The World of Charles and Ray Eames

“For Charles and Ray Eames, design was not simply a professional skill, it was a life skill—more than that, it was an essential attribute of life itself.” Design as a way of life, a state of mind, a personal philosophy – from the opening words of Eames Demetrios, the director of the Eames Office to Martino Gamper, one of the most important contemporary designers – it seems that design, for both designers and the general public alike, can hardly be separated from life. It is through this lens that visitors to the recently opened exhibition “The World of Charles and Ray Eames”, are introduced to the legacy of, possibly, the most famous design couple. In fact, had it not been for their personal relationship, the exhibition points out, perhaps their world of timeless, essential, fundamental, designs would never had existed.

Held at the Barbican, itself the landmark of positive, utopian, modernist design thinking, the exhibition opens – perhaps a bit too uncritically – with Charles and Ray’s early experimentation with plywood – the material that is central to their careers. From wartime plywood leg splints – a modular, inexpensive, ergonomic, mass-produced object – to post-War focus on domesticity, with plywood chairs, tables, children’s toys and furniture, the exhibition traces the history of design from technological innovation to the comfort of the home – apparently, the ultimate design destination. Yet, while Charles and Ray started their career by designing products, the exhibition surveys the evolution of their work towards creating installations and exhibition designs that pre-date the multimedia environments of today. In fact, the story of the Eames Office is that of the trajectory of visual and material culture in the post-war period of the last century as Charles and Ray Eames moved fluidly between the mass-production of objects for everyday use and the transmission of ideas through exhibition, film or installation, in anticipation of the global ‘information age’.

From their modular house, “Case Study House #8”, to their sweet love letters, the exhibition focuses on showing how Charles and Ray moved seamlessly through formats, types of production, events, or even geographies, time and contexts – from their intimate life to the public sphere – by using the tools of design as a media for approaching life. Bringing together over 380 works, the exhibition presents the world of Charles and Ray Eames through objects and projects produced during their lifetime, offering an opportunity to re-examine their work and legacy, and the legacy of post-war modernism. It also features a wealth of documentation and contextual material from the professional archive of the Eames Office as well as artefacts from their personal collections, that highlight their relationship with the leading artistic figures of the 20th century – their immediate circle included Buckminster Fuller, Alexander Girard, Sister Corita Kent, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Eero Saarinen, Saul Steinberg and Billy Wilder – and show the importance of these relationships to the Eameses’ life, philosophy and working processes. In fact, even their friendships cannot but reveal how the imperative of design in their everyday life. “The World of Charles and Ray Eames” runs until 14 February 2016 at the Barbican in London.

The Blogazine – Images courtesy of the Barbican