Georgia Museum of Art

University of Georgia

Athens, GA



The American Environment: Decorative Arts of the Mid-20th Century

November 3, 2000 - January 7, 2001


The sparse, clean lines of furnishings designed by Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Harry Bertoia and T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings will be on view at the Georgia Museum of Art from November 3, 2000, until January 7, 2001, during The American Environment: Decorative Arts from the Mid-20th Century,

The exhibition focuses on works produced between 1945 and 1965, many from the collection of the High Museum of Art and others from private collections. Exhibited will be icons like the LCW ( Lounge Chair Wood), nicknamed the "potato chip chair" in ensuing years and a product of the collaboration between Charles Eames and his wife Ray. The chair has appeared on many "best of" designs lists of the 20th century. (left: George Nelson, Herman Miller, Inc., Marshmallow Love Seat, 1956, Chrome frame and fabric, 31 x 511/2 x 31 inches, Purchase with funds from the Decorative Arts Endowment and the Decorative Arts Acquisition Trust, 1990.54, High Museum of Art, Atlanta)

On view will be works such as the marshmallow sofa designed by George Nelson, dubbed a cartoon of a sofa by art historians because of its circular cushions and vivid colors, The emergence of these unusual shapes and designs in the 1940s and 1950s provides an ongoing argument as to whether form overtook function during this period.

The exhibition checklist reads like a menu from a 50's diner with its marshmallow sofa and potato chip chair followed by a coconut chair designed by George Nelson. Its simple, rounded shape and dramatic red color typify the sleek yet playful aesthetic that dominated American design of the period. Post-war designers were able to let their imaginations run free with new shapes and materials as technology developed during the war became commonplace along assembly lines for consumer goods.

Many of these designers were also leading forces in the architecture of the period. Just as early 20th-century architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright designed furnishings and interiors for his buildings, Saarinen and Eames combined the world of architecture and furniture design. The Eameses are noted for their simplified and often prefabricated house designs. Saarinen collaborated with Cesar Pelli on the design of Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. and created the iconic St. Louis arch.

The uncomplicated furniture being made was a perfect match for the period's modern houses with their similarly unadorned interiors. Today, restoration of these houses has become important to U.S. preservation efforts. Communities like Palm Springs, California, now center tourism efforts around these legendary 50s and 60s houses. As Sandi Turner, co-curator of the exhibition, says, "The ideas produced by designers such as the Eameses during this time are so completely visionary, they still look futuristic today."

In addition to furniture, curators Tim Brown and Turner have assembled lithographs by Alexander Calder and Joan Miró, a watercolor and oil by Lamar Dodd, silver bowls by Ann Orr, and other works.

The American Environment: Decorative Arts from the Mid-20th Century is generously sponsored by the Philip and Irene Toll Gage Foundation, Atlanta, and will be on display in the Martha and Eugene Odum Gallery of

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