Electrifying Design: A Century of Lighting
July 2–September 26, 2021
Electrifying Design: A Century of Lighting emphasizes lighting’s role in propelling innovation in design. Due to the efforts of American and European scientists, inventors, and manufacturers beginning in the late 1800s, electric light bulbs and their attendant fixtures began to pervade domestic and urban life. This ultimately spawned a field that took into consideration both function and aesthetics, sparking wonderment through innovation and the alchemy of light.
Lighting engages with advances in technology and materials and serves as a leading indicator of changing aesthetic movements. Rather than presenting a comprehensive survey, this exhibition examines key contributions by international lighting designers and manufacturers through the lens of three ideas—Typologies, The Bulb, and Quality of Light. Throughout the exhibition, the most compelling, innovative, influential, and, sometimes, earliest expressions of a concept can be seen both as functional works and as awe-inspiring forms that delight.
Electrifying Design demonstrates that lighting is a crucial, integral practice in modern and contemporary life. The works in this exhibition stand at the crossroads of the history and the future of lighting design: illuminating the past and present while revealing filaments of the ideas and forms that may potentially spark the imaginations of ensuing generations.
Table Lamp, 1927Table Lamp, 1927
Table Lamp, 1927
Chrome plated steel and glass
Donald Deskey (American, 1894–1989), designer
Deskey Vollmer, Inc., American, active 1927–1931, manufacturer
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase in honor of Caroline Heilweil, President of the Members Guild, 2000–2001, with funds from the Decorative Arts Acquisition Endowment, 2000.207
Donald Deskey’s Table Lamp evokes the clean, modernist lines and geometric structures popular during the interwar period. Its stylized zigzag, stepped shape contrasts with the more nuanced integration of glass seen in Godefridus Johannes (Frits) Kuyken’s Model A6 Floor Lamp, on view in the exhibition. The three triangular sections mimic a traffic light. Each section of Deskey’s lamp is composed of an individual bulb in a compartment that is, in turn, fully covered with glass panels. With its diffused light creating a warm, even glow, it functions more as an art object or conversation piece than a usable task/table light.
Fragile Future 3.13, 2013Fragile Future 3.13, 2013
Fragile Future 3.13, 2013
Dandelion seeds, phosphorus bronze, LED bulbs, and Plexiglas
DRIFT, Dutch, established 2007, artist and maker
Purchase with funds from the Wish Foundation, the Decorative Arts Acquisition Endowment Fund, Sarah Kenan Kennedy, Roya and Bahman Irvani, and Sara and Paul N. Steinfeld, 2017.333
Technology and nature meet in a delicate fusion within Fragile Future 3.13, a light sculpture featuring real dandelion seeds handpicked and meticulously attached seed-by-seed to a series of LED lights connected through three-dimensional bronze circuits. Uniting nature, poetic aesthetics, and high technology, the labor-intensive design challenges ideas of mass production and questions whether these advances are superior to the evolutions of nature. The DRIFT team says, “The project can be seen as a critical yet utopian vision on the future of our planet, where two seemingly opposite evolutions have made a pact to survive.”
Super Lamp, designed 1978, made ca. 1985–1989Super Lamp, designed 1978, made ca. 1985–1989
Super Lamp, designed 1978, made ca. 1985–1989
Fiberglass, enamel, steel, rubber, and 40 watt incandescent bulbs
Martine Bedin (French, born 1957), designer
Memphis Milano, Italian, active 1981–1988, manufacturer
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Design Council, 2020, 2020.71
Martine Bedin displays bulbs with a sense of whimsy in her Super Lamp for the Italian design collective Memphis. Resembling a streamlined toy car, the rounded base is crowned with a row of similarly shaped bulbs with different-colored socket collars. The lamp is more sculptural when unlit, but the warmth of the illuminated, exposed bulbs matches the exuberance of the design. The result is that even while displaying the bare bulb, Bedin indicates that lighting can be more than simply utilitarian—it can express ideas of play and wonder, all while maintaining its core function.
Moloch Floor Lamp, 1971Moloch Floor Lamp, 1971
Moloch Floor Lamp, 1971
Anodized aluminum, painted aluminum, steel, and bulb
Gaetano Pesce (Italian, born 1939), designer
Bracciodiferro, Italian, active 1971–1975, manufacturer
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund
In 1971, Gaetano Pesce was inspired to design an oversize lamp because there were few standing lamps that could illuminate public spaces or large interiors. Rather than create something new, he decided to base his lamp on an existing one—designer Jac Jacobsen’s iconic L-1 Adjustable Table Lamp of 1937, which was inspired by George Carwardine’s Anglepoise Lamp, on view in the exhibition. Pesce ultimately increased the original’s scale and details by a factor of four to create the Moloch Floor Lamp.
Eclisse Table Lamp, designed 1966, made ca. 1970Eclisse Table Lamp, designed 1966, made ca. 1970
Eclisse Table Lamp, designed 1966, made ca. 1970
Lacquered aluminum and bulb
Vico Magistretti (Italian, 1920–2006), designer
Artemide, Italian, established 1960, manufacturer
Designed sculpturally using spheres, Eclisse reflects Vico Magistretti’s love of geometric forms and strong graphic outlines. Conceived as a bedside lamp, the design features three simple hemispheres: one functions as the base, another as the shade, and the third as a rotating eyelid or sun shield. The user can manipulate a domed shield to block out the light emanating from the bulb, creating stages of an eclipse (or eclisse in Italian). When fully closed, only a ring of light illuminates the edges of the shield’s circle.
Mega Chandelier, 2018Mega Chandelier, 2018
Mega Chandelier, 2018
Moooi Works, Dutch, established ca. 2009, designer
Moooi, Dutch, established 2001, manufacturer
Moooi, New York
In 2018, the design firm Moooi challenged its in-house design team to create the ultimate chandelier. The resulting Mega Chandelier is so overwhelming in its scale and image that the visual impact of the whole swallows its parts. Moooi’s team included various individual chandelier typologies in the overall composition to offer a stylistic mini history of the form.
Tizio Table Lamp, designed 1971, made 1972–1973Tizio Table Lamp, designed 1971, made 1972–1973
Tizio Table Lamp, designed 1971, made 1972–1973
ABS plastic, aluminum, metal, and halogen bulb
Richard Sapper (German, 1932–2015), designer
Artemide, Italian, established 1960, manufacturer
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the manufacturer, 1973
One of the most commercially successful lighting designs of the twentieth century, Richard Sapper’s Tizio features adjustable and counterbalanced arms that allow for smooth directional placement of the light source. The technologically innovative Tizio, which had the ability to conduct electricity through its arms without wires, was one of the earliest examples of a task lamp to incorporate a generator as well as a halogen in its base.
Electrifying Design: A Century of Lighting is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
This exhibition is made possible by
Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
Dr. Joan H. Weens Estate
Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation
Robin and Hilton Howell
Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
Helen C. Griffith
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Dr. Joe B. Massey
Margot and Danny McCaul
Wade Rakes and Nicholas Miller
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
In Memory of Elizabeth B. Stephens by Powell Stephens, Preston Stephens, and Sally Stephens Westmoreland
USI Insurance Services
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren
Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.