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. Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life is the first US museum retrospective of the artist’s career in almost 50 years and the first to examine the full scope of his broad, interdisciplinary practice. Drawn from public and private collections, the exhibition brings together over 100 works of art featuring important examples of his jewelry, metalsmithing, furniture design, monotypes, and the hundreds of singular, handmade sculptures including large-scale commissions and pioneering sounding sculptures.
By the middle of the 20th century, Bertoia’s work verged on being ubiquitous. Museums purchased dozens of his monotypes while he was still at Cranbrook. His jewelry, which he made primarily in the 1940s, was highlighted in major design magazines and featured in important museum exhibitions. Although his time as a furniture designer was relatively short-lived—he worked at the Eames Office from 1944–46 and Knoll primarily from 1950–52—his accomplishments in this field are perhaps the most renowned, having won numerous design awards for chairs that have been in almost constant manufacture since 1952. Museums and private collectors enthusiastically acquired and exhibited his sculptures during his lifetime. Likewise, major architects such as Gordon Bunshaft, Saarinen, Edward Durell Stone, and Minoru Yamasaki regularly turned to Bertoia, among only a handful of sculptors that also included Alexander Calder and Henry Moore, for large-scale commissions for important buildings. It is Bertoia’s success in such disparate arenas—from the intimate and personal space of jewelry to the domestic sphere of furniture, and the corporate, governmental, and public realms of commissions—that places him at the forefront of shaping the experience of life in the United States at mid-century.
Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life is organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Chief Curator Jed Morse and independent curator and art historian Dr. Marin Sullivan, who also serves as Director of the Harry Bertoia Catalogue Raisonné. 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 made possible by leading support from the Texas Commission on the Arts and Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger. Generous support is provided in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District (DTPID). Additional support is provided by Humanities Texas.