A comprehensive retrospective of the work of George Nelson, one of the most influential figures in American design during the second half of the twentieth century, opened at the Powerhouse Museum
as part of Sydney Design 2013.
Developed by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher, explores the visionary work of Nelson (1908-1986) who was not only a leading designer and notable architect, but also a prominent author, editor, lecturer, exhibition designer, and a passionate photographer.
Trained as an architect with a degree from Yale, Nelson was one of the defining figures of American design in the latter half of the twentieth century. As design director of Herman Miller, Nelson created classics of modern furniture and interior design such as the Coconut Chair (1956), the Marshmallow Sofa (1956), the Ball Clock (1947), Bubble Lamps (starting in 1952) and Action Office (1964).
The products and influences of George Nelson will be more familiar to Australians than his name. It is exciting then, to bring to Australia the most comprehensive exhibition ever gathered on Nelson and his colleagues in the Nelson Studio, expertly assembled and interpreted by the Vitra Design Museum, Germany, said Powerhouse Museum curator, Paul Donnelly.
In his many essays on design, Nelson was one of the most prominent voices among his peers in reflecting on the working conditions, duties and objectives of his profession at a time when the field and its image were still in the formative years.
Nelsons conception of design as a system, his approach that went beyond mere styling and always took into consideration the greater nexus of interrelated interests and concerns as well as his achievements in the teaching of design give his work particular relevance and appeal in todays context.
The exhibition is divided into five subject areas, with numerous furnishings by Nelson from the collection of the Vitra Design Museum on display; not only many classics, but also lesser known pieces.
Nelson and the House: As an architect, designer and writer, Nelson was deeply interested in the topics of domestic living and interior furnishings. He was a pioneering planner and designer of the modern single family home during the 1940s and '50s. This section explores some of his work including the Sherman Fairchild House (New York, 1941), The House of Tomorrow (bestselling book on modern housing, 1944), the Holiday House (model vacation home for Holiday Magazine, 1950), and Experimental House (design of a modular prefabricated house, 1952-57).
Corporate Design: As design director at Herman Miller, Nelson had a major influence on the product line and public image of the company for over two decades. Here Nelson was also responsible for collaborating with many of the iconic designers of the era from Charles and Ray Eames to Alexander Girard. Brochures, advertisements and vintage audiotapes on display document the development of corporate design at Herman Miller from the mid-1940s into the 1960s.
The Office: During his tenure at Herman Miller, Nelson was a prominent innovator in the development of the modern office environment including his L-shaped desk as the forerunner of the workstation (1947), Action Office (1964), and Nelson Workspaces (1977).
Exhibition Design: Nelsons wide-ranging abilities culminated in the organisation and design of the American National Exhibition, Moscow, in 1959. Also featured in the exhibition is his work for the Chrysler Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, and for the United States Information Agency.
Nelson was also an accomplished author, editor, and one of the most important thinkers and visionaries in the realm of twentieth-century design. In addition to providing an overview of the numerous articles and books published by Nelson, this section of the exhibition reveals some of his films and slide presentations, in which he addressed the topics of urban planning, consumerism, and aesthetic perception in Western society.