Saturday, August 09, 2008

Walker and MIA to present Eero Saarinen retrospective
I've known about this for months, but haven't got around to actually writing a blog post until now. Shame on me! (The photo at the top of this post shows Saarinen examing a protype of the tulip chair with Florence Knoll.) Here's a portion of the press release on the Ero Saarinen retrospective that's opening at the Walker and MIA in a little more than a month.
On a four-year international tour of Europe and the United States, the landmark exhibition Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future — the first major museum retrospective of this Finnish-born American architect’s short but prolific career — will be jointly presented in Minneapolis at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts September 13, 2008–January 4, 2009.

Organized by The Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, The National Building Museum in Washington, DC, and The Museum of Finnish Architecture with the support of Yale University School of Architecture, the exhibition features never-before-seen sketches, working drawings, models, photographs, furnishings, films, and other ephemera from various archives and private collections. Exploring his entire output of more than 50 built and unbuilt projects, the exhibition provides a unique opportunity to consider Saarinen’s innovations in the use of new materials, technologies, and construction techniques within the larger context of postwar modern architecture.

In this collaborative presentation, the Walker Art Center will feature Saarinen’s furnishings and residences as well as his designs for churches and academic and corporate campuses, while the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will present his designs for airports, memorials, and embassies, as well as his early work within the context of its modernist design collection.

Eero Saarinen was one of the most celebrated, unorthodox, and controversial masters of 20th-century architecture. In many ways he was the architect of what has been dubbed “the American century,” the post-World War II era when the United States emerged as an influential world superpower.

Although Saarinen’s most iconic and publicly recognizable design is the soaring Gateway Arch in St. Louis, his work spanned many different areas of architectural practice, including the design of airports, corporate and academic campuses, churches and private residences, and furniture. He was criticized by some architects and critics at the time for having a different style for each job, a strategy that rejected the dogma of an orthodox modernism. His resulting body of work includes such masterpieces as the sweeping concrete curves of the TWA Terminal (1956–1962) at JFK Airport (pictured above, photo courtesy of Wikipedia); the grandeur of the General Motors Technical Center (1948–1956), dubbed an “industrial Versailles” by the media; and the iconic Womb Chair and Ottoman (1946–1948) or the innovative Pedestal (1954–1957) series of tables and chairs, both for Knoll and all classics of mid-century modernism.

Eero Saarinen was born in Finland in 1910 and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1923. His career began in collaboration with his remarkably gifted family: his father, Eliel (1873–1950), the architect of Helsinki’s main train station and many other prominent buildings; his mother, Louise, or “Loja” (1879–1968), a textile designer and sculptor; and his sister, Eva-Lisa, or “Pipsan” (1905–1979), a designer and interior decorator. Eliel’s design for the Cranbrook campus in suburban Detroit, which the entire family worked on, would remain an important touchstone throughout Eero’s career. It served as a model of artistic collaboration and the conviction that architecture must encompass the “total environment,” from landscapes to buildings to furnishings and decorative objects. Equally influential on Eero’s later efforts to enrich modern design were his sculpture classes in Paris (1929–1930), his architectural education at Yale University (1931–1934), and his subsequent travels in Europe, Egypt, and Mexico to see some of the great monuments of architectural history.

Eero Saarinen designed furniture throughout his entire career, applying the same keen interest in exploring new materials, innovative construction techniques, and sculptural forms that he demonstrated in his buildings. While still in his teens, he designed furnishings for buildings at Cranbrook. His breakthrough, however, came in 1940, when he and Charles Eames won first prizes in the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. Although their molded plywood chairs for the competition were not mass-produced, their designs laid the groundwork for Saarinen’s postwar furniture for Knoll Associates. His designs, from the Womb chair to the Pedestal series of sculptural chairs and tables, have become icons of postwar design, representing what Playboy magazine in 1961 called the “exuberance, finesse, and high imagination” of American furniture design at mid-century.
Yikes! That's a lot of copy. Hopefully, you read some of it. If you're up for still more reading, a Walker Art Center blog entry on the Saarinen exhibit is here. Note that the blog appears with a pink background, making it look like that extremely hip 'zine Butt.

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