Three young architect-designers have begun work on plans for a special installation of “DH ‘58,” the Museum’s national exhibition of modern home furnishings to open to the public on March 5. This team, representing fresh, new talent, is composed of Romaldo Giurgola, Paul Mitarachi and Gerhard M. Kallman. The Museum selected them for the job after scrutinizing the work of numerous other potential installation designers. The originality and ingenuity of their proposals seemed most promising. The show will be installed in the Museum’s large first floor Special Exhibitions Galleries, an area of 4,200 square feet.
Romaldo Giurgola, aged 33, graduated in architecture from the University of Rome and received his Masters degree from Columbia. He practiced architecture in Italy prior to coming to this country in 1954. In New York he was Art Director of Interiors. At present he teaches architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He designed, among other things, the South East Asia Exhibition for the U.S. Department of Commerce, in collaboration with Paul Mitarachi.
Paul Mitarchi, aged 36, received his degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, is a member of the American Institute of Architects. He has practiced architecture in Greece, El Salvador and the United States, has also done exhibition installations in the U.S., and office building and town planning in El Salvador. For the past 3 years he has maintained his own independent practice in New York City.
Gerhard M. Kallman, aged 42, is a graduate of the London Architectural Association and an Associate of the R.I.B.A. (Royal Institute of British Architects). He has worked in England and the United States as an architect and interior designer. He formerly taught at the Institute of Design in Chicago and now teaches in New York at Cooper Union and Columbia. He is author of numerous articles for Interiors, Forum and London’s Architectural Review.
Although the installed exhibition cannot be ready until the first of March, final selections of home furnishings will be in the Museum by the end of January. Press wishing to photograph in advance, for March release, may make appointments for February for this purpose.
“DH’58” will contain selections from all modern home furnishings and accessories available in the U. S., chosen by a Selection Committee consisting of Jens Risom, designer; Tom O’Hare, merchandiser; and Robert Riley, Curator. The purpose of the exhibition is to make the buying public more aware of the fact that art may be brought into the home and daily life through everything purchased; it aims to achieve this in a thoroughly practical manner by showing available items which, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, are well designed for their purpose.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a check-list stating source, designer, retail outlet and price of each item displayed. The show will remain on view through April 27.
March 3, 1958:
A comprehensive exhibition of modern home furnishings will be on view in the large Special Exhibition Galleries on the Museum’s main floor from March 5 through April 27. All the 450 items shown are available on the U.S. market today, all have been chosen - from many more hundreds submitted - by a Selection Committee of experts, for quality of modern design. The exhibition has been installed in specially designed settings by a team of young architects of fresh and ingenious talent. The purpose of the exhibition is to make the buying public more aware of the fact that art may be brought into the home and daily life through everything purchased. Accompanying the show is a check-list stating designer, source, retail outlet and price of each item displayed. The admission fee, which includes, the source list with prices of items, will be 75 cents. The press is requested to make this clear to the public since this is the first time the Museum has charged admission for a special exhibition.
The jury for DH ‘58 was composed of:
Jens Risom, designer
Tom O’Hare, merchandiser, Abraham & Straus, member of Associated Merchandising Corporation
Robert Riley, Curator of Industrial Design, Brooklyn Museum
A special lecture based on the display will be given at the Museum on opening day, March 5, at 2 p.m., by Mr. Edgar Kaufmann, noted design authority. This will be open to Members of the Museum and their guests and to members of the press.
The architects who have designed the special construction and installation for the exhibition are:
Romaldo Giurgola, 36-year-old Rome architect, now teaching at the University of Pennsylvania.
Paul Mitarachi, AIA, formerly an architect in Greece and El Salvador, now practicing architecture in New York City.
Gerhard M. Kallmann, from London’s Architectural Association and the R.I.B.A., now teaching at Cooper Union and Columbia University.
In making selections, the jury placed no limitation on price, country of origin or year of production as long as it felt that standards of modern design were met. Thus may be found side by side a handsome walnut table by Edward Wormley which has been available for a number of years, and a sofa-bed by Jens Risom, so new that it is fresh from the craftman’s hands; and a $12 stool from Japan along with a $900 couch from Denmark.
The jury was particularly interested in items which showed ingenuity on the part of designers and an effort to work out new approaches and better solutions to old problems. Jury members also showed concern for neat and careful detailing of a simple, direct nature. On the basis of material submitted to the jurors, they were grateful that they did not have to select an exhibition from the new market alone, for they felt that the large number of current imitations and the small supply of pieces showing originality would have permitted only a thin and meager show. This was perhaps particularly true in the field of furniture. Lighting equipment, for long one of the most difficult areas in which to find good modern solutions, still proved to be something of a problem, but the jury was pleased to find as many as 22 which they thought worthy of presentation, for this represents a distinct improvement over the recent past. Many gay and handsome fabrics and accessories from many countries were found, though there was surprising poverty in some fields. For example, stainless steel flatware, despite its great popularity and the quantity submitted, offered very few designs that were acceptable. Floor coverings also proved disappointingly unimaginative and are therefore represented by only 12 examples. Not a single television set submitted seemed worth exhibiting, and only one radio, one loudspeaker and one air-conditioner are shown. It is, of course, possible that these disappointments might have been allayed had more manufacturers, distributors and designers taken the trouble to submit more material.
The architects have designed the 4,200-sq.-ft. area as a handsome background for the items shown - to display them to their best advantage rather than to overpower them. Natural building materials are used: untreated oak and simple metal elements as a complement rather than a conflict with the elements of the furnishings. The space retains its own true scale and is treated like a huge crate container; it has the scale of architecture rather than that of a house or room.
Sloping slats of oak have been constructed along all the side walls, and wood steps and ramps rise from the floor, supplying a literal as well as a psychological change of pace. The long gallery is illuminated the whole length of both walls through enormous unbleached muslin panels sloping down from the ceiling. In the central area additional lighting in wells of concentration pick up various groupings.
The small entrance gallery offers a brief historical introduction to home furnishing design and its effect on and relationship to clothes and posture. Four vignettes of the furniture, costumes and figures of four periods - 1790, 1810, 1880 and 1958 - are represented by a settee or chair of each period and a mannequin in the clothes of the period. This is accompanied by the statement on one wall:
“Our position in life is determined by our houses, our food, our clothes, our furniture. All of these are designed for the appearance we wish to assume. But our lives change our ideas of how to live. The hooped skirt and corsetted waist could not manage a modern contour chair. Nor would sweatshirt and dungarees choose Victorian rosewood. This is how we looked in 1790 and 1810 and 1880. These current designs for the home are an important part of how we will look and live in 1958."
On entering the main gallery down a ramp, one sees pits dropped through the ramp floor, below the level of one’s feet, containing groupings of furniture, rugs, accessories. One of these stresses the outdoors, for a number of items are designed for porch and yard use. Other groups, such as one of furniture for children, are found above foot level on platforms. Cantilevered metal arms project unsupported from the sloping-slat side walls to display drapery fabrics or to hold glass shelves for stainless steel, glassware and ceramics. Two massive display troughs in the middle of the gallery have been constructed of the plain wood lined with bright orange, red & green felt as a background against which to see exhibits placed on large panels of plate glass which seem to float above. There is a feeling throughout of constant flow and circulation. The higher points on the ramps offer a perspective of the whole display, a chance to make sure one has not missed any section; while at the same time all items may be examined closely, sat upon, handled.
Among the newer seating units in the exhibition appear lively innovations by such well-known designers as George Nelson, Maurizio Tempestini, Vestergaard Jensen, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Jens Risom, Edward Wormley, as well as a remarkable conversation piece from Italy by the architects, not well known here, Conti, Forlani and Grassi.
George Nelson has contributed a molded plywood chair, its back and arms all in one curving, debonair strip, with the gay fantasy of a paper cut-out. Its round seat is cushioned in black fabric; the bent plywood legs taper almost to a point. The Italian designer, Tempestini, whose work has frequently been admired in this country, now sends here a new metal chair rather like a semicircle of decorative wrought-iron fencing, from floor to top of back and arms, surrounding a brightly cushioned seat wide enough for one-and-a-half people. Denmark’s Vestergaard Jensen presents a teak couch, supported by elegantly curved ribs, ultra pure in line and detail, rich in its utter simplicity.
As an answer to the many complaints of recent years that there was no really big, luxurious upholstered chair in modern, Charles Eames has designed an outsize molded plywood chair with ottoman, upholstered here in white naugahyde. The back is divided horizontally, with a separate upholstered shell-shape for a head rest. The Saarinen chair is a further development on the molded plastic one-piece basket chair. It is an armless chair supported on a single post pedestal, all in white. Jens Risom’s walnut couch-bed is an ingenious solution to the problem of how to turn a sloping sofa, not too wide for comfortable seating, into a flat, wider bed. A bar-stool with curved slat back and cushioned seat by Edward Wormley is made of bent plywood with tapered legs equipped with brass rungs to hitch the heels on whichever way one swivels.
The Italian nylon cord chair by Conti, Forlani and Grassi appealed to the jury as a genuine effort to arrive at a completely novel effect, even if it seems a bit complicated at first glance. Its transparent cord seat, back and arms like a great spiderweb give an unsubstantial airiness that makes its solid comfort quite surprising, and the cantilevered black metal frame supporting the back as if it were floating in space shows ingenuity.
Among the many other seating units included are three armless chairs with cane backs and upholstered seats, designed by Edward Wormley to fit together side by side against a wall with prim precision. Chairs by Jens Risom include a leather swivel armchair on casters, sturdy, roomy, with a neat, boxy, forthright appearance. Another leather chair of distinction is designed by Poul Kjaerholm in oxhide on a chrome base with a clean, direct utilization of these two materials. A new group of upholstered pieces on oak frames, by Børge Mogensen, consists of a low lounge chair, an ottoman and a 3-seat sofa, all with a light, neat appearance far removed from the “overstuffed” concept, and at the same time comfortable. A similar effect is achieved in a simple cane-backed love seat by Peter Hvidt and Mølgaard Nielsen; under its three cushions, plastic cord looped back and forth serves as springs. There are several casual chairs, including a set of stacking chairs each in a different color of nylon cord, which is wrapped around a metal frame to make seat and back; a walnut and birch chair with rush seat from George Nakashima; a rattan chair from Holland; and two very light demountable metal chairs with black or white sling seats - known in their native Denmark as “bachelor” chairs since they are supposedly always on the move.
The group for children includes three stacking chairs in bent plywood by Thonet, earliest makers of bent plywood chairs, each chair a different height to satisfy all ages of children. Two vinyl covered steel wire chairs have been designed in child-sizes by Harry Bertoia, white with little naugahyde seat pads. A bright red and blue plywood semi-circle by Kristian Vedel serves as a high chair or a low chair or a see-saw or a rocker. These are grouped with a little plastic-topped white table with steel wire support designed by Isamu Noguchi, and a 3-drawer white plastic chest with teak top and legs by Florence Knoll.
A convenient feature of some nests of tables today is the device of hanging them in grooves under the tops of the tables themselves so that when one is pulled out from underneath another its slightly raised feet do not catch on the rug. This is the case with a nest of one long table under which slide two half-as-long tables in ash and walnut, by Edward Wormley. Another recent convenience is the use of a formica inset piece in the wood top as an area where a hot pan or dish can do no harm; this appears in a teak coffee table by Greta Jalk. Other coffee tables include two white plastic-topped tables, one with a metal pedestal by Eero Saarinen, the other with a metal splay-foot by George Nelson, both with pristine crispness. A revolving top dining-working table has been ingeniously designed in walnut by Jens Risom, with legs which stop before they reach the table top so that fingers are not caught in the revolving process. It can be locked in any position. Sturdier than the usual Oriental construction is a long, low table with four square stools from Japan, with angle-iron bases and cane tops woven in unusual patterns. A so-called “family” table by William Pahlmann perhaps lends itself even better to card use; it is round, walnut, with white formica top which presents a neat contrast of smooth white and rich-grained dark wood, fashioned in slim lines.
For small areas without sufficient closet space, an interesting innovation is a cylindrical walnut closet which revolves on an adjustable center bar to be affixed between floor and ceiling of any height; it is by Van der Lancken and Lundquist. A colorful note is a George Nelson chest-cabinet on a frame of white angle irons with a bright orange wood drawer, Masonite sliding panels below in light olive and a black top surface; it is small and compact. The old-fashioned roll-top desk has been turned into a teak bar by Arne Vodder with a black plastic work surface under the roll-top, cut into for an ice bucket, a dropped shelf behind for bottles in use and cabinets below. Vodder also supplies a men’s chest in teak with tambour front, detailed with particular neatness in the inside shelving.
A large Japanese bubble lamp by Isamu Noguchi is the first to greet the visitor to the exhibition. It is interesting to note how many other such designers of furniture have also turned their hand to design in this field: Tempestini, Hans Wegner, Alvar Aalto, Philip Johnson, Bruno Mathsson, Ward Bennett, Kristian Vedel are represented with lamp designs. A table lamp from Sweden is made of milk glass all of one piece, base and globe merging into a single unit. An expression of sheer fantasy is a “star chandelier” in brass and aluminum designed by Richard Kelly with the same kind of appeal for an adult that a Christmas tree star has for a child. Ward Bennett has designed a bookshelf lamp particularly useful clamped onto a shelf where a title is being sought after, for its swivel joint lends it great flexibility; the shade of green glass lined with white sheds an agreeable light, the whole fixture is very small and easy to handle. A Kristian Vedel ceiling fixture is a kind of elongated cone of light pine wood which states its case with direct simplicity.
The conversation piece in floor coverings seemed to the jury worthy of inclusion for the flair of imagination it showed. It is a Moroccan rug with long pile in a pale rusty color with bright navy blue Arabic calligraphy at one end and a most surprising raised and tufted circle of woolly blue at the other end, serving presumably as a pillow to lie or sit on. The multicolored carpet in fiber and tufted cotton designed by John Gerald and Katherine Kinnane still lends itself to many uses and bright practicality. One of the season’s most popular color combinations in every medium - blue and green - is found in a Bigelow Design Studio carpet. The multicolored trend is carried out in two cotton rugs by John and Earline Brice, one of diamonds set in stripes of sienna, white, olive and gold, the other in blue, mauve and black.
A number of the fabrics selected by the jury are displayed in the exhibition as covers for seating units or, as in the case of Thaibok silks, for oversize “Lazyback” cushions. In upholstery fabrics a number of sturdy plastic combinations appear, by Alexander Girard, Jack Lenor Larsen and Rowen designers. Some particularly interesting drapery fabrics in linen came from Warren Platner, Dorothy Liebes, Sven Markelius, H. Bayer and Louise Shaffer. Colors tend to be cheerful, with some unusual combinations such as pink, orange and brown (Alexander Girard) and black, grey, beige and orange (Vera Neumann). In both drapery and sheer fabrics, Jack Lenor Larsen has effectively woven goat hair with other fibers. An unusually delicate, large-scale print is a sheer by Don Wight of long grasses on white linen batiste.
Several woven grass wallpapers come from Kneedler-Fauchère in strips of natural-color grasses applied to white or grey backgrounds so that there is a three-dimensional quality and an unusual textural effect. The other wall coverings shown are by Estelle Laverne. One, a texture print on canvas, has something of the quality of paint on canvas and is intended to give the effect of a mural.
It is still easier to find well designed dinnerware in plain white, such as Prof. Loeffelhart’s white “Schoenwald,” than to find acceptable patterns or colors. A good solution in interesting shapes is a charcoal set by Raymond Loewy, with all-black exterior surface and all-white interiors. Lee Rosen has designed an agreeable set in white and grey speckled ceramic, one of very few patterned or colored examples accepted by the jury. A hand-thrown stoneware set comes from Meindert Zaalberg of Holland; in white with black edgings, it has a pleasantly sturdy, truly Dutch solidity about it.
Wood appears in all kinds of uses for the table, particularly teak in serving trays, platters, salad bowls, carving boards, etc. Some good examples come from Jens Quistgaard, who also uses teak handles on his stainless steel flatware. A number of serving trays for many purposes also appear in basket shapes, of Basket Bazaar design.
Still one of the cleanest designs in glassware - and most inexpensive - is that of Freda Diamond in various sizes and two shapes. From abroad come several sets of glassware: Vicke Lindstrand has designed a group in a glass with a very slight gold tone; Kaj Franck sends stemware glasses and a pitcher; Timo Sarpaneva works in clear and smoke-color glass; Prof. Loeffelhart has four sizes of ice-lip pitchers with stirrers.
Particularly original tablecloths and linen place mats have been designed by Tammis Keefe in unusual color combinations. Perhaps the most interesting colors in woven place mats are to be found in some Japanese examples from the Brooklyn Museum Gallery Shop.
Three big white porcelain platters are unusual contributions. One, by Kaj Franck, is a fish platter with drain plate, designed in simple lines. The other two by Ed Langbein, are something of a tour de force: one, also for fish, is in fish shape and comes in five sizes; the other is a huge egg dish with many scooped out sections shaped like a half egg.
Although the jury would have liked to include some decorated plastic dinnerware, none was submitted that was considered acceptable in design. Shown are pieces of all-white by Raymond Loewy and a set of all-black by Russel Wright.
A whole array of simple white porcelain kitchen items has been designed by La Gardo Tackett: syrup sets, sugar sets, funnel and measuring-spoon sets, salt and pepper shakers. These are all made in Japan, and put up in boxes that can continue to be containers for the set. A number of cheerful casseroles in colors - blue, olive, yellow, red - have come from Jens Quistgaard and Erik Herløw. Many shapes and sizes of wooden spoons are an old Swedish standby and can be just as useful in any other country.
Most interesting in design among appliances selected is the very new molded plywood loudspeaker on an aluminum swivel base, designed by Charles Eames. The charcoal enamel “Frigidaire” is clean and uncluttered, and its color is agreeably discreet. The General Electric air conditioner is also unusual in that it is clean and forthright and not encumbered by excess chrome or gaudy dials. G.E.’s “Kitchen Center” combines a sink, range, dish and clothes washers and dryer in a long unit of stainless steel with yellow enamel, a workmanlike presentation to solve a complicated problem. Harmon-Kardon’s high fidelity radio set has neat simple lines and has managed the problem of dials without trying to look like a B-56 Bomber’s control board.
From large to huge is the range of some brightly colored glass vases designed by Wayne Husted in yellow, red, blue, green. These are not new, but they still have a quality of the pleasantly spectacular. Also large and eye-catching are some pieces of architectural pottery by La Gardo Tackett, and a brown stoneware planter by Karen Karnes.
Newly imported brass bowls in five sizes were made in Korea in thick, sturdy proportions with a fine appreciation of the weightiness of the material. Two wooden bowls from Germany are lined with bright lacquer, one yellow, one blue, which is said to be acid resistant. A small, heavy glass ashtray from Sweden is the ashtray selected by the jury as the only acceptable one from among those submitted.
Wastebaskets shown are sometimes colorful, such as a yellow and a green of woven hemp from Raymor. In contrast is a set in sleek, subdued laminated teak, in three sizes, from Sweden. Another set in three sizes is in black woven bamboo from Japan, neatly cylindrical in shape. A different type of Japanese basket, unusual in character, is a large red-lacquered rectangle with an occasional, casual decoration of gold in geometric form. A Basket Bazaar bucket-basket with handle has interesting lines in its overlapping, vertical wood slats.
Candles and candleholders are well represented. A particularly fanciful candelabrum is a spiral of candles projecting from a stainless steel rod, designed by Poul Kjaerholm obviously just for fun as it is hard to conceive of how it could be lighted. Some remarkably sturdy colored beeswax candles come from Japan and can either stand on their own feet or be speared onto brass and wrought-iron candleholders of Morrison design which also have a solid stance. A small, black wrought-iron candlestick comes from Sweden.
Hardware of simple clean design was agreeable to find. A lever door handle and back plate of white bronze is designed by Arne Jacobsen. Coat hooks in either white bronze or polished brass have a sculptural look; they come from Luten-Clarey-Stern.
A new type of Italian terrazzo marble tile has been laid on the floor of the first “well” under the Noguchi bubble lamp. This comes from a complicated process of rolling marble pieces in a drum, then imbedding the white marble bits in wet greenish terrazzo. The design is by Gio Ponti.
March 3, 1958:
It was not the intention at this opening of our exhibition for anyone to come forward with a speech on design in general or even a speech on design for the home since all of you individually, designers and manufacturers of the products shown here, obviously fully well know the importance of well planned and well executed contemporary design. The exhibition itself should explain for all of us to the public or the consumer what each of you had in mind when these designs were put into production. I firmly believe that the pieces shown here represent the top layer of the good designs for the home available today.
Tom O’Hare of Abraham & Straus, Bob Riley of this Museum and I were given the very pleasant job of selecting - from the designs submitted - a representative group of products used in the home. This is not a large exhibition - but I think it is a good one. We would all have liked the job to be a much harder one, we would have much preferred to have far more to choose from - and I am sure that all of you as we have - have missed certain designs here. A shame indeed that we could not have called this an exhibition of what in our opinion is the best on the market today - a shame indeed that not every designer and manufacturer proud of his product could pull himself together and submit his designs. This sad little statement from one member of the Selection Committee in no way takes away from the importance of this show, and as I said before, we are proud of it. It is obviously impossible to include every good design available.
The exhibition, as you see it, is the result of a tremendous effort on the part of this Museum - Bob Riley and Betty Chamberlain have worked tremendously hard on getting the show this far. Special thanks should go to both of them from all of us here tonight.
I am extremely pleased with the architectural job of planning, designing and setting up this exhibition and this time again - from
all of us - should go our appreciation, admiration and thanks to the three designers - Paul Mitarachi, Aldo Giurgola and Gerhard Kallmann. I sincerely believe that their scheme represents the very best in today’s exhibition and display design.
Now - what is it we have assembled here - is this exhibition different from any previous ones - is it as good as Edgar Kaufmann’s “Good Design” exhibitions which we were all sorry to see halted a few years ago - does it point in any direction and in that case in the right direction - have we learned anything - and what is more important is the consumer and all of us who directly or indirectly concern ourselves with what we consider good design - are we all better off today than we were before and are we on the right track?
The question is, of course, a difficult one to answer - it will be much easier ten years from now. We designers and the manufacturers, too, are far too directly involved with the immediate problem really to tell - yet I believe we are the only ones who can really judge this. Let me, therefore, try, try to express what can only be one man’s viewpoint. I have been very concerned with our job of selecting these designs because we on the Committee obviously were assuming the role of general critics. It was going to be our job, through this exhibition, to point out to the consumer what good design for the home looked like. It was extremely important to me, therefore, that this job be done as conscientiously and as seriously as we knew how.
I am satisfied that we have lived up to this respect for the importance of the job and I am also satisfied that our selection in the various design divisions has been sufficiently broad. We have never been tempted to accept a design or a product simply because it was well known or because it had been shown before as being good design or perhaps because it was a goodseller. We were not concerned with just new designs but obviously we did make an attempt to accept new, creative thinking in product design, rather than accept pieces which had already been established in the minds of a design conscious public. I seriously believe that this exhibition is a stronger one than earlier shows - it seems to me we are all slightly more sure of ourselves, and a great many of the designs - although in many cases influenced by earlier attempts by others - are good individual projects in keeping with high quality standards and well co-ordinated to suit the contemporary home. There is no doubt in my mind that we are fortunate to have a public, a consumer group, far more design-conscious than before, and most of the pieces shown prove that the manufacturer today is far more interested and willing to accept good designs and to work with good product designers. It is obvious too that the consumer is far more quality conscious than before since we know that the good designs are being made and they are being sold, in good stores and to peoplewhocare.
We have in my opinion reached a point where the skilled, serious-minded designer has convinced the good manufacturer that we are on the right track. The public, through well-conducted editorial presentations, good displays and good exhibitions has been convinced to the point where it will ask for the good products when shopping. The buyer in turn will request good design from the producer and put pressure on the vendors who up to this point have seen no reason for any change in product design until they were forced to it. This circle, not at all a vicious one, but a very sound, correct and pleasant one, is what creates more and better products - based upon better designs and created by designers who need to be at their very best.
I believe that we are there - I believe that a very firm foundation has been laid. In most cases this has been done by the brave, and often the very small manufacturers and designers - the pioneers. They are the ones who can be very proud of this exhibition and each one of you tonight has a good right to accept this fine result and the pride as you yourselves individually think you are entitled to it.
Let us hope that this exhibition will be well received by the public and be talked about for a while. Let us hope that it will be shown in other parts of the country and let us hope that the good stores will exhibit some or all of the products selected in their individual group displays. Let us hope that the press will help us distribute the enthusiasm we all share.
All we can do now, tonight, is to launch the ship - open the exhibition and be happy with this tremendous shot in the arm to all of us - designers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers - the kind of push we all need.
Let us end up with a roar of thanks to the Brooklyn Museum and its very competent staff for getting this exhibition put together and for bringing it to the consumer - that important person for whom we all work.
Mr. Edgar Kaufmann, well-known design authority, author and lecturer, spoke to more than 200 Members of the Museum and their guests at 2 p.m. on March 5, 1958, in the exhibition galleries of the new DH ‘58 - Design for the Home show. He pointed out that the show was of good size yet obviously could not represent all tastes of all Americans. The selection was doubtless based on quality both in service and in artistic value; it indicates a distinct, educated taste aimed towards a real standard of living, not just whim. The dominant note - which is reflected both in the selection and the installation, so well in accord one with the other - is one of ease, restfulness, simplicity. There is no tour de force here, but rather a reflection of the desirability of simple, uncomplicated living. Such technical ingenuity as is often displayed in the items is usually subordinated to this simplicity.
This accent on the simple is particularly American and cannot be paralleled in any other country. For our tastes are geared to a democratic social existence, whereas other countries have contrasting social systems in their backgrounds; their respect for the past reflects a reverence for court splendor. Not all European design is colored by this tradition, however, as can be seen in the numerous imports in this show. Another reason for this American feeling is the desire in the U.S. to find a contrast at home upon returning from business complications.
Regarding the relatively high cost of some good modern furniture, Mr. Kaufmann explained that the situation was similar to the initial high cost of the Model T which eventually was reduced to about one-quarter its original price through mass purchasing. The trouble with modern furniture prices is that not enough people are buying.
Mr. Kaufmann pointed out that a good many things shown had been on the market for some time, and that it was a pleasure to see that their excellent quality had kept them available. Among good new things shown he discussed the bed by Bruno Mathsson, who used bentwood, an old, well-established technical device, in presenting a new structural idea, similar in its cantilevered overhang to the structure found in modern buildings.
Mr. Edward Wormley, on the other hand, was not interested in finding a new form for his walnut dining table, but took an old form and made it exceptionally handsome. A particularly interesting feature of this table is the hardware, installed so that the hanging leaf is flush with the top rather than grooved like most drop-leaf tables. The show is not one of brand new notions; nine-tenths of it derives from past soundness.
The great increase in the use of teak, Mr. Kaufmann explained, is due to the Danish fondness for this tough, close-grained wood so suitable for their traditional waxed finish. A few years ago this came as a shock and surprise to Americans who had been accustomed to varnished piano finishes. Now, however, this finish and this material have come to have more and more interest here.
Importers adjust their imports to American taste in some cases. For example, stainless steel sets abroad are composed of quite different pieces, have different functions, shapes, weight, for the European housewife sets her table quite differently from the American.
Absence of pattern, except in fabrics, is noticeable in the exhibition. The Jury members have said they looked and looked but did not like what they saw with surface ornamentation. In most of the last half of the 19th century ornamental design was at a low level and appallingly out of keeping with the item ornamented. From about 1880 to the mid-1930s the best designers concentrated on good solutions of problems in forms without ornament. But the next step now must be to reintroduce some ornamentation, difficult as this may seem. Designers are probably ready for this problem now, however, for style and fashion always must change.
One of the major reasons for such an exhibition as this being held in a Museum is to encourage thought about what art to put with furniture in the home. Mr. Kaufmann urged that people should look at other galleries and think what pictures or sculptures would please them as complements to their favorite furnishings in the show.
Mr. Kaufmann concluded by suggesting that the audience should not worry about what it did not like, but should concentrate on what modern forms mean, how they are directed, what the designer intended. “Look beneath the surface.”