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George Nelson's bold look went beyond future schlock

Blaming Nelson for the soullessness of today's open-plan offices seems as unfair as slating Le Corbusier for other architects' sloppily designed skyscrapers, or Marcel Duchamp for every lazy piece of conceptual art. Yet his association with something that's become synonymous with corporate monotony is one reason why Nelson's role in mid-20th century design has been eclipsed by those of his peers, such as Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and R. Buckminster Fuller.

The Vitra Design Museum at Weil am Rhein in Germany hopes to redress this by celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nelson's birth with a retrospective of his work, opening Sept. 13. "Although Nelson was one of the most important American designers and design writers, it's almost as if we are introducing him in Europe and reintroducing him in the U.S.," said Jochen Eisenbrand, the exhibition's curator. "Most people, even those interested in design, may not know much more about him than a few design classics."

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