Knoll Textiles at Bard Graduate Center

Color Therapy

I have a new feature I’d like to slide under the imprimatur of Color Therapy — a guest writer. And what better opportunity then the exhibition Knoll Textiles at the Bard Graduate Center?

Benjamin Marcus is a close friend and frequent interlocutor in all matters of art and culture. We’ll banter at length on the nuances of typeface, the history of Roman architecture, the intimacy of a sketch. I haven’t seen the show at Bard yet but am excited to, based on these photos and his essay.

Certain colors here seem to indicate such Mid-Century trends as these: Color-Field painters, Brasilia, Space-Age Bachelor Pads, and my new favorite color-combo of ochre and magenta (the other being orange and grey). So, without further ado:

Knoll Textiles at the Bard

The amazing exhibit currently at the Bard Graduate Center on 86th Street, may be called “Knoll Textiles 1945 -2010”, but as much as it is a history of the eponymous company’s work at the forefront of 20th century furniture coverings, it is even more a testament to one woman’s pioneering work in bringing upholstery into sync with the prevailing but under-served, modernist idiom.

Florence Knoll, having worked alongside some of the Bauhaus masters, and in partnership with husband Hans Knoll, started the company’s lines of seating by using men’s suiting fabrics for their non-directional textures, perfectly appropriate to the fluid forms of postwar, machine-age, works. Like the individual designers she championed, (and, unusually for a manufacturer, gave credit to by name!), Knoll pushed the boundaries of inclusion of new technologies, like using parachute webbing or fiberglass casement as finish materials, and applying the industrial techniques of screen printing to ordinary plain weave cotton.

By commissioning designers, most of them women, to bring their personal imaginations to bear, Knoll brought bright colorways and abstract forms to mass-produced furniture. But in a stroke of genius, she saw the appropriateness of intricate textures to the streamlined armatures they wrapped: warps of fine cotton with wefts of nubby wool, (“Crash”), rough irregular surfaces of thick, uneven yarns, saturated color underlays and close-but-still-contrasting color overlays (“Prestini”) – such are the monuments in the canon of modern textile design we know so well, but may not be aware of where they originated.

In one tour de force of process-happy exploration, (“Brigadoon”), a synthetic fabric was printed with base color, then embossed with a pattern of dots, and then run (twice) through a perforating machine to create layers of tiny holes. And by such tricks as employing patterns small in scale but with an overall effect when pleated into drapery that read large and bold, (as across an office building’s curtain-wall of windows), Knoll took the fussy backwardness out of upholstery, and put textiles into the service of interior architecture.

In the Bard’s four floors of artifacts, seemingly every important step of progress is marked, literally, in flying colors. For anyone who has the least bit of curiosity to know the sources of our modern textile heritage, and experience the thrill of seeing some of design history’s greatest glories unfold before your eyes, this illuminating and inspiring show – up through July 31 – is a must-see-now. — Benjamin

MORE INFO: Knoll Textiles at Bard Graduate Center

MORE ON THE KNOLL TEXTILES EXHIBIT ON APARTMENT THERAPY:
Knoll Textiles: Over Fifty Years of Women in Design

Benjamin R. Marcus is an architect working in New York.

Images: Courtesy of Knoll Textiles and the Bard Graduate Center