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The Beat #9: The Mid-Century Modern Issue

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Topics: Arts & Architecture, Isamu Noguchi, Eileen Gray, Case Study Houses

Illustrations by Greg Chinn at The Local Brand Co.

B is for Bauhaus! Your friendly neighborhood Beat staff have a longstanding affinity for the Modernist movement in all its forms — design and architecture, art, film, music. Illustrator Greg Chinn even created the hit Modernist Alphabet Flashcards as a fun and informative primer to the movement. Next week we’ll watch modernism hit the suburbs. This week…

Arts & Architecture

From 1945 to 1967, Arts & Architecture defined the cultural cutting edge. The go-to for the latest in not only the titular art and architecture but also societal issues in housing, education and segregation, this publication was as intelligent as it was beautiful. Showcasing the likes of Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner and many more, this publication brought West Coast design to the world… and the world took notice. It’s thanks to Arts & Architecture that we have the famed Case Study Houses (see below), and that American mid-century modern design came to be the force it remains today.

Isamu Noguchi

The son of Japanese poet Yone Noguchi and American editor Leonie Gilmour, Isamu Noguchi would become one of the most important American sculptors, designers and multidisciplinary artists of the 20th century — despite experiencing internment as a Japanese-American during World War II and enduring the long-term effects wrought by systemic American racism. Perhaps best known for his shapely lamps and light fixtures, he was a sculptor of incredible subtlety and depth. As a designer, he created baby monitors for Zenith, tables for Herman Miller and stage sets for Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. Noguchi was truly a poet with stone, and you can see much of his work today at The Noguchi Museum in Long Island, New York.

Eileen Gray

With a long and eclectic career, Eileen Gray is the dark horse of the modern movement. She first came to renown in the early 1900s as a sought-after designer of art deco lacquer screens and decorative panels. Always one to push boundaries, she actually caused a Parisian riot exhibiting a white-lacquered boudoir in 1923. Gray went on to lead the pack in new furniture design with pieces like her 1926 Bibendum chair (in Greg’s illustration), Transat chair and graphic rugs. But, it was her foray into architecture that has had one of the most lasting and interesting impacts on design. Her famous E-1027 villa on the French Riviera is a modernist’s sugar cube dream of long white lines, angles and glass. And although her friend Le Corbusier would go on to paint some garish murals in it after her death, and it would face other challenges over the decades, the house remains her most visible legacy.

Case Study Houses

Only 36 were designed, fewer were built and just over 20 remain scattered over California and Arizona, but the Case Study Houses are some of the most influential and immediately recognizable structures to come from midcentury modernism. The Case Study House program began in Arts & Architecture magazine as an initiative to create low-cost, modern home prototypes — an effort to bring new design to everyone. Charles and Ray Eames (whose house is our illustration), Richard Neutra, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen and Raphael Soriano were some of the architects who brought these houses to life, while photographer Julius Shulman brought them into the American imagination. The most famous Case Study houses include the Stahl House (#22) in West Hollywood, the colorful Eames House (#8) and Soriano’s steel-framed CSH 1950 house in Pacific Palisades. Each one is a look back at an optimistic vision for the future.


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