All I knew about the Eames was chairs: clean and sleek Mad Men chairs, 1970s Woody Allen psychotherapist chairs, molded plywood and leather chairs with a matching ottoman to boot, a knock-off of which is sitting in my living room, and rather comfortable. So, I was expecting to find a gallery of untouchable Herman Millers, seen below, glowingly alongside one another at the A+D Museum’s “Eames Words” exhibition …
I was wrong. The exhibition is not about pristine finished products, but process: an open notebook of potential or valuing the curious aesthetic of simple objects, identifying the ultimate power of use and constraint.
“Art is not a word Charles [Eames] liked or used.” Deborah Sussman, who spearheaded the project, explains. A quote by him on the wall supports this statement: “I don’t believe in this gifted few concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.”
Charles and Ray Eames did not just make chairs.
They were collaborators and lovers who moved to Los Angeles from Michigan while on their honeymoon. They were broke, but luckily— they were also creative: she an abstract painter who, like Lee Krasner, studied under Hans Hofman, and he, an architect/builder.
Both saw traveling as an adventure, stopping their car to pick up tumbleweeds along the way.
Once here, they lived in a modest apartment, with a spare room which doubled as a workspace, where they experimented with malleable plywood, to suit their design needs, such as splints for the military, and eventually the shape of chairs. But first, they hung the tumbleweeds inside their home, from the ceiling, for decoration, but more so, for inspiration and play.
Sussman notes the tumbleweeds above our heads in the museum.
The tone of the show is palpable: when art’s intention resides only inside a white-walled gallery, then it has lost its full identity. There is art in everyday objects, which also, when used to their fullest capacity, house history and/or passion, illuminating an otherwise empty plain space.
The items on display say it all. The Eames embraced materials: shape and form, boundaries— how we, as humans, are tethered to objects, in a primitively functional way, and how “art” can be our own intrinsic enjoyment of this tethering.
The above quote from Charles Eames resonates with me the most. Anytime you engage in materials, you engage in the pleasure of constraints. For example, an oil painting is only allowed to be an oil painting. A chair can only be a chair. Restriction narrows choice, but it also gives us the freedom to focus, allowing our thoughts to creatively flow through the fabric, in a distinctly unique way. Because performance or experiential art does not always necessitate materials to limit, we often see this idea of constraint expressed primarily through the use of rules in relation to the body.
Starting in 1991, Andrea Zittel constructed and wore “6-month uniforms” hoping an imposed restriction on dress would eliminate wasted time, allowing her to concentrate on other, more important, areas of her life. Zittel notes, “People say my work is all about control, but it’s not, really … I am always looking for the gray area between freedom—which can sometimes feel too open-ended and vast—and security—which may easily turn into confinement.”
In 1997, from December 8th to the 14th, Sophie Calle, in an attempt to embody Paul Auster’s fictional character that is based on the artist herself, restricted her diet to a monochromatic one. She ate only one single color each day. For instance, Saturday was dedicated to the consumption of pink foods and drinks.
In 2010, Marina Abramovic sat in MoMA’s atrium. With an empty chair across from her, she welcomed visitors to the table. Her piece, titled “The Artist is Present” demanded Abramovic to sit silently for the museum’s entire business hours, throughout the entire run of the show, totaling around 716 hours.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs calls his limited wardrobe of black turtlenecks and Levi jeans a “daily convenience” and “signature style”— emblematic of the Apple brand itself: simple design choice amidst a confusing array of information.
Like the tumbleweeds which the Eames picked up along the highway, some objects have the potential to conceptually emerge from their initial usefulness into decor or cultural artifact, while still maintaining a certain external integrity of shape and form.
It’s actually romantic— the medium as a constraint, the body as a medium of constraint, and how, as creative people, the Eames allowed these two constraints to meet … to service one another. This sounds really sexual, and maybe it should. Creative endeavors are intimate relationships with material and limitation, full of complex human needs and deficiencies.
Not too unlike Charles and Ray Eames, generations of other artists such as Calle, Abramovic, Zittel, and Jobs play with these boundaries in a similar way— as an unspoken contract: how we try and touch other people, comfortably or uncomfortably, and how we manage to hold this touching, these findings. Maybe Charles Eames explains it best when he says, “Eventually everything connects - people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.”
The Eames did not just make chairs. They made each day an artful discovery.
Catch “EAMES WORDS” at A+D before it closes on January 16, 2012.
Stacy Elaine Dacheux is a writer & artist. She lives in Los Angeles and co-edits Slack Lust with Paris Lia. In her spare time, she works on her novel and translates handwritten letters into abstract paintings.
***Photography notes: Eames chair image, Ray & Charles Eames holding hands image, Zittel’s dresses image, Calle’s monochromatic meals image, Abramovic’s image, and Steve Jobs’ image were found via an Internet search and collected into the piece to illustrate concepts. All rights to these images are reserved for the original photographers who took them. No profit is turned from its usage here. If you own one of these pieces and want it removed, please contact us and we will oblige. All other photographs were taken by Stacy Elaine Dacheux at the A+D Eames exhibit in Los Angeles, CA.