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Hanging Around: Modern and Contemporary Lighting from the Permanent Collection

July 17–October 10, 2010

In the early twentieth century, with the introduction of electric light, designers began to focus on lighting fixtures, hanging lamps among them. Interest in lighting design experienced a particular surge in the decades after World War II, when many young artists, the American George Nelson among them, responded to a demand for fixtures that were both functional and modern in their aesthetic.

In the 1950s, Poul Henningsen, a Danish industrial designer and architect, created a series of hanging lamps that explored a variety of ways of diffusing and reflecting light. His 1958 PH Artichoke lamp is composed of staggered and stacked reflectors in a configuration that resembles, as its name suggests, an artichoke. Throughout the late twentieth century, designers worked with a range of materials, some of them new, like plastic, and some of them merely low-tech materials adapted to a new purpose. The Italian artist Bruno Munari's Falkland lamp, conceived in 1964, is an elegant undulating column of elasticized fabric.

In more recent years, designers—most notably Ingo Maurer, of Germany—have experimented with new lighting technologies. One of Maurer's most technically advanced creations is the 2003 "Wo bist du, Edison?" ("Where Are You, Edison?") lamp. A 360-degree holographic image of a light bulb projects onto a transparent cylindrical shade, while the actual source of the lamp's light is a halogen bulb hanging above the shade, hidden in a socket in the shape of Thomas Edison's profile.

Hanging Around, drawn from the Museum's extensive collection of modern and contemporary design, features some twenty hanging lamps.

Perelman Building


Donna Corbin, Associate Curator of European Decorative Arts

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