Q&A: Eames Demetrios on the Bechtler's Latest Exhibit


TONIGHT (April 21), the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art hosts Eames Demetrios for a talk titled "Design vs. Style and Other Eames Philosophies.” Demetrios, an artist, filmmaker, and writer, speaks on the legacy of Charles and Ray Eames, a husband-and-wife team of designers who revolutionized modern furniture and architecture. Demetrios is their grandson.

Eames pieces are prominent in The House That Modernism Built (through Sept. 11), the Bechtler exhibit that pairs modern furniture, textiles, and ceramics with 20th-century art in the museum’s collection. During the opening of the exhibit last month, Demetrios talked to Charlotte magazine about what it was like to experience his family’s legacy against this museum backdrop.

Charlotte magazine: So, what are you thinking as you walk through this exhibit?
Eames Demetrios: One of the things that strikes me—and that I really like about the show—is that it just seems so logical. It’s amazing that I haven’t really seen this kind of show before, pairing the art and the design. I think people have commented on that feedback loop and observed it, but I’ve never seen it this way.

Charles and Ray used to say that they didn’t think of themselves as artists; they thought of themselves as tradesmen, who use the tools of the arts to make it work. I think what this surfaces for the visitor is that connection in the art and that similar spirit.

CM: And then there’s context there.
ED: Absolutely. There’s a real history to the art and there’s a real history to the furniture, and to see them displayed across from each other is so interesting and fascinating.

CM: In some of the displays, the exhibit has similar versions of the same thing—one small piece inside the furniture that was tested with in many variations. Why is showing that evolution important?
ED: Well, if you look at one of these chairs, it’s a chair that people will recognize, even if they don’t know it. But what’s interesting is this exhibit is showing just a fraction of the ideas they tried to make that famous chair work. They’re all basically the same in a way, but they’re subtly different. And what’s important about that, in terms of Charles and Ray and the creative process, is that when they designed something, they hardly ever did it with drawings.

They made three-dimensional prototypes. In our collection, we have dozens more [of them]. When you think about it, this is the way that folk design works. You know, if we were in a village 200 years ago anywhere on the planet, each time you made a chair, you would keep it. And when it broke, you’d say, “So what can we do better?” But that took centuries. This is an interim process, and it’s accelerating that idea. But it’s much like those ancient methods.

Demetrios speaks at the Wells Fargo Auditorium at the Bechtler at 7 p.m. Get tickets, running $10 for non-members of the Bechtler and $8 for members, here.

Categories: Arts + Culture