When Florence and Hans Knoll tempted American designer Harry Bertoia to decamp to their brand-new studio in the wilds of Pennsylvania, they didn't give him a brief so much as a free rein to 'create' whatever he chose. This decidedly uncorporate work ethic turned out to be one of the company's best moves: the resultant Diamond chair of 1952, made from welded steel rods, established both its designer and Knoll as purveyors of cutting-edge quality.
Bertoia saw it, and his four other wire pieces, more as artworks than furniture. 'These chairs' are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes through them,' he explained. Sculpture was where Bertoia's heart lay and, fortuitously, his designs for Knoll in the Fifties gave him the financial freedom to devote himself exclusively to artistic work. By the Seventies, he was pioneering experimental sound sculptures made from rows of metal wires. Now, where have we seen that idea before?
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Photograph by Simon Bevan