Alexandra Lange | Essays

On Design Observer: Girard + Folk Art

As faithful readers of this blog know, I had hoped to be writing a monograph on Alexander Girard right now. A minor figure in my dissertation, and in many histories of mid-century modernism, Girard fascinates me as an architect who refused to play the skyscraper game, focusing his considerable talents on restaurants, textiles, exhibitions and murals. His work looks exuberant and sometimes kitschy, but it always has an underlying geometric rigor.

One of his greatest works is the mural he designed for Eero Saarinen's John Deere headquarters, which I believe originated an idea of three-dimensional display usually credited to the Eameses.

Today on Design Observer, I have published a fragment of my future book, There's No Place Like Work, Designing with Folk Art. This essay also appears in the catalog for an exhibition of Girard's work at the New Mexico State University Art Gallery, Modern Design/Folk Art.

An excerpt, on Girard's New York work for MoMA and the short-lived design store Textiles & Objects.
George Nelson's 1953 book Display reserved special praise for Girard's 1953 Good Design exhibit at MoMA:
This show is one with no backgrounds: all walls and the ceiling  have been painted black, so that they disappear; within the black  envelope the exhibits appear, set on, against, into glowing  surfaces of light.
It is clear from Nelson's description that there is a close affinity between the technique Girard developed for his history murals of the 1960s and his exhibition and showroom designs of the 1950s and 1960s. The idea of floating an object — on a rod, on a glass shelf, on mirror, on a wire — recurs again and again, as do grids of those rods, shelves and wires, creating showcases within showcases, rooms within rooms. At the MoMA, he painted walls and ceilings black, covered the floor in parts with blackened cork and even used dark flock paper on some of the inner walls of the cases. For the 1961 Textiles & Objects shop in Manhattan, Girard went in the opposite direction, making the walls, floors, and ceiling of a long, narrow storefront white and layering within them chromed 3D grids, backlit translucent shelving, fabric-covered single-leg stools, and panels of his own Herman Miller fabrics (most with a latent grid of their own). The lighting was designed to sparkle, tiny lights strung along the chrome uprights, so the stuffed and carved and painted objects within were both silhouetted and highlighted. Designer Marilyn Neuhart's embroidered dolls stood, like a line of cubby schoolgirls, across a white-painted wire rack suspended from the ceiling across the front window.
Read the rest here.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

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