The World of Charles and Ray Eames

Charles and Ray Eames selecting slides
Charles and Ray Eames selecting slides. © Eames Office LLC.

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Posted 19/11/15
By Rose Crosby

What could an exhibition about Charles and Ray Eames include that a trip to a high-end furniture store couldn’t? Well, if you are like me, who until very (VERY) recently knew little more of Charles and Ray Eames than 1) they were a married couple and 2) they designed some of the most famous (and comfortable) chairs to have ever been produced, then you will find this exhibition to be both informative with regard to their work in design and insightful into their ways of working both as designers and as a couple whilst living in cold-war America.

I now know that they were a light-hearted and progressive couple who’s lives revolved around creativity in many different forms. This exhibition gave a close insight into the Eameses early works within furniture (as you would expect) as well as their experience as architects through designing their own home, film makers, as a married couple (they even included the letter in which Charles tells Ray that he wants to marry her which was, as you can imagine, adorable), their links with India and, in Ray’s case, her works as an artist. The entire exhibition creating a feeling of domestic wholesomeness that reminded me of household adverts or footage from 1950s America.

The World Of Charles And Ray Eames
Installation view of the Study for a Glider Nose, 1943, Barbican Art Gallery, London
21 October 2015 – 14 February 2016, © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

The exhibition starts with their experiments with plywood and its uses for military aeroplanes, leg splints and wooden stretchers. Not to mention diagrams of their home-built ‘Kazam Machine’ that was used to heat and mould the wood.

The next part of the exhibition was my favourite. Appropriately located at the centre of the exhibition to reflect the central theme of domesticity that underpinned most of their work, (maybe not the military planes so much, but you get the idea!), was a scale model, the plans, and a selection of photographs turned into a film, from the home they built together in California. This home provided a fresh look at architecture. In a world of concrete and bricks, this home was one of the first of a series of low-cost, experimental homes and the creation of it was covered by the magazine, Arts and Architecture, in great detail. The home comprised of an impressive steel structure built to support colourful panels and windows which gave an incredibly spacious and contemporary feel, reflective of the Eameses style and the feeling of domestic optimism that swept the rest of America in the 1950s.

The World Of Charles And Ray Eames

Installation view of G.E.M slide show, Barbican Art Gallery, London
21 October 2015 – 14 February 2016, © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

The upper level of the exhibition focussed on the Eameses other creative ventures such as film making and photography, the production of the ‘Eames Lounge Chair’ that became their most famous design as well as their links with the design school in India. It also gave a wonderfully personal insight into how the Eameses were fascinated by and celebrated a variety of rituals and celebrations from around world, this was shown through a collection of masks and toys that they had amassed that ranged from Mexican skulls to Balinese gods.

The exhibition was put together wonderfully. The concrete, industrial feel of the Barbican in contrast with bright fibreglass chairs, a multicoloured giant musical xylophone (I wont say any more about that as I don’t want to spoil it for you) and whimsical stop motion films all generated by a couple that thrived off creativity and in turn bought colour and joy to a world stuck somewhere between the promise of a good life for everyone and a cold war.

The exhibition runs until the 14th of February and is well worth a visit.