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The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art Presents Marcel Breuer: Design and Architecture
Saint John's Abbey and university complex, Collegeville, Minnesota, Marcel Breuer in front of the church under construction, ca. 1961. Photo: Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co. (Marcel Breuer Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.)

PROVIDENCE, RI.- As a designer and architect, Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) can be regarded as one of the most influential and important designers of the 20th century. As a young student at the Bauhaus Weimar, Breuer, who was Hungarian by birth, was noticed for various furniture designs inspired by the Dutch De Stijl group. In 1925, at the age of only 23, he “invented” tubular steel furniture, a revolutionary development considered to be his core contribution to the history of design. The form now holds a place among the great classics of modernism. Opening on April 17, 2009 Marcel Breuer: Design and Architecture is the first exhibition to treat all facets of Marcel Breuer’s work with equal weight, from the highly innovative furniture he produced as both a student and teacher at the famed Bauhaus, to the elegant but modestly scaled houses he created after moving to the United States, to the large-scale governmental and institutional buildings he eventually designed for major cities around the world. Developed by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the exhibition traces several themes that connect the apparently diverse elements of this prolific and influential designer’s portfolio. The exhibition has been touring Europe since 2002 and makes its second North American and exclusive Northeastern stop at the The RISD Museum of Art from Friday, April 17, through Sunday, July 19, 2009.

Twelve models—produced exclusively for this exhibition—will highlight Breuer’s extensive architectural work from single-family houses to major religious, cultural, and civic institutions. In addition, drawings, floor plans, photographs, video projections, and interactive computer terminals will shed light on Breuer’s long and varied architectural career.

Breuer’s furniture has become symbolic of modern design. His "Cesca" and "Wassily" chairs, for instance, with their characteristic tubular steel armatures, have become staples of contemporary living and working environments all over the world. By virtue of his innovative furniture alone, Breuer could be ranked among the most influential designers of the modernist period. This retrospective of Breuer's prolific and varied career offers a balanced exploration of his furniture, interiors, and buildings, revealing that he was a powerful force in the architectural theory and practice of his era.

The exhibition opens with a section entitled Materials, which chronicles Breuer's use of various materials—most notably tubular steel—in his furniture design. Featuring more than 50 original pieces, as well as drawings and photographs of his designs, this section reveals his explorations in solid wood, steel, aluminum, and even plywood. Breuer's architectural works are presented in three sections: Houses, Spaces, and Volumes.

The Houses component includes examples of the often modest yet consistently innovative single-family houses that brought him critical acclaim; Spaces presents Breuer's four churches as examples of his masterful manipulation of structure and light; and Volumes offers a corollary analysis of his compositional skill. Twelve large-scale models of his buildings, along with drawings, floor plans, photographs, video projections, and digital media, help to illustrate the scope of Breuer's architectural legacy.

The exhibition closes with a section entitled Motifs, which presents central elements and themes in Breuer's designs. Throughout his career, Breuer experimented with and reinterpreted motifs such as protrusion, horizontal bands, and reclining rectangles in his furniture and architectural designs.

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