Art Review

The furniture of Eero Saarinen, on display at the Kirkland Museum

The Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts (1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576, is a collecting institution with three areas of focus: the work of Colorado's premier modernist, Vance Kirkland, the work of other Colorado artists, and international design. It's this third category that's on view now in The Furniture of Eero Saarinen: Designs for Everyday Living. Though part of the exhibit is a traveling show from Knoll International, Kirkland director Hugh Grant has added pieces from the museum's collection as well as works from Saarinen's daughter, Susan Saarinen, who lives in the area, and from other local design collectors.

Saarinen, who died in 1961, was a prominent architect best known for such iconic landmarks as the TWA Terminal in New York and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, but he was also a significant furniture designer, arguably what he's best known for today. The show includes early pieces like the famous "Grasshopper Chair" (pictured) from the 1940s, the provocatively named "Womb" chair, also from the 1940s, and his most successful idea, the "Tulip" chairs and tables, done in the mid- to late '50s.

The "Tulip" chairs represented a radical idea at the time, because instead of having four legs, they had single pedestal bases. Saarinen said that his intention was to abolish "the miserable maze of legs" that characterizes a typical interior. Though it's been more than half a century since he died, his designs are still in production, having attracted the attention of several generations of furniture buyers and with no apparent end to their popular appeal.

The exhibition includes informative wall panels that follow Saarinen's career and place him in the context of the modern movement of the mid-twentieth century. He was the son of a world-famous architect, Eliel Saarinen, who was the founding director of the Cranbrook Academy, where the younger Saarinen came in contact with other significant designers of the period, notably Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia and Charles Eames. Some of Saarinen's first designs were done in collaboration with Eames.

The Furniture of Eero Saarinen closes November 28.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia