New York -- Chairs, a bud vase, a parasol handle, an airplane terminal, liqueur glasses -- 250 diverse sketches and objects in the past three years have gone to good design heaven -- the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Architecture and Design collection. Now 38 of these objects have been chosen by J. Stewart Johnson, the design curator, for a show at MOMA through Sept. 30.
When the Modern's new building is completed in the next few years, the Architecture and Design Galleries will be greatly expanded to show the whole course of modern design from the 19th through the 20th century. With this in mind, the department, Johnson said, is working to add examples of major designers whose work made the modern movement.
The good design affects all of life, from door knobs to roofs is a basic principle of the modern period. So it isn't surprising that the objects are diverse.
In some ways, the chairs are the most illuminating of the trends. The earlier chairs seem to be all frame. The later chairs, all cushion, perhaps saying something or other about the lack of backbone and the desire for a soft seat in today's life.
The chair designed by Richard Riemerschmid for a Dresden decorative arts show in 1899 was considered "puritanical" and "ugly." But in 1940, when American designer Edward J. Wormley saw a photograph of the chair, its simplicity attracted him. He designed his own variation on the chair. Now the Riemerschmid original, long thought lost, has been found. And the two chairs are mounted in the gallery. Though superficially much alike the Riemerschmid is clearly recognizable as Jugendstil and the Wormley as '40's modern.
Much more aggressive and strong minded is the Otto Wagner armchair made by the Gebrueder Thonet in Vienna of the same period. It has mean aluminum boots on the chair feet. It's stained beech, bent to a neat curve for arm and back all in one.Marcel Breuer's tubular steel, wood and canvas B 35 armchair was made for the 1930 Salon des Artistes Decorateurs in Paris -- the first French glimpse of Bauhaus. Today, the chair is still popular, produced at varying prices with varying fidelity to the original.
Gaetano Pesce's 1975 "Sit Down Armchair" is as much a joke as a chair. Johnson calls it "anti-furniture." It looks like a blanket draped over a chair.Actually it's a blanket injected with polyurethane while inside a mold. The ribbon chair, also 1975, is by Niels S. Bensten. A tubular steel frame is covered by a quilted canvas cover which zips. It's an example of today's popular knock-down furniture.
The lamps in the show are equally evolutionary. The hanging Lotus lamp by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1905, was made for Laurelton Hall, Tiffany's mansion in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Far from being a slavish copy of the mammoth leaf of the Victoria Lily, the ribbed-dome structure transcends its model and becomes a pure form.
The architect's lamp of 1927 by Edouard-Wilfred Buquet, a Frenchman, is nickel-plated brass with an aluminum shade and a lacquered wood base. It is easily recognized as the father of the ubiquitous drafting lamp of today, the only reading and working light that really seems to work. Though the early version, like today's still manages to act like a heat lamp, broiling the worker under its radiating metal shade.
The Akari lamp, 1977, the most recent of a long line of lamps by sculptor Isamu Noguchi, is paper on a wire frame with a metal base. Stewart says it's less a source of illumination and more of a light sculpture.
The Atollo lamp, also 1977, by Magistretti of Italy, is a cylinder, cone and hemisphere stacked one atop the other, a geometric exercise that can't offend.
Other interesting objects are in the show: the solar bronze riser vase, almost a phallic object, made as well as designed by Thomas J. Patti, one of the Americans who have been responsible for the studio glass movement that began in 1963. The artists/craftsmen of the movement actually make their own objects.
Josef Hoffman of Vienna in 1913 designed the handsome set of iridescent liqueur glasses, here displayed. The extremely thin glass walls are breathtaking in their purity of form and pyrotechnic execution.
The show was financed by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.