Wendell Castle, one of America’s most important contemporary furniture makers, has had several distinct stylistic phases in his career. At first he employed both exotic and native American woods to produce furniture characterized by biomorphic forms and attenuated surrealism. By the 1960s, he had begun experimenting with plastic and fiberglass to create seamless organic designs. In the 1980s, he became fascinated with Post-Modernism and produced highly architectural, polychromatic designs. In 2007 he received the Brooklyn Museum/Modernism Lifetime Achievement Award. The Nirvana chair was a gift of the artist in acknowledgment of the Museum’s ongoing commitment to his work.
This cabinet exemplifies the work of Droog, an informal confederation of Dutch designers founded by Gijs Bakker, a product designer, and Renny Ramakers, an art historian. It consists of recycled drawer fronts inserted in newly constructed wooden boxes held together by a commercial cinch strap. Witty yet functional, it may seem to be merely a mélange of used and new furniture parts, but in fact it is a well-considered composition, balanced in both shape and color. The customer is invited to rearrange the parts at will. Droog’s dramatic and sometimes heretical approach challenges accepted ideas of decorum in design and materials.
The Spacelander is a marvel of postwar biomorphic design. Its curving lines and amoeba-like voids represent the mutation of the prewar streamlined style into a new expression based on organic, rather than machine-made, forms. Although the prototype—made for a 1946 exhibition of British industrial design—was a critical success, Benjamin Bowden failed in his attempts to have it manufactured. By the time it finally went into production in the United States in 1960, tastes had changed and the price of the bicycle—$89.50—was too high. It is believed that only about five hundred examples were ever sold, making it one of the rarest and most sought-after industrial designs of the mid-twentieth century. When new, this bicycle was bright red; the color has faded over time.
Thinking Big: Recent Design Acquisitions
March 4–May 29, 2011
Thinking Big is a selection of forty-five examples of extraordinary twentieth- and twenty-first-century design from among the 645 such objects collected by the Brooklyn Museum since the year 2000. Although most of the objects in the installation are indeed large, the title also reflects the belief that in order to keep the Museum’s legendary collection of decorative arts on the cutting edge it is essential to think big in a metaphorical sense as well—to foresee what it is that will define the design of an era and pursue it.
Oftentimes the objects that come into the collection are considered important for their incorporation of exciting new materials, such as plastics, fiberglass, and plywood in the twentieth century. At other times they are appreciated for their innovative use of new technologies, such as computers and lasers.
Of course, new materials and technologies only reach their potential when great designers know what to do with them. A number of the works on view here were designed by winners of awards for lifetime achievement or for innovative work by young designers that are presented annually by the Museum in conjunction with the international antiques show Modernism.
Important exhibitions have also helped the Museum define its collecting direction, particularly its commitment to building a world-renowned collection of design from the 1920s and 1930s and to pursuing design of the mid-twentieth century, one of the strengths of this installation.
Since the beginning in 1902, the purpose of the collection has been to teach and inform—both about what makes an object a great design and about what that object means in society. This forward-looking idea has been the basis of one of the country’s great design collections. Today, in order to continue to present the best and most exciting works to the public, the Brooklyn Museum is committed to expanding its collection of design with the same foresight and vigor.
Thinking Big: Recent Design Acquisitions is organized by Barry R. Harwood, Curator of Decorative Arts, Brooklyn Museum.
Generous support for this exhibition came from the Harold S. Keller Fund.