Mid-century modern design enthusiasts will be lifting themselves out of their molded plywood lounge chairs and scurrying off to Oakland to immerse themselves in a fascinating exhibition about Charles and Ray Eames, the husband-and-wife team widely considered the most important designers of the 20th century.
The World of Charles and Ray Eames, open now through February 27 at the Oakland Museum of California, features more than 380 works by the couple, including rare prototypes, personal letters, photography, multimedia installations, and, of course, their iconic furniture.
"The unique collaboration between Charles and Ray Eames created a vast body of pioneering and influential work that defines the field of design as we know it," according to Carin Adams, Curator of Art and Exhibition Curator at the Oakland Museum of California. "They embraced science and new technologies, eschewed the pursuit of originality for the sake of style, and established design as a process for addressing problems."
The exhibition features four thematic sections spotlighting various stages of their careers. The first, an origin story of sorts, features California in a starring role. The Eames' designs explored new ideas, driven by their interest in problem-solving to create a better world, and California's openmindedness and creative energy served as a source of inspiraton.
The couple's Golden State ties are substantial. Ray was born in Sacramento in 1912 and met Charles in Michigan in 1940. They married the following year and moved to Los Angeles to continue their design work. The U.S. Navy commissioned the couple to help with the war effort, and they produced plywood splints and stretchers during this time.
In 1949 the couple designed and built their own home in Pacific Palisades—a groundbreaking construct known alternately as the Eames House and Case Study House No. 8—which you can visit today. Indeed, a sense of homecoming permeates The World of Charles and Ray Eames.
“The Charles and Ray Eames exhibits are on their way home, having been seen by thousands of people at several venues in Europe and more recently at The Henry Ford in Michigan," says Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, where the show originated. "I couldn’t be more delighted that their final stop will be at the Oakland Museum of California, where this fine reappraisal of their work is sure to be enjoyed by a West Coast public who have always been perfectly in sync with their democratic ethos that fuses design intelligence and boundless creativity."