An expansive design exhibition takes place at Germany’s Vitra Design Museum, paying a tribute to women’s journey, their past and present, while studying why so many were made invisible throughout the years. “Here We Are! Women in Design 1900–Today” features works by over 80 women who’ve shaped the design industry in the past 120 years.
Everyone knows Charlotte Perriand and Eileen Gray, and over the past years, some female artists have been catching attention, like Yayoi Kusama, Alice Neel, Julie Mehretu, who had design exhibitions in New York alone. Now, the design world has a must-see design exhibition honoring women, and it’s on view through March 6, 2022.
Art curators Viviane Stappmanns, Nina Steinmüller, and Susanne Graner asked themselves why so many female talents were overshadowed during the years, comparing to male designers.
Initially we thought that, perhaps, there were not that many women designers, but in fact there are so many of them that we could have 10 exhibitions focusing on different genres.Viviane Stappmanns
The curators also believe it’s important to provide a broader context, digging into gender and racial imbalances, for the periods in which these women worked. For instance, women worked as designers in 1910, but they weren’t trained for it because this education wasn’t available to them. These social disadvantages are represented in this modern design exhibition.
While some of the names featured in this design exhibition will be familiar, like Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, Clara Porset, Elsie de Wolfe, Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Patricia Urquiola, and Faye Toogood; the exhibition also shines a light on dozens of female talents, ranging from designers to entrepreneurs who are ripe for rediscovery.
Nearly half the design students are women, nowadays, and women lead the way in many innovative areas of design. With its rich display of fascinating exhibits, it follows the work and working conditions of women in design from early modernism to the present. “Here We Are! Women in Design 1900 – Today” defines a clear stance on a key social issue and presents modern design in a new light.
The exhibition is organized chronologically into four sections: Reform and Revolution 1900–1930, Pioneers of Modernism 1920–1950, On the Move 1950–1990, and The Bigger Picture 1990–Today.
In the first part of the exhibition, design emerges as a profession on its own, as the design exhibition focuses on the development of design in Europe and the United States in around 1900. One of the earliest pioneers featured is Louise Brigham, who constructed simple furniture out of wooden packing crates.
The design exhibition centers on the 1920s to 1950s, a period during which female designers like Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, and Clara Porset, as well as Cartier’s creative director Jeanne Toussaint, began to make their name internationally even though patriarchal patterns persisted.
Addressing the era from 1950 to the end of the 1980s, the third part of the design exhibition covers the second wave of feminism, that emerged in the 1960s, to stand against the conservative post-war mentality evident, for example, in the Swiss Exhibition on Women’s Work held in 1958.
Last, but not least, the fourth part delivers us to the present day. Works by famous international designers including Matali Crasset, Patricia Urquiola, or Hella Jongerius evidence that today, a successful career in design is equally possible for both men and women.
Women have been edifying the meaning of design and pushing the boundaries of their discipline. The last part also presents a number of recent initiatives demonstrating how feminist questions patterns of authorship, education, and recognition in design and architecture in the light of such concepts as diversity and intersectionality.
The design exhibition offers different positions, it provides a new, updated look at the story of modern design and gives plenty of impulses about what design should be in the twenty-first century, who defines it, and who it is for.