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The World of Charles and Ray Eames

Make a list of books
Develop a curiosity
Look at things as though for the first time
Think of things in relation to each other
Always think of the next larger thing
Avoid the ‘pat’ answer – the formula
Avoid the preconceived idea
Study well objects made past recent and ancient but never without the technological and social conditions responsible
Prepare yourself to search out the true need – physical, psychological
Prepare yourself to intelligently fill that need
The art is not something you apply to your work
The art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude towards it
Advice to students, Charles Eames – January 1949

As we prepare for the opening of The World of Charles and Ray Eames, exhibition curator Catherine Ince introduces the life and work of the two designers and their lasting impact on design and architecture.

‘Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important designers of the twentieth century. They are widely celebrated for their extraordinary work at the Eames Office, a ‘laboratory’ where, together with their collaborators and staff, they produced an array of pioneering and influential projects.

The output of the Eames Office is characterized for most people by designs for furniture and products, yet the Eameses’ avid interest in addressing the needs of any given problem led them to design and communicate using a wide variety of tools and media. The range of their projects would astonish even the most interdisciplinary of practitioners today – from architecture, furniture, graphics and product design to painting, drawing, film, sculpture, photography, multimedia installations and exhibitions, as well as new models for education. Charles and Ray Eames moved fluidly between the mass production of objects for everyday use and the transmission of ideas through exhibition, film or installation, in anticipation of the global ‘information age’. They were driven by philosophical ideals that favoured knowledge, discovery and discipline; embraced the potential of technology and science for the common good; and saw no separation between life and work. The Eames Office itself was a site of experimentation – a testing ground – where the Eameses and their staff continually challenged themselves to tackle new subjects, materials and approaches.

The exhibition and accompanying publication The World of Charles and Ray Eames present a complex portrait of the formidable couple and their collaborators. It is the first major exhibition in the UK in fifteen years to showcase the work of Charles and Ray Eames, offering an opportunity to re-examine their work and legacy, and the legacy of post-war modernism. It is apposite that this exhibition should take place at Barbican Art Gallery. In the past decade, the gallery’s exhibitions have illuminated the work of leading figures and movements in the fields of architecture and design, including Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas (OMA/Progress), the Bauhaus, Pop art and design and, most recently, Constructing Worlds, which explored photography’s relationship to architecture. Within the context of the multidisciplinary venue of the Barbican Centre, where the visual arts, dance, film, music and theatre happily coexist, the gallery has a history of mounting exhibitions that probe interdisciplinary practice and explore the cross-pollination of ideas across mediums. The World of Charles and Ray Eames extends this trajectory; for the Eameses themselves, design was not a contained practice but rather a way of life.’

The World of Charles and Ray Eames is open from 21 October–14 February 2015

The World of Charles and Ray Eames exhibition catalogue is edited by Catherine Ince with Lotte Johnson. Available to purchase online and in the Art Gallery Shop for £45.

Browse our Art Gallery exhibition catalogues on the Barbican Shop.



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Spreads from The World of Charles and Ray Eames (2015), co-published by Barbican Art Gallery and Thames & Hudson Ltd, designed by John Morgan studio.

All images reproduced here courtesy and copyright Eames Office, LLC.

The World of Charles and Ray Eames, developed in collaboration with the Eames Office, is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

One Comment

Paramount Interiors

What a great piece of writing on two great designers. We loved how you focused on their range of work which showcases the abundance of talent they had.

We are currently doing a design icons series on our blog, having already featured the brilliant Zaha Hadid. Our design manager has chosen Charles and Ray Eames as his design icons and we have produced this piece on them. We would love to hear what you think of it!

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