February 1, 1999 Eames Exhibition to Open at Library of Congress May 20

Press Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Public Contact: (202) 707-4604

A major exhibition on the work of American designers Charles and Ray Eames will open at the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building on May 20. The exhibition is the first posthumous retrospective of the Eameses' work and brings together the sources of their inspiration, the personal documents of their lives, and the finished products of their genius.

"The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention" was organized by the Library of Congress, in partnership with the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, where the exhibition had its premiere. The exhibition will be open Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition closes on September 4.

Charles (1907-1978) and Ray (1912-1988) Eames were a husband-and-wife design team whose work had a profound influence on the latter half of the 20th century, both in the United States and throughout the world. They are perhaps best known for the form-fitting chairs that were produced using the mass-production techniques they invented. But they also designed and created buildings, toys, films, multimedia presentations, exhibitions, and books, including more than 50 projects for IBM, such as the IBM Pavilion for the 1964 New York World's Fair.

More than 500 items from the designers' vast body of work have been selected for exhibition. These materials come primarily from three major sources: photographs, drawings, and documents from the Library's collection of more than 1 million items donated by Ray Eames in 1988; furniture from the collections of the Vitra Design Museum; and personal items on temporary loan from Lucia Eames, daughter of Charles Eames, and from the Eameses' Office. The Library's installation will be unique, featuring material that will be displayed at no other venue due to the fragility of the artifacts. Among the special items will be: three-dimensional models; drawings representing the full range of the Eameses' work in architecture and interior design; graphic design collages and textile sketches; and hand-painted Christmas cards by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Josef Albers.

The exhibition is organized in five sections: "Furniture," "Space," "Beauty," "Culture," and "Science," with a sixth section devoted to the personal stories of these remarkable individuals. The exhibition integrates artifacts, photographs, films, and video interviews in a comprehensive examination of the design team's intellectual foundations and creative evolution.

Charles and Ray Eames witnessed firsthand many of the momentous events of the 20th century, such as the Depression and World War II. Their lives and work encompassed some of this country's defining social movements: the emerging importance of America's West Coast, the rise of corporate and industrial America, and the global expansion of American culture. Providing the basic human needs of shelter, comfort, and knowledge was at the core of the Eameses' philosophy of design. In a rare era of shared objectives, the Eameses were partners with the federal government and the country's top businesses in leading the charge to modernize postwar America.

In order to understand the processes that led to the Eameses' achievements, the exhibition focuses on the challenges posed to them by clients such as the Herman Miller Furniture Company, IBM, Westinghouse, Boeing, and Polaroid, as well as problems they posed to themselves: how to produce affordable, high-quality furniture; how to build economical, well-designed space for living and working; how to help people see beauty in the everyday; how to help Americans and other cultures understand each other; and how to make fundamental scientific principles accessible to lay people.

The section of the exhibition devoted to "Furniture" features prototypes, experiments, and promotional graphics, as well as examples of the four types of chairs that the Eameses designed for Herman Miller: molded plywood, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, bent and welded-wire mesh, and cast aluminum. This section also includes advertisements, comics, and other ephemera that trace the visual history of the chairs as they echoed through the media of popular culture.

The "Space" section examines the Eameses' contribution to America's postwar need for mass-produced housing, including their own steel-and-glass home in Los Angeles and the office they created in a converted automobile garage. A model of the house, a filmed walk-through of the house, and decorative objects collected by the Eameses during their world travels also are displayed.

The Eameses' ability to recognize beauty in everyday occurrences or objects is the subject of a section titled "Beauty" that features screenings of Eames films and slide shows, as well as Ray's sculpture. Charles heard the music of Bach in the splash of soapy water on an asphalt schoolyard and made the film "Blacktop." Ray saw elegance in the shape of a utilitarian leg splint and made beautiful sculptures.

"Culture" features screenings of "Glimpses of the U.S.A.," a seven-screen film created for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow, as well as objects collected during their travels, especially from India.

"Science" focuses on the films they created, including the famous "Powers of Ten," a film that presents the relative size of things from the cosmic to the microscopic. Research notes, correspondence, animation cells, and production materials are displayed.

In addition to the Eameses' films, the exhibition will feature video oral histories with friends, family, and colleagues. The exhibition's media components are produced by Eames Demetrios, Charles's grandson.

Funding for the exhibition was provided by the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), Herman Miller Inc., and Vitra AG. Additional support was provided by CCI Inc. and the Eames Office, which also contributed ideas, expertise, and creativity.

A catalog, published in English by Harry N. Abrams, N.Y., and in German by Ernst & Sohn, Berlin, accompanies the exhibit. It includes essays by Donald Albrecht (director of the exhibition and the catalog's editor), Beatriz Colomina, Joseph Giovannini, Alan Lightman, Helene Lipstadt, and Philip and Phylis Morrison. Responsibility for concept development was shared by Donald Albrecht and Hodgetts + Fung Design Associates, in collaboration with the organizing institutions. The exhibition was designed by Hodgetts + Fung Design Associates. For the Library of Congress, the exhibition was developed by the Interpretive Programs Office, headed by Irene Chambers. After the exhibition opens, an electronic version will be available on the Library's Web site (www.loc.gov).

The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention
(Dates are tentative and schedule is subject to change)
As of January 26, 1999


Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.
May 20 - September 4, 1999

Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum
New York, NY
October 12, 1999 - January 9, 2000

St Louis Art Museum
St Louis, Missouri
February 19 - May 14, 2000

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
June 25 - September 11, 2000

Pacific Science Center
Seattle, Washington (12 weeks)
December 2000 - March 2001


The exhibition is scheduled to travel to Japan and to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, after it completes its U.S. tour.


PR 99-011
ISSN 0731-3527