The Essence of Things: Design and the Art of Reduction, on view June 24 through September 11, 2016, brings together approximately 150 objects from one hundred years of design history, ranging from humble items like flip-flops and rubber bands to high-concept living pods. Furniture, appliances, lighting, graphic design, and architecture are represented in this exhibition, which includes work by well-known historic and contemporary designers including Gerrit Rietveld, Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Ray & Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Donald Judd, Jasper Morrison, and Shigeru Ban.
"NOMA is delighted to be working in partnership with the internationally-renowned Vitra Design Museum to bring this exciting, thoughtful exhibition to New Orleans as one of only two venues in the United States," says Susan Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art. "This is NOMA's first presentation of an exhibition dedicated to 20th-century and contemporary design. It vividly demonstrates today's interconnected world of visual arts, design, media, architecture, and technology."
The Essence of Things explores how many designers embrace minimalism as a way to achieve both function and elegant aesthetics, whether they are planning a chair, an article of clothing, or the newest Smartphone. These designers operate under the idea that “good design” is when nothing can be added but also nothing can be taken away. This principle of simplicity has increasingly guided the international field of industrial design for over a century, but it manifests in a variety of ways. In concept, The Essence of Things explores these many facets of minimalism and demonstrates the disparate ways designers have sought to approach “the essential” in an object.
Introducing this exhibition is a prologue gallery featuring a surprising selection of 50 everyday objects that show a minimalist approach as the solution to a successful design. The gallery considers diverse objects including a prehistoric stone hand axe, a metal paper clip, a cardboard egg carton, a cut diamond, and an iPod shuffle. "I love how this exhibition will encourage you to think about familiar objects in a new way," says Mel Buchanan, NOMA's RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design. "Something as deceptively simple as a golf ball, a LEGO block, or a fiberglass Eames chair is the result of a designer's experimentation and calculation with both science and art."
The Essence of Things follows four large themes of “manufacture,” “function,” “aesthetics,” and “ethics,” with each large idea shown through a variety of well-known designs and products. Icons like 19th-century bentwood Thonet chairs and a clear plastic chair by French design superstar Philippe Starck are complemented with photo and video projections showing examples from related fields – graphic design, photography, painting, sculpture, architecture, landscape design, product design, fashion, food design, theater design and technology.