The contribution to modern design from Charles and Ray Eames is undeniable huge, and as the Barbican’s new exhibition showcases their influence is as varied as it is far reaching. Amongst the most important designers of the 20th century, their legacy continues to be celebrated worldwide. The World of Charles and Ray Eames is a major retrospective charting their careers and the work of the Eames Office, a collaborative ‘laboratory’ within which they and their staff created and pioneered. Opening last week, the exhibition features an array of their influential work from architecture to photography, multimedia design to new models for education.
‘Charles and Ray Eames’ creativity, innovation and talent knew no bounds. I am thrilled Barbican Art Gallery is staging the first major UK exhibition in over 15 years about the life and work of this formidable couple. We are delighted to be working with the Eames Office and Eames Foundation whose generosity, dedication and support has been invaluable. It promises to be an unmissable show for all Eames fans and joyful discovery for everyone.’ Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican.
When The LuxPad arrived at the Media View on Tuesday we were transported straight into the world of the Eameses, and instantly got lost in it. Characterised by designs for furniture and products, the Eames Office was actually led by an avid interest in addressing problems with design. Communicating using a wide variety of tools and media, the way in which the Office worked revolutionised the design industry. Driven by philosophical ideals that favoured knowledge, discovery and discipline; the Eames Office embraced the potential of technology and science for the common good; and saw no separation between life and work.
The exhibition is spread between a vast space over two floors; firstly there is the large wooden structures that stand obtusely near the entrance. At first glance they are a little Tim Burton-esque, but then you realize these are from their earlier Naval and military contracts, and were the beginnings of their problem solving designs. Detailing how the used moulded plywood for both military & domestic products, we also get a glimpse of the series of sculptural experiments that they also created from plywood. There is even a Christmas card that they sent to their family and friends one year featuring themselves and one of their splint structures.
In the many photos showcased throughout the display it’s evident that the Eamses and their staff had style before their time, in the way they appeared as well as in the work they produced. Detailing the movement of visual and material culture in the post-war era of the 20th century, the Eames Office’s work moves between mass production for everyday use to ideas and concepts using many different mediums. They anticipated the global ‘information age’ and were inspired by philosophical ideals that favored knowledge, discovery and discipline; embraced the potential of technology and science for the common good.
‘For Charles and Ray, design was not simply a professional skill, it was a life skill – more than that, it was an essential attribute to life itself. And not pretentiously, on the contrary, they never stopped: challenging themselves to make their most iconic designs better and better – all the while having fun. The unprecedented array of objects and stories at the Barbican is not simply for admiration, but inspiration to folks in myriad fields. That’s why the Barbican’s show is so important.’ Eames Demetrios, director of the Eames Office.
With over 380 works on show, we see into the world of Charles and Ray Eames with examples of their work both famous and un-discovered, alongside personal items such as the many letters that the couple sent between them and many among friends and colleagues. Interweaved amongst their many professional projects, it’s the artefacts from their personal collection that really help to color the designers’ lives. Love letters filled with sketches and doodles showcase their creativity just as well as their bigger multimedia projects, and it is in these little details that we see that their love of design was only matched by the love that they had for each other. Their philosophy and belief that there was no difference between work and life is brilliantly showcased by the combination of creative and personal pieces with the practical and professional designs.
There are several films, film clips, and more multi-media projects featured throughout the exhibition and this serves as a metaphor for the Eameses pioneering of such ‘multi-media architecture.’ They were known for their ground-breaking installation projects that were created for both corporate and government clients, from IBM to environmental agencies. In particular, Think (1964) the multi-screen film presentation shown in the Ovoid Theater of the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-1965, was a standout feat that showed them as forward thinkers of their time. The on show large scale ‘model’ installation of Think, has been recently restored by the Library of Congress, Washington D.C. Showing how a computer can solve everyday problems, the film was made to be shown simultaneously across several screens at once, shown at the exhibition it was very Kubrik esque and felt very futuristic even today, so it is hard to imagine the impact it would have made on American society in the 60s.
One of the most famous design from the Eameses is the iconic Lounge Chair and Ottoman developed for the Herman Miller furniture company. On display on the second floor of the exhibition, this classic furniture pairing is as relevant today as it was when first released in 1956. Another one of their most iconic designs of all time is their own home, and within this exhibition we get to see detailed sketches, blueprints & a newly commissioned 1:50 scale model of Case Study Houses #8 and #9, produced by Rogers Stirk Harbour and partners. Their houses (part of the Case Study Houses series commissioned by Arts & Architecture) were a potent & iconic expression of their attitude toward living, and it’s truly fascinating to feel you are getting a glimpse inside and behind the whole process. It’s easy to see why it is a construction that has been continually celebrated since its completion in 1949.
‘What finally matters is that your house works the way you want it to. And that is a pleasant place to be in.’ Ray Eames 1959
Alongside the many sketches and flotsam from their lives there are many photographs of the Eameses and their friends. Their social circle was the who’s who of the design society at the time, for example they counted among their friends Isamu Noguchi. From all the letters and films, it feels as though you are getting a real glimpse of the Eameses, and their enthusiastic yet down to earth nature shines through all of it.
‘The objective is the simple thing of getting the best to the greatest number of people for the least’ Charles & Ray 1950.
Produced in collaboration with the Eames Office, The World of Charles and Ray Eames features many exhibits, never before displayed in the UK, are on loan from the Eames Family and Eames Office. Organised by Barbican Art Gallery, the exhibition is curated by Catherine Ince and designed by 6a architects, working in collaboration with graphic designer John Morgan.
Running from 21 October 2015 – 14 February 2016, standard tickets are priced at £14.40 and are available at the Barbican website.