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People often marvel at the complex, the convoluted. A spaceship or cathedral might inspire awe, but the smaller and simpler things like a golf ball or a LEGO block typically get overlooked.

An exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), titled The Essence of Things: Design and the Art of Reduction, which runs through September 11, aims to shine a light on the elegance of simplicity.

NOMA is delighted to be working in partnership with the internationally-renowned Vitra Design Museum to bring this exciting, thoughtful exhibition to New Orleans as one of only two venues in the United States,” said Susan Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

“This is NOMA’s first presentation of an exhibition dedicated to 20th-century and contemporary design. It vividly demonstrates today’s interconnected world of visual arts, design, media, architecture, and technology,” she added.

Charles and Ray Eames, DSS Stacking Chairs and DAX Armchair, 1954/1950

Arne Jacobsen, "Ant" chair (No. 3100), 1952; Photo: Thomas Dix.

Charles and Ray Eames / Eero Saarinen, Case Study House, #8 / Eames House, Architectural model, 1945-49; Photo: Andreas Sutterlin.

Thonet Brothers, Disassembled No. 14 Chairs in transportation crate, 1986; Photo: Thomas Dix.

The exhibition is a celebration of minimalism as a way to achieve both function and aesthetics. It can apply to a chair, clothing, or a smartphone. A good minimalist design means that nothing could be added, but nothing could be taken away, either. The Essence of Things showcases various ways designers have found “the essential” in an object.

The tour starts with a prologue gallery featuring an eclectic selection of 50 everyday objects that embrace minimalism. Examples include a prehistoric hand axe, a paper clip, a cardboard egg carton, and an iPod Shuffle. Mel Buchanan, NOMA’s Rosa Mary Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, said visitors will enjoy thinking about familiar objects in a new way.

“We start to almost become blind to the everyday objects around us,” Buchanan said. “Their success and ubiquity almost makes us blind to their genius designs.”

This is NOMA’s first presentation of an exhibition dedicated to 20th-century and contemporary design. Susan Taylor, New Orleans Museum of Art

The simplicity of these objects may not apply only to the final product. A golf ball looks – and is – simple. But Buchanan points to Thonet Chairs as an example of an object that isn’t simple, even if its manufacturing process was. That streamlined manufacturing process led it to become the most produced chair in human history.

Buchanan said it’s important to note that context matters. A small, simple room could represent an artistic or a lifestyle choice (e.g. the new trend of tiny houses), but it could also represent poverty or necessity (e.g. college students don’t live in dorm rooms because of their artistic purity).

The exhibition features four categories spread across thirteen platforms. The first is “manufacture” and addresses simplification through unity – say, a chair made entirely of plastic through a single manufacturing step. The second category is “function” and explores compactness – like a tower of 20 Eames Stacking Chairs.

The third section is “aesthetics” and examines the geometry and shape of these objects. The last section is “ethics” and looks at the idea that useful objects are successful when they signal to the user what they do.

For those who fall in love with the exhibition, the large-format catalogue will be available for purchase in the NOMA Museum Shop. The publication includes color images of all of the show’s objects, as well as explanatory notes indicating why they’re relevant to the main theme. The book also has four essays on the ideas behind The Essence of Things.

The exhibit includes a variety of public programs. There will be several lectures, as well as the Design Documentary Film Series (held in NOMA’s Stern Auditorium). University of New Orleans film professor Laszlo Fulop will curate a film series with screenings on August 12 and 26 as well as September 9 (all screenings will be at 7:30pm in NOMA’s Stern Auditorium). For the culinarily inclined, there will be a Cafe Noma Cooking Series tied to The Essence of Things every Friday at 6:30pm from July 15-September 9.

The New Orleans Museum of Art is open on Fridays from 10am to 9pm; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10am to 6m.; Saturdays from 10am to 5pm and Sundays from 11am to 5pm. Admission is free on Wednesdays for Louisiana residents. Tickets are $10.50 for adults, $8.50 for seniors, and $6.50 for children 7-12. Children 6 and under get in free. Thank you to NOMA and the Vitra Design Museum for the above images.

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