We at Design Diary have always looked on the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s as a storied time in design, and two names among the behemoths of this Mid-century Modern Era are Charles and Ray Eames. Their philosophies live on in the company they started, which continues to be innovative to this day. Eames Office is now being celebrated in an exhibition that hallmarks the studio’s 80th anniversary. Titled “80 Years of Design” at the Isetan The Space, a gallery dedicated to modern and contemporary design in Shinjuku Tokyo, the show opened on November 5th and will be on view through January 5, 2022.
Included in the selling exhibition will be a new limited-edition of the 1943 Molded Plywood Sculpture, a never-before-seen architectural model of the 1951 Modular House; and special edition products in collaboration with Herman Miller, Vitra, Ravensburger, Globe, and Reebok. The overarching theme of the show is to demonstrate how the optimistic philosophies and human-centered design solutions that Charles and Ray introduced during their time are more relevant than ever. This will be illuminated through unique, rare, and vintage works; through the revival of pivotal designs from the archive; and through new special editions and collaborations.
Eames Office Celebrates 80 Years of Design
The show is divided into three sections: art & technology, architecture & interiors, and play & learn. A six-meter (19.5-feet) long timeline at the exhibition’s entrance weaves together the eighty years of art, architecture, furniture, textiles, film, toys, books, exhibitions, and collaborations by the Eames Office. The timeline is also divided into three sections, each representing the phases the Eames Office has experienced during the eight decades: Charles’ and Ray’s life and work together (1941-1978), Ray’s work following Charles’ death (1978 – 1988), and the studio’s ongoing current work from 1988 to 2021.
“The Eames Office actively seeks to both preserve historical work and create innovative designs and experiences that extend the Eames legacy into the future,” said Eames Demetrios, director of the Eames Office, and Charles’ and Ray’s grandson. “We’re thrilled to be able to present iconic works alongside special projects and collaborations that continue to bring Charles and Ray’s powerful ideas to life today.” The couple drew inspiration throughout their conjoined careers from Japan’s approach to tradition and modernity—from their first trip to the country during the 1950s, from the many trips that followed, and from an ongoing exchange of ideas with some of the 20th century’s most well-known Japanese designers in Japan and Los Angeles. In fact, Japan’s impact on their worldview and work was paramount, and solidified through a formative partnership with Isetan that dates back to 1961.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to celebrate the special relationship that Isetan and the Eames Office have maintained for over half a century,” said Kentaro Shishido, General Manager of Isetan Shinjuku. “80 Years of Design brings to life a prolific, multifaceted legacy and encapsulates the dynamism with which the Eames Office is forging ahead into the future.”
Art & Technology
The art & technology section of the show presents the formative years after Charles and Ray married, moved to Los Angeles, and began the work of the Eames Office in 1941. The company would serve as an intense creative incubator for their ideas on architecture, photography, art, and filmmaking. It encompasses Charles’ time in Mexico that led to two years teaching design at Cranbrook; and Ray’s own artistic practice drew from her years in New York, classes with Martha Graham and, above all, her extended studies and work with painter Hans Hoffmann. This remarkable combination would serve as a fertile foundation for their new creative life together. As their friend, designer Ben Baldwin said, “They had talents in different directions, and yet somehow the same direction.”
Few of their earliest breakthrough artistic experiments in the molding of plywood would be as important as their iconic 1943 Molded Plywood Sculpture, which embodies the pioneering spirit of Charles and Ray’s personal relationship, multidisciplinary working partnership, and wholly original thinking.
Architecture & Interiors
The architecture & interiors section of the show also includes many vintage icons that resulted from the Eames relationship with Herman Miller, which began when the company, under the influential design direction of George Nelson, began distributing, then manufacturing and marketing, the Eames furniture catalog in 1946. In celebration of their historic partnership, and the eighty-plus Eames Office designs that Herman Miller has put into production, the brand has developed five special edition works that honor the Eames’ dedication to material exploration.
These include the revolutionary 1946 LCW Plywood Chair, launched by Herman Miller following the Eames molded plywood exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It will be exclusively available in a special edition duotone palisander and black. The 1950 LAR Fiberglass Chair, which pioneered the use of molded fiberglass to create an organically shaped, single-shell seat, will be presented in an Alexander Girard checker split fabric. The 1954 Sofa Compact will be available in a special edition duotone fabric from Maharam. The iconic 1956 Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman will be available in a special edition of ten, pairing natural leather with a white oak shell. The 1960 Time-Life stool, originally designed for the Time-Life building in New York and typically crafted in solid walnut, will be available in an exclusive red-stained ash.
In 1949, Charles and Ray’s pivotal collaboration in architecture began with the landmark 1949 Eames House they designed and built as their home and studio. Also known as Case Study House No. 8, it was one of thirty-six houses designed for the Case Study program initiated by Arts & Architecturemagazine. Illuminating the design’s unique use of open space in both the interior and exterior, a rare ten-foot wide, 1:20 scale model will be displayed to showcase the house, furnishings, and surrounding landscape in intricate detail. While they designed their house before their first visit to Japan, many elements align deeply with traditional Japanese aesthetics.
Play & Learn
Engaging with playful curiosity has always been central to the practice of the Eames Office, and is the impetus for the launch of the Eucalyptus Skateboard Deck, the first in a series of collaborative projects with the Australian heritage board sports brand, Globe. Stemming from the Eames Foundation’s 250-year arbor conservation plan to protect the Eames House, the boards have been crafted from a single eucalyptus tree that stood near the home’s studio but posed a threat to the structure. The skateboard deck will be joined by Reebok sneakers, puzzles, playing cards, and other whimsical objects in this section of the show.
Shop the Eames Office Exhibition
This incredible exhibition honoring American design royalty will feature over ninety works, along with books, historical material, and films on the second floor of Isetan. For more information on the products and projects in the exhibition, and prices for the works for sale, click through to Isetan’s shopping website; the products are at the bottom of their review of the exhibition.
We at Design Diary are so thrilled to see a company built on authenticity and whimsy thrive lone after the visionaries who founded it have passed. Gone, but certainly not forgotten for those of us who spend our lives engaged with design. Just seeing the vintage images that have been saved in the Eames Office archives truly transported us back to a storied time!