Guest curated by Dr. Marin R. Sullivan, Director of the Harry Bertoia Catalogue Raisonné, Harry Bertoia: Sculpture for Living features 15 exemplary sculptures and furniture designs created by Harry Bertoia (1915–1978), some never-before publicly exhibited. Drawn from the collection of the Harry Bertoia Foundation, including a selection of tonal sculptures from the so-called Sonambient Barn on the artist’s property in Pennsylvania, as well as from select private and public collections in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, these objects share rich, intimate histories of creation, use, and appreciation in artist’s and their subsequent owner’s lives.
While the artist and designer Harry Bertoia is perhaps best known for his commissioned sculptures and pioneering use of sound as sculptural material, most of his creative output was made for domestic spaces, to be actively lived with not passively observed in the often-sterile environments of galleries or museums. From the beginning of his career, Bertoia frequently made works for friends and family, and his now-iconic collection of seating for Knoll helped define midcentury modern interiors and outdoor living spaces. Knoll also sold many of Bertoia’s sculptures in their showrooms and featured his work in their interior design projects throughout the postwar period. While collaborating with many leading modernist architects and designers on large-scale architectural projects, many of these practitioners—including Gordon Bunshaft, Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, and Minoru Yamasaki—also became enthusiastic collectors of his smaller-scaled works. Bertoia often worked directly with potential private collectors and clients, creating or modifying sculptures to fit the specificities of their homes and offices. Bertoia was happy to have his work integrated and treasured within these personal places. Children clamored on tonal sculptures in hallways and so-called straw constructions gracefully hung from ceilings. Welded bush-like sculptures rested on coffee tables and multiplane screens divided rooms. Though such functional applications have often been maligned with the history of modern art, Bertoia’s innovative, multifaceted sculptural practice demonstrates the power of art in everyday life.