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Book Review: Modern Furniture 150 Years of Design
This full color comprehensive collection of innovative, often timeless furniture design showcases the best and sometimes worst of the past one hundred fifty years. Emphasizing the work of individual designers, several furniture pieces feature unusual materials such as newsprint, nylon rope, leather and rags in addition to the more traditional wood, glass and plastic. Brief descriptions in English, French and German accompany every photograph include something about the construction, materials or designer. Whether it's a polyurethane cactus coat rack or a futuristic chest of drawers constructed from fiberglass and riveted sheet aluminum, many of the pieces shown push the design envelope in unexpected directions. One thing that really comes through in this collection, although the materials frequently vary, the sweeping lines, proportions and overall look of furniture made a hundred years ago are not that different from those that define contemporary pieces today. This volume will appeal to interior and graphic designers as well as anyone interested in furniture and furniture designers.
Appeared August 13, 2012 in Lifestyle Book Reviews section of Monsters & Critics entertainment website
written by Sandy Amazeen
VISUALIZER: 'MODERN FURNITURE'
A Brief History of Sleek Seats
The pieces might be simple, striking or playful--and sometimes, perhaps, not all that comfortable. "Modern Furniture" (H.F. Ullmann, $29.99) surveys the past 150 years of sleek design in chairs, sofas, tables and the like. The 700-page book, just out in a new edition, includes photos of iconic objects and other influential items. Examples range from the 1859 "bistro chair," with an arc of rounded wood at the back, now found in cafes everywhere, to a 2011 stool made out of a material called concrete canvas.
Pelican chair, 1940
Danish designer Finn Juhl was inspired by surrealist artists' interpretations of the human body for this chair--though some critics at the time called it "walrus-like."
Designers often focus on chairs--but it's not all about seating. Here, Pop Art meets coat rack: Produced by Gufram, this seemingly prickly cactus is made of polyurethane.
Meltdown Chair PP Tube, 2008
British designer Tom Price has melted a seat-shaped form on a variety of plastic objects--including cable ties, PVC hose and, at left, plumbing tubes. The process, he says, is "controlled chaos."
It looks as though it's made from one piece, but the German-made chair is a two-piece construction.
Lounge Chair, 1963
Because the production process was so complicated, only a few hundred copies of this plywood chair, by designer Grete Jalk, were originally made.
Wall Street Journal June 16, 2012 Weekend Edition Review in Life & Culture section.
Furniture Fantasies: "Modern Furniture: 150 Years of Design"
One of the world's most revered design meccas, Vitra Design Museum, located in Germany a short ride from Basel, Switzerland, attracts architecture and furniture aficionados from around the world for its jaw-dropping collection by designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Alvar Aalto, Jean Prouvé, and numerous other modern masters of furniture flights of fancy.
If this summer doesn't include a pilgrimage to the Vitra, then consider the next best thing: the monograph of modern furniture published by h.f.ullmann. The new trilingual, 720-page edition of "Modern Furniture: 150 Years of Design" is a sweeping retrospective of furniture design, ranging from an 1859 "bistro chair" to the latest design trends through 2011.
Organized in reverse chronological order, the five-pound tome is an encyclopedia of furniture pornography. Seductively photographed, the various chairs (as well as tables, chests, and other furniture fetishes) take on personalities as vivid as individuals - and particularly when aligned with brief texts (written in English, French, and German) that describe the composition and manufacturing process behind each anthropomorphic creation.
A coiled felt chair soaked in silicon from The Coiling Collection (2011) suggests an upholstered mushroom while a futurist "Hemp Chair" (2011) would fit in perfectly with "The Jetsons." Eileen Gray's Transat chair (1927), named for trans-Atlantic ocean crossings, evokes the romance of cruise liners in the days before commercial aviation.
In flipping through "Modern Furniture: 150 Year of Design," design mavens and decor lovers might find themselves walking a fine line between temptation and torture. How to afford, for example, Tejo Remy's "Chest of Drawers," which Dutch design firm Droog has produced since 1993 and which has sold for five-figure sums at auctions around the world? (Is it a comfort to know that one of Remy's "Chest of Drawers" resides in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art?)
And speaking of princely sums, what would one have to hock in order to obtain Josef Hoffman's "Kubus" (1910), his cubic black leather chair, for one's own office (or dungeon)?
The authors, Martin Wellner and Andrea Mehlhose (also known as Fremdkorpher), highlight the most important developments in furniture design while also featuring avant garde pieces.
For every piece by Aalto, Jacobsen, Panton, and Eames, there's a lesser-known object such as Tom Dixon's "S-Chair" (1989) looking like a sculpture by Brancusi. Or Alessandro Mendini's "Proust" chair from 1978 looking as imposing as Gertrude Stein and every bit as lushly lapidary as Proust's prose.
Essays on selected styles and themes, written by design experts, are interspersed throughout the book - as if to punctuate the lush photographs (and allow the reader pause from such covetous cravings).
Author Max Borka contributes a short history of design fairs, contending that "fairs are to design what museums are to art," which goes a long way in explaining how it is that Marc Newsom's "Lockheed Lounge Chair" sold by Christie's at auction is the singular most expensive design object.
No tome on modern furniture would be complete without commentary on Philippe Starck, whom Karianne Fogelberg terms "agent provocateur" for Starck's trademark provocation and "complete disregard for rules." Perhaps as much as Arne Jacobsen during his lifetime, Starck has shaped our public spaces and the shapes into which we place our fannies.
And speaking of "The Jetsons," George and Judy Jetson must've loved Michel Feith's polished gold tea trolley (1984) created from soldered sheet brass and powered by an electrical drive that enables the trolley to speed across the room by remote control. Imagine this little toy at your summer share on the Island.
And what about a sofa called "Newtone" (1989), created by the former comic book illustrator, Massimo Iosa Ghini, whose absinthe and Kryptonite green divan suggests Madame Recamier, as well as Joey Arias and Jessica Rabbit.
"Modern Furniture: 150 Years of Design" is filled with playful pieces that remind you anew that your home is your crib (or playhouse or country club) - and that free will enables you to furnish it according to your fantasy.
And for the true collector with deep pockets, "Modern Furniture" is nothing less than a bound wish list, populated with all the great work of the best masters of furniture design.
As a corollary to the adage, "You are what you eat," "Modern Furniture" posits the theory that in an increasingly design-obsessed world, who we are is where we sit.
"Lounge Chair," designed by Grete Jalk (1963)
Mark Thompson, EDGE Style & Travel Editor, Friday Jun 22, 2012
"Modern Furniture: 150 Years of Design informatively, idiosyncratically, and entertainingly teaches us not to buy into the pretention, but rather to recognize these icons of our lives--the new religious objects of our daily culture so close at hand but far from our thoughts. Seeing the design of your environment through the eyes of Modern Furniture will help you see the design of your life clearer than ever before."
Our Furniture -- Ourselves?
While flipping through Modern Furniture: 150 Years of Design, I couldn't help but stop and smile at seeing the same monobloc chair sitting on my backyard deck sitting there on the pages of a proposed history of modern furniture design. When we think of modern furniture design, we too often think of wildly experimental and wildly expensive items found only in the homes of the rich and famous. However, as Andrea Mehlhose and Martin Wellner , founders of the design company Fremdkörper and editors of Modern Furniture, show, modern design is all around us in such a ubiquitous way that we barely notice. Recognizing the power of design to simplify and change our lives can help us recognize a great deal of our culture. Modern Furniture demonstrates that our furniture really tells us a lot about ourselves.
The first thing that strikes you about the design of this history of modern furniture design is that time runs in reverse. Mehlhose and Wellner explain that reversal by stressing that their book "focuses on current design, which is why we have chosen to stray away from the generally more common chronological approach and instead begin by presenting the most contemporary pieces of furniture… Historical connections and contexts, developments in materials and form languages might only become evident later on, yet clarity never suffers." On my first run through, I played along and began with the modern pieces before going old school. The effect feels a little subversive at first, but I did feel a greater appreciation for the founding fathers and mothers of modern design after seeing just how those roots spread in so many directions later on. As critic Max Borka writes in one of the many entertaining and illuminating digressive essays, "Design history can be reduced to one single polarity… On the one hand, there was the curvy, dynamic, organic and spontaneous line that evoked the natural. On the other hand, there was the straight line, caught in a grid or chessboard pattern, and later evolving into the box." By starting with the ending rather than the beginning, you really get a full sense of how the curvy and the straight have battled for the past century and a half.
Modern Furniture allows the furniture to do most of the talking. A generous sampling of high quality photos give you a full picture of the state of the art over the decades. As smoothly and sleekly as that reverse chronology flows, it doesn't flow evenly. With 80 plus pages devoted to the 1980s, but just 16 pages covering the 40 years from 1899 through 1859, Modern Furniture can feel less like "150 Years of Design" and more like "I Love the '80s." However, this survey unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve and more than justifies the inequality with fascinating explanations of the New German Design and Italian-founded Memphis movements that injected new energy into design throughout the 1980s. The Memphis style, with its "optimistic" approach and desire "to arouse emotions through the object," especially transformed the '80s into a golden, transformative age for furniture.
The real stars of the show, however, are the individual pieces. Just when the text becomes for the uninitiated a dizzying game of musical chairs, tables, etc., the helpful digressions point out places to stop, look, and think. Yiannis Ghikas' 2011 coat rack titled Game of Trust (in which Y-shaped poles lean on one another for support while keeping your coat from touching the floor) subtly comments on this age of distrust of authority. Tejo Remy's Chest of Drawers ("You can't lay down your memory") from 1993 "represents a new, experimental, intelligent and also humorous approach to design" by reusing old drawers in a new configuration the way that the design art itself recycles and reinvents previous ideas. In calling Andrea Branzi's 1985 Animali Domestici chairs "post-apocalyptic survival props," Modern Furniture acknowledges the seriousness and the silliness of the objects with which we choose to surround ourselves. (Fremdkörper manages to insert even its own 2009 A1 table that looks like a tiny stretch of the German Autobahn in the parade of seriously funny furniture.)
But just when you think it's all a joke, factoids such as the $1.5 million USD that Marc Newson's 1986 Lockheed Lounge Chair commanded at at auction in 2007 make you stop short. Limited edition works such as the Lockheed chair (which Madonna featured prominently in the video to her song "Rain") illustrate the vast divide between design stars and those who collect them and Billy Bookshelf, "99%" crowd down at Ikea. Tom Price's limited edition 2008 Meltdown Chair PP Tube, which price himself calls "controlled chaos," could be considered a physical representation of the financial meltdown of that same year (but priced for the "1%).
By the time you get past the designs of Le Corbusier, the cantilever chair of Mart Stam (and later Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer), the overflowing creativity of the Bauhaus, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld's 1919 Red-Blue Chair (described as a "manifesto of De Stijl esthetics," almost a Mondrian you could sit in), the early German genius of Josef Hoffmann and Otto Wagner, and the amazing but underappreciated creations of Irish female designer Eileen Gray, ur-texts of modern design such as the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Michael Thonet's simple, but paradigm-changing bentwood No. 14 chair from1859 are ready to take their place in the pantheon. It's a breathless ride for 700 pages, but you'll come out of it knowing more about modern design than when you began, and hungering for more.
Go to pretty much any school, cafeteria, or waiting room in the world today and you'll find some variation of Robin Day's Polyprop Chair. This "unpretentious icon" supports us without our ever noticing for days, months, even years of our lives. Modern Furniture: 150 Years of Design informatively, idiosyncratically, and entertainingly teaches us not to buy into the pretention, but rather to recognize these icons of our lives--the new religious objects of our daily culture so close at hand but far from our thoughts. Seeing the design of your environment through the eyes of Modern Furniture will help you see the design of your life clearer than ever before.
by Bob Duggan, Aug 24, 2012 BigThink.com