Bertoia's Works on Paper

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March 8, 2011

From March 24th to May 10th, "Harry Bertoia: Works on Paper and Furniture" will be on view at Kean University's Karl and Helen Burger Gallery. Italian-born and Michigan-educated Bertoia (1915-1978) left an indelible stamp in the design canon, creating some of the most treasured modern furniture pieces. Though his wire-rod Diamond Lounge chair, side chairs, and barstools are well-known, he was also a skilled printmaker who explored abstract and richly-colored geometric forms with a nod to the cubic and surreal. Kelly Murphy, an MA student and graduate assistant for the Kean University Galleries, spoke to Dwell about the exhibition, which she helped organize along with Gallery Director Neil Tetowski and fellow MA student Diana Palermo. "Our goal is to make all forms of visual art accessible to everyone," says Murphy. "While we have exhibited the artwork of designers before, this our first exhibition featuring furniture." In the slideshow that follows, Murphy introduces a few of the monotypes presented in the exhibition, providing insight into Bertoia's creative methods.

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  "The works on paper that are featured in the exhibition are all monotypes, which is an unusual form of printmaking as it produces only one unique print rather than an edition," says Murphy. "Bertoia created these monotypes in an even more unusual way. He would apply ink to a piece of glass, place a sheet of rice paper face down on the inked glass and then sketch on the back of the paper using his fingers or other small tools. The final drawing wouldn't be revealed to him until the paper was then pulled away from the glass."Unititled, c.1970's, ink on rice paper, 15' x 10'. Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
    "The works on paper that are featured in the exhibition are all monotypes, which is an unusual form of printmaking as it produces only one unique print rather than an edition," says Murphy. "Bertoia created these monotypes in an even more unusual way. He would apply ink to a piece of glass, place a sheet of rice paper face down on the inked glass and then sketch on the back of the paper using his fingers or other small tools. The final drawing wouldn't be revealed to him until the paper was then pulled away from the glass."Unititled, c.1970's, ink on rice paper, 15' x 10'. Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
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  Though the works on paper are not considered studies for Bertoia's furniture designs, some of the patterns and forms that emerged are echoed in his furniture and sculptures. The exhibited works were produced over the course of four decades, from 1940 to 1970, which spans a healthy portion of his career. "They were created during a time in which he began designing ground-breaking furniture and public artwork," says Murphy. As a reference point, Bertoia's iconic "Diamond" chrome-plated wire mesh armchair was designed for Knoll in 1952.Untitled 1680, c.1940's, ink on rice paper, 24" x 18". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
    Though the works on paper are not considered studies for Bertoia's furniture designs, some of the patterns and forms that emerged are echoed in his furniture and sculptures. The exhibited works were produced over the course of four decades, from 1940 to 1970, which spans a healthy portion of his career. "They were created during a time in which he began designing ground-breaking furniture and public artwork," says Murphy. As a reference point, Bertoia's iconic "Diamond" chrome-plated wire mesh armchair was designed for Knoll in 1952.Untitled 1680, c.1940's, ink on rice paper, 24" x 18". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
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  "Bertoia was always moving in and out of abstraction and that's why he was able to create such innovative design," says Murphy reflecting upon the designers oeuvre.Untitled 386,c. 1940's, ink on rice paper, 14" x 14". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
    "Bertoia was always moving in and out of abstraction and that's why he was able to create such innovative design," says Murphy reflecting upon the designers oeuvre.Untitled 386,c. 1940's, ink on rice paper, 14" x 14". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
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  "Originally we were just going to exhibit the works on paper, but decided that we'd like to include the furniture so that viewers develop a true understanding of Bertoia as visionary," says Murphy. "Drawing monotypes was a quick and spontaneous process for Berotia, so it's very interesting to see how these initial creative impulses can be transformed into thoughtful and functional design."Untitled 001, c. 1940s, ink on paper, 8" x 11". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
    "Originally we were just going to exhibit the works on paper, but decided that we'd like to include the furniture so that viewers develop a true understanding of Bertoia as visionary," says Murphy. "Drawing monotypes was a quick and spontaneous process for Berotia, so it's very interesting to see how these initial creative impulses can be transformed into thoughtful and functional design."Untitled 001, c. 1940s, ink on paper, 8" x 11". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
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  "I personally was trained as printmaker and have worked with many artists to produce editions.  While printmaking can be very innovative, there is a certain level of control necessary to reproduce the same results," says Murphy. "I find it very interesting that Bertoia used printmaking, in a way, to lose control and allow himself to explore his senses."Untitled, 1687, c. 1940's, ink on rice paper, 16" x 15". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
    "I personally was trained as printmaker and have worked with many artists to produce editions. While printmaking can be very innovative, there is a certain level of control necessary to reproduce the same results," says Murphy. "I find it very interesting that Bertoia used printmaking, in a way, to lose control and allow himself to explore his senses."Untitled, 1687, c. 1940's, ink on rice paper, 16" x 15". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
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  The exhibited works on paper—on loan from the Seraphin Gallery and the Estate of Harry Bertoia—have not been widely shown. The Diamond Lounge Chair, Bird Chaise with Ottoman, Side Chair, Bar Stool and (hopefully) the Asymmetric Chaise—all on loan from Knoll—will be displayed alongside the works on paper. Murphy hopes to allow people to sit on some of the furniture so visitors to the exhibition can experience them both as art and as intended.Untitled 529, c. 1960's, ink on rice paper, 22" x 17". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
    The exhibited works on paper—on loan from the Seraphin Gallery and the Estate of Harry Bertoia—have not been widely shown. The Diamond Lounge Chair, Bird Chaise with Ottoman, Side Chair, Bar Stool and (hopefully) the Asymmetric Chaise—all on loan from Knoll—will be displayed alongside the works on paper. Murphy hopes to allow people to sit on some of the furniture so visitors to the exhibition can experience them both as art and as intended.Untitled 529, c. 1960's, ink on rice paper, 22" x 17". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.
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  Harry Bertoia: Works on Paper and Furniture will be on view at Kean University's Karl and Helen Burger Gallery from March 24th to May 10th.Untitled 49, c.1940's, ink on paper, 10" x 21". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!
    Harry Bertoia: Works on Paper and Furniture will be on view at Kean University's Karl and Helen Burger Gallery from March 24th to May 10th.Untitled 49, c.1940's, ink on paper, 10" x 21". Image courtesy Seraphin Gallery.

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