As the new film about them makes clear, Charles and Ray had so much confidence in the way they went about solving a problem—whether designing a chair, an exhibit, or a film—they didn’t entertain thoughts of failing. Other factors, besides their design brilliance, helped. Two of the most important were maintaining artistic control and having the ear of the CEOs at their client companies.
There is much proof of their successes, including the string of designs they did for Herman Miller, beginning with the groundbreaking plywood chair. But one clinker stands out: their 1976 show for the bicentennial of the American Revolution, “The World of Franklin and Jefferson.” Hilton Kramer writing in the New York Times panned it as overly ideological. Others saw it as overwhelming: too much information, too many artifacts.
But as Donald Albrecht, architecture and design curator, points out in “Eames: The Architect and the Painter,” the exhibit can be seen less as a failure and more as a reflection of the restless minds of the Eameses. Layering the material, as we do today in digital experiences, would have made it compelling and digestible. Perhaps this exhibit was simply another example of Charles and Ray being ahead of their time.