Less is More

‘Essence of Things,’ exhibit at New Orleans Museum of Art celebrates minimalism
17|!|Ant|!| (No. 3100)|!!| Arne Jacobsen|!!| 1952© Vitra Design Museum; Photo: Thomas Dix

This weekend, I took advantage of the New Orleans Museum of Art being open not only on a Monday, but also a holiday — July 4. The heat index’s climb to 106 degrees made the idea of a barbecue or picnic unbearable, but taking in the new exhibit, “The Essence of Things – Design and the Art of Reduction: An Exhibition of the Vitra Design Museum,” in the comfort of the museum’s spectacular air conditioning seemed like a win-win. Design aficionados — especially minimalists and those partial to Mid-Century Modern design — will want to bump this exhibit high up on their to-do list.

Covering a span of 100 years of design history, the exhibit — organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany — features about 150 items that serve as examples of simple, effective, minimalist design. From paperclips to the S-shaped Panton Chair by Danish architect and designer Verner Panton, well-designed objects are dissected and discussed in relation to history, art and the myriad translations and permutations of minimalism. Despite being a person who believes entirely in architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is more,” design philosophy, I never quite achieve a truly minimalist aesthetic in my own décor. This exhibit then, as you might imagine, is both dreamy and a great reminder to get rid of some non-essential “stuff” around the house. The iconic work of some of my favorite designers, including Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen, Isamu Noguchi, Le Corbusier, Phillipe Stark, Ettore Sottsass and design power couple Charles and Ray Eames, is featured in the exhibit.

Items are arranged in groupings throughout the room either on risers or mounted on the wall. At first, I didn’t care to see, for example, Arne Jacobsen’s “Ant” chair, an Isamu Noguchi coffee table and various other stools, lamps and chairs by Mid-Century superstar designers seemingly upended and jutting out from the wall. It was disconcerting. However, I soon came around to what I believe to be the point of presenting them that way, which is to allow for greater inspection of the items. Viewing them from the side or top and being able to look underneath to inspect the way the pieces are constructed elevates them — both literally and figuratively — to their rightful place as decorative art, rather than the way we are used to using and viewing them, as decorations. 

“The Essence of Things – Design and the Art of Reduction: An Exhibition of the Vitra Design Museum,” runs until September 11 at the New Orleans Museum of Art.



Second photo: 10Stacked chairs made out of fiber glass plasticDSS (1954) and armchair DAX (1950),Charles Eames, 1954 © Vitra



In the coming months, enjoy a variety of lectures, films and other events surrounding the exhibit: 


Lectures and Talks

Noontime talks, "The Essence of Things," gallery talks with Mel Buchanan, RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, every Wednesday at noon during the month of August

Fish Factory Media, July 8, 6:30 p.m.



"Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect & The Painter," July 29, 7:30 p.m.

"Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight,” Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.


NOMA Late Night: Design It! 

Aug. 19, 5 p.m. to  midnight. NOMA's annual late night event includes a variety of activities, demonstrations, tours and lectures around the theme of the exhibition. 


Film Series 

Curated by Laszlo Fulop, Film Professor, University of New Orleans

Helvetica – Friday, Aug 12, 7:30 pm

Objectified – Friday, Aug 26, 7:30 pm

Urbanized – Friday, Sept 9, 7:30 pm


Cooking Series

Café NOMA Cooking Series themed to "The Essence of Things,” July 15 through Sept. 9. Every Friday at 6:30 p.m.


Categories: Bon Vivant, Theatre + Art, Things To Do