The Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York is offering a groundbreaking, revelatory exhibition, through October 2, that is the first in the United States to examine Artek, the pioneering Finnish design company founded in 1935, and the first to focus on the two architects who were among its founders, Alvar Aalto and his wife, Aino Marsio-Aalto. The exhibition—Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World—features some 200 works. Of special interest are the unprecedented number of original architectural drawings from the Aalto Foundation, as well as photographs, sketches, and drawings from the Aalto family and Artek archive. Among the most important are Aino Marsio-Aalto’s student sketchbooks; drawings by Alvar Aalto of his wife; and signed photographs by László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), which he sent to Alvar Aalto after visiting the Aaltos in Finland in 1931. Also on view are a recently discovered copy of Aino Marsio-Aalto’s travel diary, which she kept while visiting Brussels, Paris, and Zurich just before Artek was founded; unpublished drawings for the Sunila Pulp Factory (1936–37), Villa Mairea (1938–39), Säynätsalo Town Hall (1950–52), the Kaufmann Conference Rooms in New York City (1961–63); and a rare group of bentwood furniture by Alvar Aalto, with original finishes and colors, from a private collection in Finland. Glassware, lighting and textiles are also on display. The backbone of the exhibition is what one of its curators, Nina Stritzler-Levine, director of the gallery and a scholar of modern architecture and design, describes as the “manifesto” of Artek, whose name blended the words art and technology. Focusing on the promotion of modern art; industry and interior design; and advocacy, the manifesto, she said, underscored Artek’s founders’ “commitment to enhancing the cultural and social ideals of modernism throughout the world….And, not incidentally, the company was also dedicated to the manufacture and sales of furniture designed by Alvar Aalto.” In addition to the Aaltos, the other founders of Artek were Nils Gustav Hahl, a leading Nordic art critic, and Maire Gullichsen, a wealthy Finnish patron, with her husband, of the arts and architecture. The exhibition not only provides an in-depth analysis of Artek and its 81-year-old history, but also a fascinating look at the early careers of the Aaltos and their personal and professional collaborations. Both graduated from the architecture school at the University of Technology in Helsinki: Aino Marsio graduated in a class with several other woman, while Finland had the largest number of university-trained female architects in the world in the first half of the 20th century. The couple’s early training can be seen in sketchbooks showing the rigorous curriculum that required them to learn the history of architecture, ornament, and furniture. Other drawings from the Alvar Aalto Archive illustrate their shared practice, as well as Aalto’s knowledge of furniture history and early interest in the leg form later explored in his bentwood furniture. Another theme of the exhibition is the Aaltos’ interaction with other important contemporary European architects and designers, which occurred after Alvar became a member of the International Congress of Modern Architects in 1929; they also frequently traveled to Germany, France, and Holland before World War II. Their international network included Le Corbusier; architect and Bauhaus director Walter Gropius; and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, an artist and Bauhaus teacher who visited the Aaltos and whom Stritzler-Levine describes as “perhaps the most critical for the Aaltos’ formation as modern architects. Moholy-Nagy and Alvar Aalto enjoyed a friendship that inspired creativity for both of them, though Moholy’s impact on Aalto and eventually on Artek was perhaps more visible.” Standardization—a concept she said largely derived from modern architecture in Germany and was later adopted by Aalto and Artek—“was a socially and economically driven notion that extended from architecture to interior fittings and drawings.” A beautiful section of the exhibition uses reproductions of period photography; glass; textiles; and paintings and sculpture by Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec, Leger and others to illustrate how the first Artek store, which opened in 1936 in central Helsinki, functioned; art on display here was actually sold at the store and is on loan from the Ateneum, Helsinki’s national gallery. Other sections of the exhibition explore Artek’s participation in exhibitions, including world’s fairs, in Paris in 1937 and New York in 1939; Artek’s vast distribution network of Aalto’s furniture, extending from retailers in Europe and the United States to buyers in Africa and Latin America, reached by licensees; U.S. interiors decorated with Artek furniture, depicted in photographs by Ezra Stoller and others; and post-World War II works by Artek and Aalto, including the 1946-49 Baker House Dormitory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Aalto’s most significant U.S. project and a commission he received when he was a visiting professor of architecture there. The exhibition fittingly closes with door handles designed by Aalto in the mid-1950’s for several buildings in Helsinki that are now in Finnish collections. “From the moment you touch the handle, you’re into Aalto’s universe,” said Stritzler-Levine, much the way the exhibition magically introduces visitors to this.
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Once again, top-drawer design talents—Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Konstantin Grcic, Ingo Maurer, Nendo, and Daniel Libeskind among them—claimed the limelight at the last Salone del Mobile. More than 300,ooo attendees navigated the halls of the Rho exhibition center, while closer to the center of Milan, satellite shows and exhibitions drew crowds to more avant-garde events. Here's a selection of our favorite pieces. Rival Artek While created as a work chair for the home office, this swiveling seat has a distinctive presence. Fabricated of birch, in high- and low-back styles; leather and fabric upholstery. Designed by Konstantin Grcic. Flying Flames Ingo Maurer Repositionable downlights and dimmable LED “candles” are held by magnets to a ceiling-mounted canopy that contains an integrated electronic ballast. Designed by Moritz Waldemeyer and Ingo Maurer and team. SU Collection Emeco These simple stools are offered with seats of reclaimed oak, recycled polyethylene, or an eco-friendly “concrete” material, atop legs of anodized aluminum or wooden legs. Designed by Nendo. 22nd Floor Moroso Folded steel and aluminum comprise an all-in-one seating and table unit. Varying the palette of textiles and surface materials creates a custom design. Designed by Tord Boontje. Carbon Fiber Chair Coalesse Weighing less than five pounds and capable of supporting 300 pounds, this stacking chair takes full advantage of the technical properties of carbon fiber. Designed by Michael Young. Shanty Summer BD Barcelona Design Each of the corrugated door panels fronting this cabinet opens in a different direction. Available in several color schemes. Designed by Doshi Levien. Paul Smith & Maharam Carl Hansen & Son Modern classics including the Wing Chair, the Shell Chair, CH28, and the CH163 sofa all receive the signature striped treatment. Textiles by Paul Smith & Maharam; chair designed by Hans Wegner. Paragon Artemide A body of extruded aluminum in matte black or anodized grey finishes, this blade-like floor fixture uses a dimmable LED lamp. Designed by Daniel Libeskind. N=N05 Casamania Breaking apart the components of a traditional sofa, this chair’s seat and backrest float separately, but are linked together by a thin exposed framework. The integral side table is made of ash wood. Designed by Luca Nichetto and Nendo. Big Will Magis This wheeled work or dining table extends to seat eight. The witty wheel-like pair of legs slide for easy expansion. Designed by Philippe Starck. Tuareg Foscarini This tubular fixture’s three LED light sources adjust 360 degrees and can be operated independently, allowing it to be used as a reading lamp, wall lamp, or floor lamp. Designed by Ferruccio Laviani.
On September 6, 2013, Vitra announced it acquired Artek. The Finnish furniture company was established in 1935 by architect Alvar Aalto, his wife Aino, Maire Gullichsen, and historian Nils-Gustav Hahl to produce furniture that promoted modern living. Over the company’s last 80 years, it has expanded its business to include rights to Ilmari Tapiovaara’s furniture collection and collaborations with renowned designers and artists such as Shigeru Ban, Eero Aarnio, and Enzo Mari. Artek will continue operations as a separate entity but it is anticipated the purchase will expand the furniture company’s reach further beyond Finland, where contract and residential domestic sales account for 60 percent of its business. “The international dimension, which was a clear goal already in Artek’s founding manifesto of 1935, needed to be revitalized,” said Artek’s CEO Mirkku Kullberg in a statement. “That arena is where we want to be and alliances or ownership arrangements are one way of building the future.” As synergies between the two companies are explored, Vitra will support Artek’s ongoing production of Aalto’s iconic lighting and furniture designs. “The Finnish design company is more than a collection of furniture; like Vitra it is a commercial-cultural project which plays an avant-garde role in its sector,” said Rolf Fehlbaum, a member of Vitra’s Board of Directors, in a statement. “For Vitra it is important that Artek can continue and further develop this role.” Vitra endeavors like the Vitra Design Museum, workshops, publications, and special collections and archives could be influential outlets for collaboration between the companies. For the last 20 years, Artek has been owned by Proventus, a privately held European capital development firm. Currently owned by Robert Weil, the company was established in Stockholm in 1969. Over the last 40 years, the investment firm has concentrated on the business of cultural institutions such as the Jewish Theatre in Stockholm, the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company, and Culture without Borders.
New York's inaugural design week, held from May 10 through 21, was a comprehensive, two-week celebration of all things design across Manhattan island, as well as parts of Brooklyn. Showcasing the latest from industry stalwarts to emerging and independent designers—local, domestic, and international—AN culled its top picks of New York Design Week products from the ICFF show floor, Wanted Design exhibitions, showroom launches, and all events in between. The Low Collection 13&9 Design The multidisciplinary Austrian design studio debuted at Wanted Design with a collection of furniture, wearable fashion and accessories, a cinematic video, and a music album. With the Low Collection (pictured above), Corian is formed into several seating styles that combine with storage vessels, all at ground level. Suitable for outdoors, furniture heights can be modified to generate a unique landscape. Cartesian Chair Alexander Purcell Rodrigues Named for Descartes's coordinate system, the Cartesian chair is made from aircraft-grade aluminum with an anodized finish for extreme durability. Mathematically generated, subtle texture on the back is realized via parametric design tools. Stool 60 Special Editions Artek Originally designed by Alvar Aalto in 1933, Artek celebrates 80 years of production with special updates by guest designers including Mike Meiré, Tom Dixon, Commes des Garcons, Mads Norgaard, and Nao Tamura. Special Edition by Brooklyn-based designer Tamura features screen-printed tree rings directly onto the seat to unify the lifespan of a tree with the longevity of Stool 60. Regent Street Mirror Avenue Road Debuting its second collection with Avenue Road, Yabu Pushelberg launched seven new pieces with its production partner for 2013. Regent Street is a full length dressing mirror with a functional, glass-topped shelf, supported by a polished nickel frame. Minikitchen Boffi Made from Corian with a solid teak chopping board, Boffi's mobile, outdoor kitchen unit can be repositioned easily on swiveling castors. It also features space for a mini-refrigerator, small cutlery drawers, electrical appliance sockets, and a pull-out worktop. Maharam Shell Chair Project Carl Hansen Carl Hansen has collaborated with Maharam textiles on the Maharam Shell Chair Project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of CH07's design. For this special collection, 20 of Wegner's Shell Chairs will feature a range of re-edition designs from Wiener Werksẗatte and Alexander Girard, as well as collaborations with Hella Jongerius and Paul Smith. Tuareg Foscarini The frame of Ferruccio Laviani's Tuareg floor lamp is marked by three metal tubes that house fully adjustable LED light sources. At 82 inches in height and 50 inches in width, it is available in Orange and Black. Curl Luceplan Industrial designer Sebastian Bergne designed Curl with adjustable white, LED technology which allows users to change the light temperature quickly and easily. And with no established base, the fixture can be set in any position for endless configurations of ambient light. Pleat Box Marset Featured in the "Design: Istanbul–Turkey" showcase at Wanted Design, the Pleat Box lighting pendant is designed by Mashallah Design in collaboration with Barcelona ceramicist Xavier Mañosa. Recycling various enamels produces a white ceramic, brown, black, terracotta or gray exterior and is finished with a glossy white or gold interior. Røros Tweed Blanket Snøhetta Debuting this spring, Mountainfold, Color Noise, and Islandskap are Snøhetta-conceived patterns on Norwegian-manufactured Røros Tweed. On Mountainfold, the design was derived from the famous mountain peak in Dovre, Norway (and the firm's namesake), and is available in six colorways. Heze Trove Geometric, circular patterns are rendered in blurred strokes on wood veneer, matte foil wallpaper, PVC-free Type II Redeux, embossed Type II Marquee, or in bamboo and rice textures for windows. A 12-foot by 67-inch panel shows no vertical repeats. Exquisite Wink Wolf-Gordon For its booth at ICFF, Wolf-Gordon commissioned 10 leading designers and artists to demonstrate the benefits of Wink, a clear, dry-erase coating that can be applied to any smooth surface. Featured sketches and designs in the "Exquisite" installation came from Snarkitecture, Ali Tayar, karlssonwilker, Michael Graves, Boym Partners, Myles Karr, and Ben Katchor.
At Artek's 75th anniversary dinner last week, we heard the news that the Finnish furniture company had acquired the entire share capital of compatriot company Aero Design Furniture (ADF) from owner Juhani Lemmetti, allowing Artek to begin selling the full Ilmari Tapiovaara family of furniture owned by ADF. An admirer of Artek founder Alvar Aalto, Tapiovaara also used architecture as the foundation for his work and his pieces will be a great complement to Artek's line. With the launch of Artek USA earlier this year and expansion in Europe and Japan, the company is poised to help the Tapiovaara collection find new admirers as well. In other Nordic news, Artek's creative director Ville Kokkonen will be taking part in the Nordic Design Now design symposium at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum on Wednesday, November 10th and Thursday, November 11th at 7:00 p.m. The symposium includes two panel discussions, Social Awareness & Sustainability and Design Policy: Lessons Learned, co-presented by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and Scandinavia House, and are held in conjunction with two exhibits: National Triennial 2010: Why Design Now? at Cooper-Hewitt, and Nordic Models + Common Ground at Scandinavia House.