Quintessentially Michigan: Michigan Modern at GRAM

At the turn of the 20th century, a debate was happening in the art world among scholars and crafts persons: are applied arts, handicrafts and crafts included in the visual arts?


Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America Exhibition
Grand Rapids Art Museum
May 18 – August 24, 2014

Kendall College of Art & Design
June 19-21, 2014

At the turn of the 20th century, a debate was happening in the art world among scholars and crafts persons: are applied arts, handicrafts and crafts included in the visual arts?

Furniture was considered a trade until studio artists like George Nakashima …were on the scene,” said Josh McVety, local designer and Kendall College graduate. “Design is an outlet that is quintessential to the commercial side of furniture. Studio furniture artists conceptualize, design, build and invent new furniture. This is an entirely different way of thinking and set of skills … steeped in artistic process and method.”

Basically, the debate hinged on whether more manual labor in the process takes the piece farther away from being fine art. 

It's possible that a quintessentially Michigan response to that conversation was to find it all quite amusing for a moment, and then simply get back to work creating some of the most beautiful and respected visual arts in the world…through furniture design.

Visit prestigious art museums and you will often find Grand Rapids and other West Michigan communities listed as the place of origin on information labels next to works in their design and modern craft collections. 

An opportunity to learn more about Michigan’s important contributions, including the work of Nakashima, can be explored in a symposium hosted in partnership with the State Historic Preservation Office, Kendall College of Art & Design, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum on June 19 -21. Titled Michigan Modern: Designs that Shaped America, it is a complementary exhibition of the same title opens at GRAM on May 18.

One of the featured speakers is Mira Nakashima, who will discuss the works created by her father, including his Origins line, designed for the Widdicomb Furniture Company.

The symposium includes furniture design, but also expands into other creative areas.

Michigan innovators—architects, designers, manufacturers and education institutions—influenced design throughout the country and internationally,” said State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway. “What began as the design of buildings, automobiles and furniture became synonymous with American life and influenced the design of everything from boats to pop-up tents.”

The exhibition at GRAM explores a range of design areas as well, including boats and tents, focusing on the 1930s through the 1970s. The show features notable artists such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Ray Eames, designers who created some of their most iconic furniture pieces in collaboration with local companies.

GRAM is thrilled to be sharing this nationally recognized exhibition with the West Michigan audience, in part because it highlights the innovation and creativity of our region,” said GRAM Director Dana Friis-Hansen. “Beyond that, mid-century modern connects with baby-boomers who grew up in that era, and is also influential for younger generations finding their own styles.”



David Nash: From Kew Gardens to Meijer Gardens
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
May 23-Aug. 17, 2014
meijergardens.org, (616) 957-1580

This large-scale summer exhibition features a wide array of wood sculptures, complemented by drawings throughout the galleries and bronze sculptures installed in the Arid and Tropical conservatories. Outdoors, the massive Iron Dome, composed of 46 elements, is on display in the Sculpture Park not far from the permanent display of Nash’s iconic King and Queen.


Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
May 31-Aug. 23, 2014
kiarts.org, (269) 349-7775

As a painter, Louis C. Tiffany was captivated by the interplay of light and color, and this fascination found its most spectacular expression in his glass "paintings." Using innovative techniques and materials, Tiffany Studios created leaded-glass windows and lampshades in vibrant colors and richly varied patterns, textures, and opacities. The exhibition is comprised of three windows, 16 lamps, and 75 pieces of opalescent flat glass.


Art and Propaganda in Nazi-Occupied Holland
Holland Museum
Through Oct. 4, 2014
hollandmuseum.org, (616) 392-9084

The images represented in this exhibition evoke the horrors of war experienced by Hollanders during World War II and the despair and suffering of German concentration camps. Some of them display the blatant propaganda of the Nazi Party, which was meant to encourage the Dutch population to support the German Wehrmacht against the forces of Bolshevism. Dutch and Allied posters from the Holland Museum collection that countered these images are also exhibited.