Contemporary Design at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

After a three-year renovation project, the contemporary design galleries at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) in Indiana, USA, are open to the public.  IMA has one of the largest contemporary design displays in the world.  This international collection includes more than 1,200 pieces from over 100 designers in 20 countries.  This vast collection tells a story of contemporary design and its changes over time.  Adding to this conversation are four pieces of furniture by renowned designers.

1. Charles and Ray Eames “LCM” Lounge Chair; designed 1945-46

Charles and Ray Eames (1907–1978 and 1912–1988, respectively) were an American husband and wife team that influenced America for 40 years.  They are best known for their contributions to modern architecture and furniture.  And the “LCM” Lounge Chair is a quintessential example.  It follows modernism’s dictum to value an object’s function over its ornamentation.  The chair is unadorned, and composed of plywood, steel, paint and rubber.  Indeed, they used new materials and technologies to create functional and affordable furnishings to middle-class America, the Metropolitan Museum of Art notes.  Their experimental designs catered towards domestic and commercial use, some of which are still used today.

2. Ettore Sottsass, “Casablanca” Cabinet; designed 1981

The design conversation continues with the Italian designer, Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007).  His “Casablanca” Cabinet is an example of Postmodern design, which brings together a myriad of styles and motifs.  This piece was put together by hand, not machine—another Postmodern characteristic.  The bright colors and plastic laminate reference Pop Art; Postmodern Italian designers turned Pop Art imagery into three-dimensional objects used in the domestic setting.  Since the design is central, the object is not entirely functional.

3.  Robert Venturi, “Chippendale” Chair, “Grandmother” pattern; designed 1978-84

Robert Venturi (b. 1925) is a leader in Postmodernism, and famous for the edict: “Less is a bore.”  He challenged modern principles by including ornamentation and historical references, as underscored in this piece.  The title of this chair references the historic style from the 18th century furniture maker, Thomas Chippendale; the visually busy “Grandmother” pattern is based on a tablecloth of a colleague’s grandmother.

4.  Frank Gehry, “The Frank Gehry Furniture Collection” Sofa and Three-Sided Cube; designed 2004

Although Frank Gehry (b. 1929) may be best known for his architectural feats—most notably at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, USA and most recently the Louis Vuitton Foundation museum in Paris—this Canadian American has roots in furniture design.  As early as 1969, Gehry began designing furniture from cardboard.

IMA notes that contemporary expressionism in art, architecture and design emphasize form over function.  Frank Gehry’s work values form by emphasizing emotion, texture, outline, ornament and unconventional use of materials.  Gehry, among other expressionists, used new materials to create organic forms; they thus rejected Modernist principles.  As a result, his pieces are both functional and visually impressive.