“Plywood,” explained Popular Science in 1948, “is a layercake of lumber and glue.” In the history of design, plywood is also an important modern material that has given 20th-century designers of everyday objects, furniture, and even architecture greater flexibility in shaping modern forms at an industrial scale. This installation features examples, drawn from MoMA's collection, of modern designs that take advantage of the formal and aesthetic possibilities offered by plywood, from around 1930 through the 1950s. Archival photographs illuminate the process of design and manufacture in plywood. Iconic furniture by Alvar Aalto, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Arne Jacobsen appear alongside organic platters by Tapio Wirkkala (1951), Sori Yanagi’s Butterfly Stool (1956), an architectural model for a prefabricated house by Marcel Breuer (1943), and experimental designs for plywood in the aeronautics industry.
Organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan O’Connor, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design.
Architecture and Design Collection Exhibitions are made possible by Hyundai Card Company.
Form really does follow function with this most mundane of materials, one that inspired modern architects and designers to transform inexpensive industrial timber into wonders of good design in the 20th century. Beginning with a brief history of the medium and process, this talk—inspired by MoMA's exhibition Plywood: Material, Process, Form—highlights classic examples by Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Sori Yanagi, among others. We will see how designers turned this laminated, low-cost product into a metaphor for modern design's utopian premise: that good design should be affordable to all.
Marianne Eggler (PhD, ABD, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York) is an art historian and a specialist in the history of modern architecture and design, particularly in Weimar-era Germany. A gallery lecturer at MoMA since 1998, she teaches art history and design history courses at The City University of New York, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Parsons The New School for Design.
Sori Yanagi. Butterfly Stool. 1956. Molded plywood and metal, 15 1/2 x 17 3/8 x 12 1/8" (39.4 x 44.1 x 30.8 cm). Manufactured by Tendo Co., Ltd., Tokyo. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer, 1958
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