Organizing the world

Grosse Pointe Haanel Cassidy/Courtesy Vitra Design Museum, Alexander Girard Estate

Grosse Pointe Haanel Cassidy/Courtesy Vitra Design Museum, Alexander Girard Estate

Designer Alexander Girard was also an architect—though most don’t know him as such—and a key player in making America look and feel modern. Today he is best known for the fabrics he designed as director of the Herman Miller Textile Division between 1952 and 1973, which included everything from colorful stripes to eye-crossing checkers, cut-out flowers to a hand-drawn alphabet.

But to peg him solely as a textile designer (though there’s nothing wrong with being a textile designer) is to severely underestimate his accomplishments. Even within the textile division, he designed furniture and wallpaper, as well as “Environmental Enrichment Panels” that were intended to free the cubicle-lined corporate office from terminal beigeness.

The sprawling career retrospective, organized by the Vitra Museum, opened at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in June and finally puts his accomplishments in stunning visual perspective using the very exhibition techniques Girard pioneered: pinning real objects, like butterflies, inside a case, and arranging them to tell the story of a man who quietly and colorfully organized the world.

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