhouette. I have been drawn to this way of working not only as a means to explore pure form, clean lines and minimal composition, but to create a canvas for texture and pattern on the surface. While these forms have allowed for a significant amount of exploration, I have become interested in a more direct investigation of the role architecture plays in my artistic practice and the human interaction with physical surroundings.”

Stern’s newest work attempts to examine how objects on a human scale can be viewed as architectural. How much does scale influence our interpretation of beauty and perfection? Drawing from the idea that architecture can be more than a building, more than a large square structure which functions before it speaks, Stern feels challenged to investigate how we relate to the objects we live with. Can balance and contour dictate how we interact with the materials around us? If standing in front of a building hovering above you feels imposing, what happens when its form has no right angles or tilts and curves like the human form? Through blown glass objects reflective of these architectural forms, Stern investigates how our urban environments directly influence our human experience, while allowing the work and process to interact with the public in new and exciting ways.

Ethan Stern lives and works in Seattle, WA. where he operates Diamond Life Studio. You may learn more and view works at www.ethanstern.com. Ethan will exhibit new works at the Hawk Gallery in Columbus, OH on March 31st 2012.

Exploring The Bentwood Chair

Typically, when one thinks of wood, the mind does not wander into the realm of sensual, curvaceous lines – certainly not an element for bending and molding. This is not the case when exploring the world of the bentwood chair.

Until the mid 19th century the bentwood chair was held to the rustic constructions that were just as likely to be uncomfortable for seating as much as they were to give you a splinter. Thanks to the trials and tribulations of German-Austrian Michael Thonet (1796-1871) we now have several additions who have made their impact on the modern household, as well, some have become design icons.

Michael Thonet was an independent cabinet maker who tried for several years to concoct a way to produce chairs and other furnishings out of glued and bent wooden slats. Displaying some of these new designs at the Koblenz trade fair in 1841 he caught the attention of Vienna’s Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich who invited him to join the Viennese court where he had the resources to improve and produce his many designs. A succession of world trade fair medals and successes allowed him to open his own factory Gebrüder Thonet. It was here that he (and later his sons) were able not only to improve the quality of the bentwood chair but also to innovate upon its design.

Throughout all of this, perhaps the most important innovations were the use of laminated pieces of birch plywood and the improvements made in bending pieces of wood with steam. His iconic and simple Chair Number 14 had production numbers of over 50 million making Thonet one of the largest furniture manufacturers in the world. Soon, the company began producing pieces for designers and architects in both bentwood and tubular steel – always keeping up with the design aesthetic of the time. Thonet produced everything from bentwood and cane settees for the Victorian age to the chrome and black leather productions coming from the Bauhaus School. The company is still around today producing mostly contract an commercial pieces for business and public interiors.

20th Century Bentwood Chair Innovators

Charles and Ray Eames picked up on the work in bent plywood products where Thonet started to loose market power. Many people don’t realize that the Eames duo got their start as furniture innovators with their DCM lounges from a government commission to make bentwood leg splints and gurneys for soldiers in the war. It was this understanding of steamed and multilayered plywood veneers that lead to the evolution of this once seemingly rigid material into a strong, yet sensual and warm material with which to work. And that was just in the United States. European (specifically Scandinavian designers) were producing mind-boggling pieces that the markets snapped up as quickly as they could be manufactured.

Other famous architects and designers making masterful chairs out of bentwood: Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Joe Colombo, Bruno Matthson, Eero Saarinen and Hans Pieck (to name a few). Today’s designers know only the limits of their imaginations. They do need to keep in mind structural integrity and how the material will withstand use over time. Keep your eyes peeled for contemporary editions to the bentwood chair by such names as Grete Jalk, Ron Arad and Frank Gehry.

Invisible Designers in Contemporary Art Glass

 By Matthew Cummings

Sam Stang, Greg Fidler, Michael Schunke, Katherine Grey, Boyd Seguki and Lisa Zerkowitz….If you are a fan of design – especially of contemporary art glass – you probably haven’t heard of these names. If these names are indeed foreign to you then I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised with the quality and originality of these contemporary American Glass Designers/Craftsmen. The Studio Glass Movement began in 1962 at the Toledo Musuem of Glass in Ohio. It was a workshop thrown together by Harvey Littleton and Dominic Labino that changed the face of glass production. As Americans have no true lineage in glass, we had to learn first through trial and error. Then we pushed forward by absorbing the techniques and approaches from other countries long-standing glass traditions, such as the Czech Republic, Italy, German, and England.

This set the tone for globalization in the Studio Glass Movement (a predominantly American movement) long before the world became flat again through the digital mediums. In contemporary glass design, we can still see the aftereffects of this journey towards material forefathers in the aesthetics and decorative techniques. The selection of work that I have chosen includes pieces influenced by Northern European Ceramics, and Italian Glass, both specifically from mid century designers.

The craftsmen influenced by ceramics are given the opportunity of translating the stunning work of Carl Harry Stahlhane, Stig Lindberg, and Meindert Zaalberg into glass and utilizing the inherent qualities of the material to find new shapes. The highest gloss possible in ceramics is easily surpassed by the natural finish of glass and bulbous forms are quickly created by the introduction of the craftsman’s breath in the vessel. The designers influenced by the Italian tradition find themselves in a wonderfully interesting dialogue between American and Italian Glass. The tradition that so heavily influenced the development of the Studio Glass Movement now finds itself surpassed by the creativity/ingenuity of the young american movement (within this context).

The Venetian Golden Age is generally considered to have occurred between 1930-1960 with a plethora of quality designers working on the island of Murano. Most importantly, the glass company Venini inviting designers from other backgrounds to work at the factory. Since the Venetian Golden Age, the level of creativity has slightly dwindled with the exception of a few individual maestros… Lino Tagliapietra, Livio Seguso, Davide Salvedore, ect. In the 1990s, Seattle passed Murano as the epicenter of glass design and sculpture. While some of the glass shown here is influenced by the Italian Glass tradition, it could actually be considered the most viable steward of that lineage.

 

Explore further

Two Tone Studio is the production studio of glass craftsmen Boyd Seguki and Lisa Zerkowitz. This husband and wife team blend contemporary design and everyday utility. Their series of cocktail-specific vessel sets are wonderful in their response to the each cocktail in terms of color, functionality, and traditional vessel shape. Two Tone Studio is located outside of Seattle and both Boyd and Liza graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Ipso Facto Studio was founded by Greg Fidler and Brent Cole. The glass is currently produced by Greg at his studio in Bakersville, NC. The Form Studies are beautiful novellas of mid-century Swedish ceramic designs. They come in a variety of colors and each form is unique.

IBEX was founded by Sam Stang, David Levi, and Dimitri Michaelides in St. Louis and operated from 1985-1991. This powerhouse glass company produced designs that have been copied and distributed throughout the country.

You can find a selection of their designs at Vetri Gallery in Seattle.

After IBEX dissolved, Sam Stang began producing his own unique and production glass vessels. His work showcases a mastery of Venetian techniques applied to modernist forms. He now works out of Augusta, MO with his wife Kaeko Maehata.

Michael Schunke’s limited edition designs, marketed under Nine Irons Design, are shown throughout the country and produced in his West Grove, PA studio. He is one of the world’s preeminent goblet makers.

http://www.nineironstudios.com/

Katherine Grey is a contemporary glass artist who also produces some incredible functional designs that often fit neatly inside of each other. Katherine is the only craftsperson on the list that doesn’t run a production studio, but I love the work so much that it demanded to be included.