The modernity of the twentieth century pushed women’s design skills to the side-lines, where it has been virtually ignored by design historians and theorists.
But to address the question of gender in design in an objective and balanced manner, we first need to examine the great removal of the female gender perpetrated during the twentieth century.
Greta Grossman in her studio, next to her now iconic Cobra lamp.
Let us start with Greta Grossman. She was a relatively unknown and almost forgotten designer until her designs were rediscovered and reproduced by Gubi. She had a prolific forty-year career and established herself as a key figure during this time in both Sweden and California. During her apprenticeship in Helsingborg (furniture manufacturer), she was the only female in the workshop. Grossman recognized the drawbacks of being a female artist and stated that she felt she had, “to be a step ahead or else”. She moved to Los Angeles in 1940 and opened a highly publicized shop on Rodeo Drive. Grossman’s “Swedish modern furniture, rugs, lamps, and other home furnishings” (as billed on her business card) were the first such designs her clientele had encountered. “We can really credit her with bringing this aesthetic to America,” Snyderman explains. “At the time there were no stores selling Danish or Finnish or Swedish furniture. It was a really important bridge that she started.”
Designed in 1952, Greta Grossman’s “62-series” was named “62” for being ten years ahead of its time.
Desk, model no. 6200, Greta Magnusson-Grossman, 1952. Manufactured by Glenn of California, USA.
The most iconic products Greta Grossman designed in the 40’s and 50’s was the Gräshoppa floor lamp.
Bernice Alexandra Eames, more known as Ray Eames. She and her husband Charles Eames developed one of the most famous architecture and design firms in the post war period. Their most famous designs are the bent plywood chair, the fiberglass chair and their lounge chair. Charles was educated in architecture, and Ray had a background in painting and movie directing.
An example of undermining Ray’s role in her partnership happened in the British Society of Artists and Designers award, where rewarded Charles for his projects and contributions with a medal, while Ray presented with a mere consolation prize: a rose after the medal ceremony for her husband.
And the list is almost endless, from Florence Knoll, to Meret Oppenheim, Eileen Gray…
Ray & Charles Eames. Charles Ormond Eames, Jr and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” (née Kaiser) Eames were American designers most famous for their collaborative furniture and architectural designs.
Charles & Ray Eames, Eiffel Tower Chair photograph, circa 1951.
Vitra – La Chaise – Charles and Ray Eames.
The same issue of women in design was presented on The Ninth Edition of the Triennale Design Museum curated by Silvana Annicchiarico, with installation design by Margherita Palli, examines Italian design in the light of one its most delicate, most problematic aspects – but also one of the most exciting and appealing, which is that of gender.
The idea that gender is no longer just a biological and natural fact, but rather a cultural issue opens up interesting perspectives for what design after design might be. The Triennale Design Museum celebrates women as the new creative force behind a form of design that is less high-handed, less authoritarian, more spontaneous and more dynamic.
Ultimately it wonders if this new affirmation of women will prove to be one of the top aspects of “design after design.”
The exhibition is divided into three sections. In the first we can explores women’s creativity in work that has been in domain of women since forever, like weaving.
In the second room there is the main scene with all the industrial or handicraft design artifacts out by women’s minds, that characterized the production of the twentieth century and early twenty-first.
Then we moves to the last room illustrating the core theme of the studies on different brain perceptions in female and male subjects.
Triennale Design Museum celebrates the feminine as the new creative subject of a less assertive design, less authoritarian, more spontaneous, more dynamic through 650 works of 400 designers. If you hurry, you can still see the exhibition in Milano, since it is on display until 17th of February.
The exhibition does not impose opinion, neither draws any conclusions. But it opens many questions and basically that is one of the reasons why it is worth visiting it.
By Katja Butala, official site Triennale Di Milano. Photos: Pinterets, personal archive.