Stuck in a cubicle? Blame George Nelson, who is considered the father of the modern workstation.
Better yet, celebrate George Nelson. Starting Thursday, his work is the subject of a major exhibition at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, running through May 8.
“He is one of the most important 20th-century designers,” said Jennifer Klos, curator of record. “This is as much about American history as it is the history of design or history of technology.”
As design director at furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, Nelson crafted pieces that at once reflected and shaped the mid-century modern style of postwar America homes and offices. More than 120 of such objects are on display alongside approximately 50 other items, including four films on the icon, who passed away in 1986.
“He wanted people to have pieces that contributed to their home and made their lives easier. George Nelson cared about the domestic interior and how you used it,” Klos said. “Since he was an architect, he not only understood the structure of a home, but cared more about the theory of how people live, how they use objects, the societal ideas of the period.”
She said the “one-of-a-kind” exhibition delves into every aspect of Nelson’s career, from journalism and photography to creating the poster and main titles for the 1961 Clark Gable/ Marilyn Monroe film “The Misfits.”
The focus, however, is furniture.
Hovering somewhere between spaceage and Pop Art, his designs took advantage of materials newly available in the postwar era, creating works that became literal conversation pieces. Klos said it’s a testament to his genius that several remain in production today.
One such example is 1956’s famous “Marshmallow Sofa” — undeniably colorful, surprisingly comfy — with each of its 18 circles handcrafted.
“I always want to call it a ‘fun, renegade object’ with all the shapes he saw,” Klos said. “He saw value in creating seating for the home that was unique, versatile and could be seen from all sides.”
Noting that the sofa purposely hides nothing, she said, “What you see is what you get. That honesty is what George Nelson was after.”
In addition to the exhibition’s pieces, several on loan from local Herman Miller dealer Workplace Resource adorn the museum’s lobby areas. From 1952’s innovative “Bubble Lamp” to 1946’s landmark “Platform Bench,” these allow visitors to experience Nelson’s work with more than just their eyes.
“He very much thought about function, but was always in tune with aesthetics,” Klos said. “He believed everybody deserved good design.”
top Nelson’s “Marshmallow Sofa” debuted in 1956. bottom From 1952 to 1957, Nelson designed a modular, prefabricated “Experimental House.” Its 12-square-foot aluminum cubes could be connected and configured in endless combinations for a lowcost, easily movable residence.