In a few weeks, New York’s Bard Graduate Center Gallery will open Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World, the first exhibition in the United States to examine pioneering Finnish design company Artek (founded in 1935) alongside the practices of its two architect co-founders, husband and wife team, Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) and Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894–1949). The aim of the exhibition is to shine a light on Artek’s under-recognized and multifaceted mission, which far exceeded the manufacturing of bentwood furniture, for which the brand is best known.
Organized in collaboration with the Alvar Aalto Foundation in Helsinki, Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World will feature approximately 200 works—many never before exhibited publicly—including architectural drawings, drawings and sketches for interiors and furniture, paintings, photography, furniture, glassware, lighting, and textiles. Of special interest is the unprecedented number of original architectural drawings from the Aalto Foundation, as well as photographs, sketches, and drawings from the Aalto family and from the Artek archive.
Among the most important of these are Aino Marsio-Aalto’s student sketchbooks; drawings by Alvar Aalto of his wife; and a small selection of signed photographs by László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), which he sent to Alvar Aalto after visiting the Aaltos in Finland in 1931. Also on view are a recently discovered copy of Aino Marsio-Aalto’s travel diary, long thought lost, which she kept while visiting Brussels, Paris, and Zurich in the months just before Artek was founded; unpublished drawings for the Sunila Pulp Factory (1936–37), Villa Mairea (1938–39), Säynätsalo Town Hall (1950–52), and the Kaufmann Conference Rooms in New York City (1961–63); and a rare group of bentwood furniture by Alvar Aalto from a private collection in Finland with original finishes and colors. Additional loans will reveal the range of interior projects that Artek received independently of Alvar Aalto’s office, such as the highly ambitious Helsinki Airport, a two-phase project begun in 1938 and completed in 1948.
“This project,” said BGC curator Nina Stritzler-Levine, “provides a rare opportunity to reveal the contribution of a pioneering woman architect and a pioneering architect couple. Remarkably, Aino Marsio-Aalto and Alvar Aalto’s practices closely resemble the working life of architect couples today. Moreover, their vision has a particular relevance in contemporary design, architectural, and art discourse because the Artek mission eliminated hierarchies in art practices, as well as advocated standardization, which argued against novelty in favor of finding variety and diversity through spatial distinctions, color, texture, and composition.”
Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World will be on view at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York City from April 22 through September 25, 2016.
* All images courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery