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The Venini Chandelier sparkles again

Since the IMA took ownership of the Miller House and Garden in 2009, we have come to know more intimately the gift of a 20th-century architectural masterpiece. The Miller House is worthy of many superlatives, but as an older house requiring care and maintenance it presents challenges and surprises just as would any other. The questions may be framed slightly differently, but the joys and frustrations are much the same.

Bonnie Cate and Jeanine Franke (Miller House housekeeper) cleaning individual glass pieces while Ben Wever, site Administrator, and Bradley Brooks gently remove each strand of glass from the chandelier.

Bonnie Cate and Jeanine Franke (Miller House housekeeper) cleaning individual glass pieces while Ben Wever, site Administrator, and Bradley Brooks gently remove each strand of glass from the chandelier.

A task that we knew we would face one day was bulb replacement and cleaning of the Venini chandelier above the Millers’ dining table. This fixture was not part of the original furnishing scheme for the house, but came as a later addition after the Millers purchased it in Italy in about 1960. We had heard stories of the care and effort required of Miller employees to dismantle the chandelier for cleaning, but being reluctant to tackle such a daunting project, I had pushed it to the back burner where it stayed until nearly every bulb was out. Now we had no choice. Dismantle or go dark!

Chandelier with all metal and glass components removed. Tags indicate pattern of glass colors to help with reassembly.

Chandelier with all metal and glass components removed. Tags indicate pattern of glass colors to help with reassembly.

To prepare for the task, we padded and covered the dining table and placed a series of folding tables nearby on which we could wash and dry each of the 200 individual polyhedral glass “prisms.” A crew of four went to work; two to stand on the table to dismantle the chandelier, and two to do the washing and drying. In this design, the glass elements are suspended from a steel frame on linked wires, each pendant group fastened to the frame with a tiny nut and bolt. Tedious work, but we soon found the system and a rhythm. It took until early evening to reassemble everything, but with the glass cleaned, the sparkle of the chandelier was restored, more charming than ever.

The newly cleaned Venini chandelier lit up.

The newly cleaned Venini chandelier lit up.

With the glass off the frame, it was evident that the chandelier still had its original European wiring and fittings, which had been adapted to accept standard U.S. chandelier-base bulbs. Yellowed with age, they are past due for a rewiring. That will be a task for the winter. Just like every old house project, one thing only leads to another.

Filed under: Conservation, Design, Miller House


Oscar Tusquets Blanca – The Gaulino Chair

This month, our blog post comes to us from two perspectives. One perspective is from Marika Klemm, an Interior Designer from Marika Designs LLC and Design Arts Society President. The other is from Michael Lubarsky, DAS member and Marika’s spouse.

Oscar T. Blanca, designer (Spanish, b. 1941), B.D. Barcelona Designs, manufacturer Gaulino Armchair, 1987 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr., and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.4

Oscar T. Blanca, designer (Spanish, b. 1941), B.D. Barcelona Designs, manufacturer
Gaulino Armchair, 1987
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr., and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.4

Oscar Tusquets Blanca (who prefers we use both surnames) was born in 1941. The Barcelona native trained as an architect and began working as a designer of furniture and objects in 1972 with BD (Barcelona Design). Since then he has won several award,s including the Spanish National Design Award. Tusquets Blanca designed the Gaulino chair in 1987 and it is a prime example of Spanish design and functional art. Every angle of the Gaulino chair has beautiful complex lines bringing joy to your eyes as you follow along its subtle, sculptural curves. This is the result of his friendship with Salvador Dali and his interests in painting and writing. It seems clear he was also inspired by Antoni Gaudi and Carlo Mollino for which he named the chair.

The Gaulino chair, winner of the 1989 Industrial Design Prize, has a handmade appearance yet it was his first industrial project in wood. Its structure is made of solid ash and is available in a natural varnish, oak stain or black stain. The oak seat can be upholstered in black, natural, or honey leather. It can be stacked, but what a crime that would be! This is a gorgeous piece that I want to sit in, touch, and be close to in order to study every detail. The anamorphic shapes speak to me and fascinate me. I am not surprised to learn that Tusquets Blanca considers this chair one of his best works. The Gaulino chair is now a part of the Design Arts permanent collection at the IMA.

— Marika Klemm, ASID, Marika Designs, LLC

Tusquets Blanca’s Gaulino chair is an inspired mix of masculine and feminine lines. It may be a dining chair but I prefer to see it as a stand-alone chair that exudes an international design ethos of beauty and functionality. At first glance, the Gaulino chair has a masculine stance on the floor that dares you to have a seat. Yet its machismo belies the feminine, almost sensual, lines of the seat and arms which draw you in and seal the deal. Some will use the Gaulino with the matching table. Others will place it in any room as a side chair to add a sophisticated, sublime and lean design element for the occasional aperitif, but I would use it as the ultimate desk chair, in black, at a small writing desk.

— Michael Lubarsky, DAS Member


Filed under: Design, Guest Bloggers


Frank Gehry’s Three Sided Cube

Today's guest blogger is Scott Johnson, a Design Arts Society Board member and designer at Axiomport in Indianapolis.


Frank Gehry’s drawing for the Guggenheim’s Bilbao museum.

Several years ago, I watched a video about the artistic collaboration between Picasso and Braque that lead to the birth of cubism. Part of that video included remarks by Frank Gehry, David Hockney, and others expressing the influence of cubism on art and design throughout the 20th century. Gehry spoke about sketching his ideas, the innate quality of the loose sketch, and of trying to capture that quality in the final execution of his designs. These ideas began to manifest themselves in his work, especially in such sculptural architecture as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and, closer to Indianapolis, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Gehry - three sided cube

Frank Gehry’s Three Sided Cube.

Frank Gehry did not begin his career this way. His aesthetic evolved over many years from traditional architecture to architecture as sculpture. This is an evolution that’s understandable, given the three-dimensional nature of architecture and sculpture, how they occupy space, and the sense that both are considered the embodiment of a place. But when an architect applies a cubist sensibility to a project, with its depiction of a subject from multiple viewpoints rather than a single point of view, giving the subject a broader context, the lines between architecture and sculpture truly begin to blur.

IAC Headquarters

Frank Gehry’s InterActiveCorp headquarters in New York.

I wonder if this isn’t the idea behind Gehry’s design for the three sided cube, an oxymoron of a name that hints at the furniture’s artistic origins. The cube closely resembles his design of the IAC Center, InterActiveCorp’s headquarters, Gehry’s first contribution to the Manhattan skyline. It’s been said that IAC Chairman Barry Diller suggested that his riverside headquarters have “something to do with sailing up the Hudson” and, indeed, the building is the embodiment of that sense of motion and movement. Like its companion easy chair, bench, and coffee table, the cube presents multiple points of view at the same time. Even the cube’s silver finish mimics the shimmer of Gehry’s signature stainless steel structures.

It’s refreshing to see a modern adaptation of an earlier style handled so well. Gehry interprets cubism on his own terms, using his vocabulary and aesthetic sense, giving an early 20th century art form a timeless representation, and adding a great object to the Design Arts Collection.

Filed under: Art, Design, Guest Bloggers


Complexity and Contradiction in Chairs

Today's guest blogger is David Force, an architect living and working in Columbus, IN and a member of the IMA's Design Arts Society board.

With the opening of the new  Design Galleries late in 2013, this stunningly simple Chippendale Chair by the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown stands out as unique in the incredible compendium of modern design that the IMA has accumulated in recent years.  The chair was manufactured by Knoll International and introduced in 1985 as part of a larger suite of Venturi-designed furniture, including a coffee table, sofa, and eight other historically-themed chairs.

Venturi - Chippendale chair

Chippendale Chair. Image courtesy of

Venturi and Scott Brown reintroduced decoration and historical form to furniture at a time when it was uncommon to do so.  As residents of Philadelphia, a city steeped in eighteenth-century design, the architects no doubt were aware of the importance of the work of Thomas Chippendale, and his popularity and influence on colonial American furniture.  Their use of Chippendale’s signature chair back design forms the basis for the chair, but the materials, techniques, and proportions of the chair are vastly different.  The highly tactile, three dimensional forms inherent in the classic Thomas Chippendale back are reduced to two dimensions, almost as if the original chair had been steam-rolled. The openings in the chair back are cut out of essentially flat steam-bent plywood material and the proportions are like a caricature of the original.  The slender gracefulness of Chippendale becomes heavy and almost cartoon-like.  The richness of the inspirational form is translated into a much more edgy design with the appearance of almost having been extruded and thinly sliced.  The layers of plywood material are revealed at the thin edges of the chair, much in the same fashion that Charles and Ray Eames treated their plywood series of chairs forty years before.  The Eames chairs are much more stridently modern and do not concern themselves with classical forms, but rather focus on the simplicity and comfort of the design.  The old Miesian “Less is More“ cliché does seem to apply in the Eames case, but Venturi, noted for the statement “Less is a Bore” thickly layers on historical form.  The chair imparts a sense of being rooted in history without resorting to the simple translation of a precise historical form into a new material in the manner of the Philippe Starck Ghost chair.

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Filed under: Art, Design


Meeting Gaetano Pesce

It was 3 pm when I met Gaetano Pesce at his New York office in January, but the moon was already rising, courtesy of the Notturno a New York sofa which he designed and where he sat.

Nighttime in New York

Gaetano Pesce on the Notturno a New York sofa. Image via


This vintage promotional image of the UP chairs shows numbers 1-6 with their original packaging. Image via

As a designer and architect, Pesce’s long career is distinguished by his creative use of modern materials to fabricate utilitarian objects that communicate socially and politically conscious messages. His most famous design is probably UP5 and UP6, a chair and ottoman combination designed in 1969 and widely known as “The Mamma” or “La Donna”.

These pieces were originally sold in flat, vacuum sealed packages. Once the package was opened, the compressed polyurethane foam expanded into a fully formed chair.  Watch it grow! But this playful design is also meant to convey a darker message about the condition of women as victims of prejudice and oppression, where the ottoman forms a prisoner’s ball and chain attached to a shape that recalls a prehistoric fertility figure.

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Filed under: Art, Conservation, Design


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