For anyone interested in postwar modern and contemporary design, modern and contemporary art, and Modernist architecture, the exhibition Modern in Your Life, which runs through September 4th at the Ridgefield, Connecticut offices of the design firm BassamFellows, is a must-see.
Organized by the New York design gallery R & Company and BassamFellows, the by-appointment-only exhibition is curated by James Zemaitis, R & Company’s Director of Museum Relations, and the art advisor Erica Barrish. It includes an impressive array of postwar modernist design from R & Company’s collection, by furniture masters like Marcel Breuer, Poul Kjaerholm, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Sérgio Rodrigues; lighting by legends like Angelo Lelii and Greta Magnusson Grossman; the elegantly-crafted, Scandiavian-influenced contemporary furniture designed by BassamFellows’s founders, the architect Craig Bassam and the creative director Scott Fellows; and artworks by Bauhaus masters like Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, as well as contemporary pieces by John McCracken and Prabhavathi Meppayil—just to name a fraction of the pieces on view.
And if that weren’t enough, BassamFellows’s offices are housed in a one-story brick building, designed by Philip Johnson in 1952 as the administrative offices for the Schlumberger Research Institute; the designers moved into the building in 2018 after doing a thorough restoration of the original structure, with its ingeniously-daylit spaces for meetings and gatherings, private offices with views of the landscape, and a glass-enclosed, landscaped courtyard. (R & Company is hosting another exhibition, Carve, Curve, Cane, which focuses on the materials and craftsmanship of BassamFellows’s furniture, in New York at its Franklin Street location through August 27th; reservations are encouraged.)
Bassam and Fellows—who own a Johnson-designed house across the road from the architect’s famed Glass House—had always envisioned having gatherings and exhibitions in the space, and a conversation with R & Company led to Modern in Your Life. Fellows notes that Johnson designed the modestly-sized building to connect to nature. “It’s all done for well-being,” he says, which “makes the building relevant today.” Bassam adds, “Our building was designed to accommodate life,” and not just work.
For Zemaitis, the exhibition and its location offered an opportunity to refer to the Good Design exhibitions that were held at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1950s, when Johnson was head of MoMA’s department of architecture and design, and after Eliot Noyes had led its industrial design department, and “to bring in Connecticut Modernism,” which refers to the fact that Johnson, Noyes, and Breuer were among the Harvard Five, a group of architects who designed Modernist houses in and around New Canaan. At the office’s entrance is a table designed for the space by Florence Knoll, who designed the building’s original interiors. And Zemaitis worked with the textile dealer Cora Ginsburg to obtain rare fabrics, displayed in the private offices, by designers like Jens Risom, Olga Lee, and Joel Robinson, the first Black designer to win a Good Design award from MoMA and to be included in its architecture and design collection.
For Barrish, certain artists “needed to be” in the exhibition, like Moholy-Nagy, who was friendly with Breuer and Albers at the Bauhaus, and whose never-before-exhibited Untitled (1925), a fascinating abstract work made with pen and ink, sprayed-on and brushed watercolor, graphite and collage on paper, was gifted to Breuer in 1928. “It has all the hallmarks of Modernism,” Barrish says. Albers’s City, from 1928/1936, in tempera on Masonite, in a wooden frame said to have been made by the artist, was the basis for a large mural in the 1963 PanAm Building (now the MetLife building) in New York City. Another Albers, the lusciously colored Variant/Adobe, from 1947, was inspired by a trip to the American Southwest. And a remarkable sculpture by Jean Arp, Hurlou sur Socle-colonne, a combination of bronze, granite and wood elements, balances delicately in the central conference room.
Near the far end of the building, Siskiyou (1988), a tall, glossy geometric solid by the Minimalist artist John McCracken, reflects Breuer’s Short Chair (1936-39), one of his early, influential molded plywood pieces, and one of Angelo Lelii’s Triennale Floor Lamps, designed in the 1950s for the Italian company Arredoluce; nearby is one of Rodrigues’s overstuffed Sheriff lounge chairs, and BassamFellows’s Asymmetric Sofa. A three-legged floor lamp, designed by Johnson and the lighting designer Richard Kelly, stands near its four-legged successor, which was more stable than the original version. Along the building’s east walkway, a line of side chairs, ranging from Eames and Saarinen’s winning entry in MoMA’s 1940 Organic Design competition to others by designers like Risom, Kjaerholm and Hans Wegner, as well as several BassamFellows designs that illustrate their fascination with what they call “archetypes” by the masters who preceded them. But this is just a small sample of the riches in the exhibition.
For reservations, which you must have, click on this link and choose “Ridgefield CT.”