In this series, Lagniappe presents a different work each week from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, with commentary from a curator.
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1972, a visitor to New York’s Museum of Modern Art would have walked through a landmark design exhibition called “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape.” Organized to highlight post-World War II ideas in Italian design, the exhibition addressed worldwide changing lifestyle patterns including more informal social relationships and the exploration of new materials and production techniques.
Among MOMA’s display of 11 futuristic environments and 180 individual design objects — ranging from lamps to flatware to typewriters — was this all-plastic chair designed by Vico Magistretti, a design leader in postwar Italy.
Magistretti’s Vicario Armchair (1971) has the “futuristic” vibe shared by the designs on view in the exhibition — it has an unmistakably bold color and relied on the cutting edge of manufacturing capabilities.
Magistretti was one of a small but growing number of designers experimenting with molded plastic in the late 1960s, when manufacturers could first successfully make a single-piece plastic chair with no metal legs or internal support structure.
The “Vicario” Armchair (the word means “vicar” in Italian) is one piece of compression molded fiberglass reinforced polyester (or plastic), with a unique S-shape on the legs that gives the plastic strength.
Like his design contemporaries, including Ray and Charles Eames in the United States, Magistretti was interested in exploring the limits of plastic as a new material in pursuit of inexpensive, mass-produced well-designed furniture.
Currently, the New Orleans Museum of Art’s bright orange “Vicario” Armchair is on view in the museum’s second-floor Lupin Foundation Decorative Arts Galleries.
Mel Buchanan is RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design at NOMA.
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