As we work our way around the space, we can see Eames's progression in design philosophy. His first pieces, like those plywood chairs originally made by Evans, are the result of a single idea carried out in a single material. But as time went on, he began to differentiate the base of the chair or table from the seating element. This is clearly seen in "La Chaise," in which an organic chaise form in plastic sits atop spindly metal legs mounted to a cruciform base. Originally a one-off piece created for a show at the Museum of Modern Art, "La Chaise" was only recently put into production by Vitra International, which makes Eames's designs in Europe.
One interesting aspect of Hartman's Eames show is the inclusion of prototypes and experimental models in which bent plywood or twisted and welded steel rods are explored for their potential to serve as bases for seating. The chance to see things of this sort is very rare and shouldn't be missed. Also not to be missed are two pieces rarely on view: the "Soft Pad" sofa with walnut used on the back, and the "Gold Leaf" table displayed in front of it. They're gorgeous reminders that Eames did more than a handful of famous chairs and was capable of expressing luxuriousness.
Installation view of Eames 100 at the Emmanuel Gallery.
By bringing together so many different pieces by Eames, Hartman reveals a variety of influences that the designer absorbed and synthesized in his work. A key element is the way he successfully reconciled seemingly opposite aesthetic strategies, pairing organic abstraction with the machine aesthetic of industrial design. His philosophy is well summed up by his observation that he and Ray wanted to make "the best for the most for the least," a political sentiment that reflects the heady optimism of the post-war period. Their idea was that fine design contributed to the common good if it was affordable and thus accessible to everyone. His work was all that — and despite some steep inflation in the cost of furniture in the intervening years, it still is.