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Harry Bertoia: Sound and Vision

Harry Bertoia: Sound and Vision

Harry Bertoia’s broadly varied artistic output is difficult to classify. His son, Val Bertoia, offered perhaps the most astute description when he said: “Harry was a metal man. When Harry was making furniture, he was making metal comfortable for the human body. When Harry was making sound sculpture, he was making metal comfortable for the human mind.”

Born Arieto Bertoia in San Lorenzo, Italy, in 1915, Bertoia emigrated to the United States in 1930. He found his “artistic Eden” at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, part of the Cranbrook Educational Community, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. There, he met his wife, Brigitta, and befriended Charles and Alexandra “Ray” Eames, the famously spirited iconoclasts of twentieth-century design. Bertoia collaborated with the Eameses during the early to mid-1940s. A few years after leaving the Eames Office, Bertoia joined Knoll Associates, at the invitation of a fellow designer and Cranbrook alumna, Florence (Schust) Knoll. For Florence and her husband, Hans Knoll, Bertoia created classic seating designs including his “Diamond” and “Bird” chairs and other products constructed of shaped and welded wire. Introduced in 1952, Bertoia’s chairs are still produced by Knoll today.

From 1953 until his death in 1978, Bertoia focused his creative energies almost exclusively on sculpture. Among several themes the artist explored in metal were his innovative “tonal” or “sounding” sculptures of the 1960s and ’70s. The seven sculptures featured in this exhibition were acquired when the Johnson Museum first opened, in 1973.

During the last decade of his life, Bertoia recorded several of his own symphonic performances with dozens of “tonals” he assembled in a converted barn at his home in Bartow, Pennsylvania. The recordings fill eleven vinyl LPs, collectively titled Sonambient.

Beyond viewing the Museum’s own sculptures, along with other artworks, objects, and ephemera assembled for the exhibition, visitors are invited to “comfort their bodies” in a Bertoia “Diamond” chair and “comfort their minds” with Sonambient.

Matt Conway

Reproduction, including downloading of Harry Bertoia works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.