The World of Charles and Ray Eames at Barbican, London


The Barbican Art Gallery, London presents a wall to wall retrospective of the life and work of design’s most formidable couple; Charles (1907) and Ray (1912-1988) Eames. ‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’ thoughtfully explores the people and processes that pioneered 20thcentury design and shaped visual and material culture into what it is today. From architecture, furniture, graphic and product design, to painting, drawing, film, sculpture, photography, multimedia installation and education the exhibition examines how over four decades the Eameses and their collaborators created functional everyday products that were infused with philosophical ideals.


The show brings together over 380 works that are spread across two floors to form a delightful labyrinth from the many objects and projects that the couple produced during their lifetime. This extensive overview is structured thematically to address the different social, political and cultural circumstances that influenced the Eameses and their output. A moulded plywood leg-splint created by the Eames Office in 1942 is a key example. It illustrates the impact that social circumstances often had on their designs. Whilst the splint stands alone as an exquisite work of sculpture its use is entirely practical. It was made during World War II in order to provide a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to metal leg splints. It could be mass-produced and easily transported and clearly demonstrates the Eameses ethos of designing beautiful objects that catered to societal needs.


Personal notes, sketches and photographs of the couple are peppered throughout the exhibition and emphasise the profound link between their personal life and professional work. The architectural plans and photographs from the striking home that they planned and built together is clear evidence of their life’s dedication to design. The exhibition reaches a pinnacle in the central room where a raised platform is lined with colourful fibreglass Eames chairs each of a varying design. From ones that we all know from schoolrooms and sports stadiums to intricate armchairs whose steel legs look more like modernist sculptures than metal limbs, this simple display depicts the sheer scope and innovation of Eames Office design. ‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’ is structured to delve visitors deep into the minds and methods of this remarkable couple, laying out their legacy in a way that allows exceptional design to speak for itself.









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