We have a love of all things mid-century so were pleased to catch The World of Charles and Ray Eames retrospective exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in its final weeks.
We were most familiar with the American design duo's iconic chairs designed in the 1950s, still regularly featured in our favourite style magazine Elle Decoration. We also knew Charles and Ray Eames were a husband and wife team, described as the amongst the most influential designers of the 20th century, but the scale and breath of their work over more than four decades was a surprise.
The beautifully presented exhibition by 6a Architects shows there wasn't much Charles and Ray Eames didn't design – from the familiar furniture pieces to architecture, products, film, photography, graphics and exhibitions. Here's our quick tour of all things Eames...
On display are, of course, the many Eames design classics in plywood, aluminium, fibreglass and steel, including their first moulded plastic chair and a range of prototypes and sketches. Connecting them all was their desire to make "the best quality, to the most people, for the least money". As Ray Eames put it "What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts".
In 1999 Time magazine named the 'LCW' chair as The Best Design of the 20th Century. It's body hugging curves came from Charles' designs for plywood leg splints for the US Air Force!
The plywood Eames Elephant as part of the children's seating exhibit deserves a mention too. Designed in 1945 as a toy, it never went into production but is now produced by Vitra in moulded plastic.
We loved the chairs that had been doodled on by illustrator Saul Steinberg, a friend of the couple, proving design classics don't need to take themselves too seriously!
Charles Eames (1907–1978) was an architect and photographer and Ray Eames (1912–1988) an artist, graphic designer and art director. Visual communications was a major part of their work and there were some wonderful examples of graphic design for product advertising, literature and editorial design. This display shows Ray's gorgeous covers for Arts & Architecture magazine.
The home Charles and Ray designed and built in Pacific Palisades, California was bought to life with scale models, original drawings and film. It's thought to be one of the most important post-war residences anywhere in the world, and today the studio is used for the continuing work of the Eames Office. We liked the contrast between the prefabricated sleek steel exterior and the warm and highly personal interior filled with toys and artefacts collected on their travels, some of which were on colourful display at the exhibition.
The model room designed for the Exhibition For Modern Living, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1949 looks as fresh as ever and featured flat-pack storage furniture for a new attitude to living. We liked the peg wall and the sculptural curves of the 'La Chaise'.
We enjoyed the glimpses into Charles and Ray Eames' relationship and their playful approach to life and design through private letters, back of envelope sketches, photos and scribbled notes. In one touching but amusing handwritten letter Charles wrote to Ray "I am 34 (almost) years old, single (again) and broke. I love you very much and would like to marry you very very soon".
We couldn't take photos, but we were pleased to take home a piece of Eames design for ourselves – the Dot Pattern tote bag, just £15 for the abstract print designed for a textiles competition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1947, but never produced in their lifetime.
An exhibition visitor had commented you can see Eames furniture for free at the London Vitra store, but whether you know a little or a lot about them, we think there's something to fascinate and inspire almost everyone. And if you didn't make it, The World of Charles and Ray Eames Catalogue by exhibition curator Catherine Ince is a great keepsake and source of reference.
The World of Charles and Ray Eames : 21 October 2015 - 14 February 2016 : Barbican Art Gallery
Find out more about Charles and Ray Eames on artsy.net/artist/charles-and-ray-eames