Early Furniture by George Nakashima, 1936-1956 – The Architect Designs, the much-anticipated historic exhibit of early works by legendary furniture craftsman George Nakashima (1905-1990), opens Friday, October 9 and continues through December 24, 2009 at Moderne Gallery. The Early Nakashima Furniture exhibit is a featured presentation of the annual DesignPhiladelphia celebration.
George Nakashima – Long Chair, 1951
As an added feature of the exhibit: Mira Nakashima will debut her new line of furniture called “Shoki’ (show-kee), meaning “Early Years” – desks and tables produced from recently discovered drawings by her father. Several of these drawings will also be on display at the exhibit.
One of the truly formative furniture designers of the 20th Century, George Nakashima led the way and influenced all who came after him by forging a unique and unprecedented body of work. He is a central figure in “reinventing design” in the 20th Century.
Focusing on the master craftsman’s development during the first 20 years of his oeuvre, the groundbreaking exhibit Early Furniture by George Nakashima, 1936-1956 – The Architect Designs at Moderne Gallery promises to make a major contribution to the field, tracing the developments of George Nakashima’s early years as he began to form his unique vision. While many people know Nakashima’s mature work, the striking natural wood forms with raw edges and organic shapes, few are aware of his beginnings and the evolutionary thinking that informed his original woodworking.
“I have been collecting early Nakashima pieces for more than 10 years in anticipation of this project and we are receiving important loans from museums, private collectors, and the Nakashima family for the exhibit,” says Robert Aibel. “I want to show the evolution of George Nakashima’s thought processes and designs for studio craft furniture so people can understand its importance.” While numerous items in the “Early Furniture” exhibit will be on loan, many pieces will be available for purchase.
Trained as an architect, Nakashima produced work in this early period that laid the foundation for his transformation into a master woodworker and furniture designer. “Early Furniture by George Nakashima, 1936-1956: The Architect Designs” provides an insightful understanding of the innovative furniture designs that led to Nakashima’s initial success and to his international recognition in the worlds of art and design, during his lifetime and since his death in 1990.
Furnishings on display reflect Nakashima’s years working in Japan, India, and eventually New Hope, PA. These include pieces designed for Andre Ligne in Seattle in 1941, prototypes designed for Rene d’ Harnoncourt of the Museum of Modern Art in 1943-44, and furniture made in 1938 for Golconde in India. During these years, most of Nakashima’s pieces were unique, custom works. As such, they provided a base for the development of designs for the more standardized catalogues of the 1960’s – 80’s.
“It is very exciting to be able to look at the early ‘restrained’ work and see how George was beginning to articulate a new vocabulary of design that didn’t exist before him,” says Aibel. “This exhibit will bring together pieces that have only rarely been seen by the public, and together they will tell a new story.”
Aibel is often credited with initiating the broad revival of interest in Nakashima’s work and encouraging George’s daughter, Mira, to publicize and further develop her own line of furniture at the Nakashima Studio in New Hope, PA. Over the years he has developed a national and international following among designers, architects, collectors and museums and has become a frequent source for journalists.
Aibel’s ongoing scholarship, his highly respected market knowledge of 20th – 21st Century decorative arts and aesthetics, and his enthusiasm for sharing information have led to an active role as a lecturer, consultant and appraiser. Aibel contributed an essay to the renowned Krosnick auction catalogue at Sotheby’s in 2006 and has written hundreds of Nakashima appraisals, including several for the Nakashima family and museum exhibitions. He is a recognized aesthetic historian in the field.
Moderne Gallery has presented several important exhibits featuring Nakashima in the Philadelphia gallery including: “George Nakashima” (1992); “Zen Modernism: The Work of George Nakashima, 1955-1975” (1994); “The Nakashima Tradition: Origins and Continuity” (1998, in cooperation with Mira Nakashima-Yarnall and the Nakashima Studio); “George Nakashima: Designing Nature” (2001); and “The Nakashima Legacy” (2004 in cooperation with Mira Nakashima-Yarnall and the Nakashima Studio). The opening of this exhibit provided the national launch for Mira Nakashima’s book Nature, Form and Spirit (Abrams).
Moderne Gallery is internationally renowned for showing vintage work from the American Craft and Studio Furniture Movement, especially works by George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick, Sam Maloof and Wendell Castle, and for its extensive inventory of French Art Deco furnishings.