Italian-born, American artist Harry Bertoia (1915–1978) was one of the most prolific, innovative artists of the postwar period. Trained at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he met future colleagues and collaborators Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, and Eero Saarinen, he went on to make one-of-a kind jewelry, design iconic chairs, create thousands of unique sculptures including large-scale commissions for significant buildings, and advance the use of sound as sculptural material. His work speaks to the confluence of numerous fields of endeavor but is united throughout by a sculptural approach to making and an experimental embrace of metal.
Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life is the first U.S. museum retrospective of the artist’s career to examine the full scope of his broad, interdisciplinary practice, bringing together nearly 100 works from all facets of Bertoia’s extensive and diverse body of work. Drawn from public and private collections, the exhibition will feature important examples of his furniture, jewelry, unique works on paper, and varied sculptural production, as well as several large-scale commissions and a significant group of sounding sculptures from the Sonambient Barn at Bertoia’s home.
Writing in the pages of his influential magazine Art & Architecture in 1950, editor John Entenza declared, “We have come into a time in history in which there is no longer any real separateness in man’s activities and nothing remains to him that does not exist in close association with the whole of his life.” This sentiment of synthesis became a hallmark across vanguard sculpture, architecture, and design during the subsequent decade in which Bertoia established himself as one its leading practitioners. Such interdisciplinary cross-pollination distinguishes Bertoia’s work and has also largely contributed to his work being overlooked within the dominant narratives of Modernism at mid-century. Bertoia’s sculptural output, however, reflected a moment when the possibilities wrought by scientific discovery and technological innovation seemed endless and pervasive across all fields of intellectual and cultural inquiry; when artists, designers, and architects created a shared visual language in response to these advancements by exploring new, often industrial, materials and corporate collaborations at a time when they were not met with the same cynicism they so often are today.
This exhibition questions how and why we distinguish between a chair, a necklace, a screen, and a freestanding sculpture—and what Bertoia’s sculptural things, when seen together, say about the fluidity of visual language across culture, both at mid-century and now.
Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life is organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Chief Curator Jed Morse and independent art historian Dr. Marin Sullivan, who also serves as Director of the Harry Bertoia Catalogue Raisonné and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Sculpture at Cheekwood Estate and Gardens in Nashville. A lavishly illustrated catalogue with new scholarly essays by the curators and prominent Bertoia experts Dr. Glenn Adamson and Dr. Sydney Skelton Simon, including a catalogue of the public commissions, will be published in collaboration with Verlag Scheidegger & Spiess AG, Switzerland, to accompany the exhibition.
Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.