Artek and the Aaltos

April 10 2016

“Human life is a combination of tragedy and comedy. The shapes and designs that surround us are the music accompanying this tragedy and this comedy.” So says Mr. Alvar Aalto, a towering figure in the history of Modernist architecture and subject of the upcoming exhibition Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York City.

Curated by Nina Stritzler-Levine and Juhani Pallasmaa, the exhibition will be the first on US soil to examine the pioneering Finnish design company, Artek and it’s co-founders, Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Aalto. With a combination of sketches, painting, textiles, and bentwood furniture for which Artek would gain worldwide acclaim, the exhibition presents the often under appreciated work of the pioneering architect-couple.

Beginning their careers in the 1920’s, the Aaltos helped define the aesthetic of the then recently independent nation of Finland. Together with Maire Gullichsen, and Nils Gustav Hahl, the Aaltos  conceived a manifesto that underscored their commitment to enhancing the cultural and social ideals of modernism throughout the world. Artek, a portmanteau of art and technology, ultimately sought to enhance everyday life through the dissemination of modern art, architecture, and design. The founders established Artek as a private company with a threefold mission: to organize exhibitions on modern art, including painting, graphic arts, photography, sculpture, and anthropology; to design modern interiors; and to publish and “propagandize” for modernism. And, not incidentally, the company was also dedicated to the manufacture and sales of furniture designed by Alvar Aalto.

Both of the Aaltos attended architecture school at the University of Technology in Helsinki: Aino Marsio received a diploma in 1920 and Alvar Aalto in 1922. She graduated in a class with several other women; Finland had the largest number of university-trained women architects in the world during the first half of the twentieth century. Following graduation, both young architects moved to Jyväskylä, a city in central Finland.Aino Marsio went to work in Alvar Aalto’s office there in early in 1924, and they were married later that year.

Artek established a a sensibility rooted in standardization. Antithetical to the classic business practice of novelty, the idea was grounded in a belief that great variety could emerge from a limited vocabulary. It was a simple idea that contributed to the foundations of aesthetic upheaval that twentieth century modernism would be built upon.

Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World will be on view at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York City from April 22 – September 25th.