Illuminated Design: Metal Lighting in the Postwar Era
James Harvey Crate
If one could crown a winner of “the most famous design exhibited at MoMA by an otherwise completely obscure designer,” it might very well be James Harvey Crate. His T-C-3 lamp received Third Prize in MoMA’s Low-Cost Lighting Competition of 1951 and was shown in the New Lamps exhibition at the museum between March and June of that year. Crate was a 25-year-old designer at General Motors when he beat out hundreds of other entries for one of the prizes—the only significant recognition he would receive in his career. Crate’s one-hit wonder is a design icon of the Atomic Age. As MoMA’s curators wrote at the time, “the main feature of this lamp is the hyperbolic funnel” in aluminum, which projects the light outward towards the reflector disc, and can be adjusted using the three steel legs with cork ball feet. The resulting shadows that project against any white wall capture MoMA’s stated aim of bringing modern art into one’s life....
The T-C-3 lamp was produced in extremely limited quantities by the Heifetz Company in New York. Examples are in the collection of Brooklyn Museum and Cooper Hewitt.
Table Lamp, model T-C-3, in spun aluminum, enameled metal, steel, cork.
Designed by James Harvey Crate, USA, 1950. Manufactured by Heifetz Manufacturing Co., New York.
13" L x 13.5" W x 24" H
Greta Magnusson Grossman
Greta Magnusson Grossman maintained a prolific forty-year career on two continents, Europe and North America, with achievements in industrial design, interior design, and architecture. Although it was not as frequently exhibited in Good Design exhibitions in the 1950s as her Cobra table lamp, Magnusson Grossman’s Grasshopper floor lamp has become over time one of the most famous lights of midcentury modern design. This example in coral pink dates to the first years of production by Ralph O. Smith, the tiny Californian midcentury lighting manufactory, and allegedly belonged to Andy Warhol....
R & Company represents the Estate of Greta Magnusson Grossman and, over the past decade, has placed more than a half dozen Grasshopper lamps in American museum collections.
"Grasshopper" floor lamp in enameled aluminum and steel with original coral paint.
Designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman for Ralph O. Smith, Burbank, California, 1947-48.
14" L x 14" W x 48" H
Ralph O. Smith, the small midcentury lighting manufactory located in Burbank, California, is best known for producing the acclaimed low-cost lamps designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman. In addition to this collaboration, the company also made this table lamp using the same industrial metals for Olga Lee, who at the time was designing lights, textiles, furniture, and interiors in a Los Angeles studio she shared with husband Milo Baughman. Retailing for $29.50 at the time, the model ended up becoming one of the most exhibited table lamps of the Good Design movement and was featured in Good Design, MoMA, in 1952, in the Everyday Art Gallery at the Walker Art Center in 1953, and California Design at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1954....
The lamp is in the permanent collection of LACMA, and another example is on long term loan to the MFA Boston for their Women Take the Floor exhibition. Although famous, this table lamp is quite rare, and less than twenty examples in various colors are known to exist today.
Table Lamp in spun aluminum, tubular steel, cast iron. Designed by Olga Lee, USA, 1952-54.
Produced by Ralph O. Smith, Burbank, CA.
21" L x 13" W x 24" H
Greta Von Nessen
Pop quiz: Who is the only woman to have her work of industrial design featured on a US Postage Stamp? The answer is Greta Von Nessen and her popular Anywhere lamp. The Swedish-born designer’s early career was overshadowed by her German-born husband, Walter Von Nessen. When he died suddenly in 1943, however, she took the reins of their American company Nessen Studios and began producing her own designs as well as revising some of his prewar classics. The Anywhere lamp is a marvel of postwar low-cost design. It can be positioned anywhere, from table to wall or ceiling, and was manufactured in the classic industrial materials of aluminum and sheet steel, as seen in other lamps in this exhibition. Priced at $29.50 (the same as Olga Lee’s lamp), the Anywhere lamp was exhibited in the inaugural Good Design exhibition at MoMA from November 21, 1950, to January 28, 1951. Today the lamp can be found in numerous museum collections....
"Anywhere" lamp in blue enameled aluminum and steel
Designed by Greta Von Nessen for Nessen Studio, USA, circa 1951.
13" L x 13" W x 15" H
Philip Johnson and Richard Kelly
The designer Richard Kelly is best known for his architectural lighting in masterpieces such as Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (1958) and Louis Kahn’s Yale Center for British Art (1974). Long before that, Kelly had exhibited low-cost lamps of his own design at MoMA in the early 1940s and teamed up with architect and MoMA curator Philip Johnson to design this lamp in 1950, initially as a three-legged model for Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan. Unfortunately, the design was unwieldy, and the lamp kept tipping over. Only a handful of the three-legged version were made for various Johnson residences, and in 1954 Johnson and Kelly added a fourth leg, which stabilized the design. The floor lamp then became a commercial success for the New York lighting factory Edison Price....
In 1958, Johnson gifted an example to his own institution in time for it to be included in MoMA’s first major survey and publication of its permanent collection. Another example is in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Floor Lamp in brass and enamel on aluminum. Designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Kelly, USA, 1954-67. Manufactured by Edison Price Inc., New York.
28" L x 28" W x 44" H
Arguably the most influential group of Italian Radical design, Archizoom was founded in Florence around 1964 by Andrea Branzi, Massimo Morozzi, Gilberto Corretti, and Paolo Deganello (in 1968 Dario and Lucia Bartolini also became involved). In 1968, Poltronova founder Sergio Cammilli suggested to the group the use of industrial aluminum cans, destined to be food containers, as a design material. Thus “Tizio, Caio, Sempronio” came about (these names are standard placeholders in Italy for unidentified people, like “Tom, Dick, and Harry”). The lamp, ashtray, and vase were decorated to imitate precious stones, which served as a critical commentary on modernism—which rejected surface decoration and altered materials, and consumerism—which promoted the uncontrolled desire for luxury....
Table lamp in steel and anodized aluminum with abstract patterning, from the "Tizio, Caio, Sempronio" series. The lamp is part of a matching set with a flower vase and an ashtray.
Designed by Archizoom Associati, produced by Poltronova, Italy, 1968.
14" H x 6.5" D
The origins of the name Stilnovo (“new style” in Italian) go as far back as the thirteenth century, as a poetic movement developed in Florence between 1280 and 1310 that had among its leaders Dante Alighieri. Seven centuries later, industrialist Bruno Gatta founded Stilnovo in Milan, sharing with its poetic predecessor the desire for a genuinely Italian elegance. The company soon became an essential player in postwar Italian design by partnering with the biggest names in the field, like Achille Castiglioni and Joe Colombo (whose Stilnovo collaboration is also part of this exhibition). This 1968 lamp reflects Stilnovo’s design principles by combining an aluminum base with over-imposed glass domes—a bold geometry that questions the relationship between form and function....
Round table lamp with enameled aluminum base and colored glass shades.
Produced by Stilnovo, Italy, 1968.
15.75" H x 11.81" D
Studio A.R.D.I.T.I., Italy, 1971
Although lesser known than other Italian Radical Design collectives, Studio A.R.D.I.T.I. was behind some of the movement’s most innovative creations. Their lighting designs using metal blurred the barriers of conceptual, interactive, and kinetic art with design, ranging in scale from tabletop fixtures to immersive installations. Such is the case with the “Ponte” (bridge in Italian) floor lamp. The strong but flexible steel arch allows the piece to have different heights and lengths depending on how the marble bases are placed in a room. Moreover, the lamps can be moved to emulate a moon orbiting in space. By 1971, metal had been fully incorporated in the lexicon of design—the vanguard was in rethinking how domesticity itself should look and feel....
"Ponte" floor lamp with fixtures on a chrome-plated steel arch with two marble bases.
Designed by Studio A.R.D.I.T.I., produced by Sormani, Italy, 1971.
164" L x 12" W x 96" H (length and height are adjustable)
Appropriating the famed Hollywood logo of MGM Studios as the framework for this table lamp, Lapo Binazzi and the UFO collective removed “Leo the Lion” and replaced him with two bulbs and an umbrella. The ribbons of sheet steel used here are strictly decorative, in keeping with the Italian radical design movement’s emphasis on symbolism over function. The present example in sky blue is from the very first production of the model at the time of the Salone del Mobile, Milan, in 1971. Formerly in the collection of the late Jim Walrod, this lamp was signed by the artist on the occasion of R & Company’s 2016 exhibition on Binazzi and UFO....
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, became the first American institution to acquire this lamp model as part of its recent acquisition of the Dennis Freedman Collection.
Lapo Binazzi. "MGM" table lamp in blue enameled steel.
Designed by Lapo Binazzi, Italy, 1969.
Produced by UFO, Italy.
39" L x 9" W x 21.5" H
Verner Panton, Switzerland, 1970
Danish design master Verner Panton experimented with several materials throughout his prolific career and is best known today for his plastic works. Indeed, the Spiral SP3 hanging lamp has its major components made of plastic, but their chrome finish simulates metal and matches the steel structural elements in the piece. The clusters of this original 1970 lamp follow the principle that moving spirals create moving light, which can change the feeling of an entire space. Panton’s interest in creating immersive environments led to projects like Visiona 2, commissioned by Bayer for the Cologne furniture fair in 1970. There, occupying a boat with different rooms and experiences, Panton reserved one entire section for his Spiral lamps to twinkle and shine....
The Spiral Lamp series is in the permanent collections of the Vitra Design Museum and the Designmuseum Danmark.
Original "SP3" three-tier Spiral Lampen in silver foil.
Designed by Verner Panton for Luber, Switzerland, 1970.
87" H x 19" D