Alvin Lustig: Practical Elegance
The graphic artist, typographer, and furniture designer Alvin Lustig (1915–1955) made a lasting contribution to the history of 20th century American design. Born in Denver, Lustig studied at Los Angeles City College, Art Center, and later with renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His book designs are characterized by their flat colors, unique compositions and pared-back typography, as well as their use of simple geometric shapes, referencing the work of modern artists like Paul Klee and Joan Miró. Lustig’s reputation was cemented in 1941 with his iconic set of graphic abstract covers for the publisher New Directions. The quality of his work and his streamlined Bauhaus sensibility led to an invitation from legendary artist Josef Albers to teach at Black Mountain College in 1945, alongside such luminaries as John Cage and Buckminster Fuller.
Alvin Lustig, Lounge chair, designed c. 1948
May 21, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction
A design polymath, Lustig’s created posters, book covers, record sleeves, textiles, furnishings, signage, and lighting. Of this varied approach he wrote, ”The words ‘graphic designer,’ ‘architect,’ or ‘industrial designer’ stick in my throat giving me a sense of limitation, of specialization within the specialty, or a relationship to society that is unsatisfactory and incomplete.” Lustig worked as the visual research director of Look magazine from 1944 to 1946, before returning to Los Angeles, where he established his office and began taking on interior design and architectural commissions. It was around this time in 1949 that Lustig was commissioned to design this lounge chair for Paramount Furniture.
Echoes of the work of modernist designers like Eero Saarinen, Charles & Ray Eames, or Arne Jacobsen, can be found in the chair’s elegant, curved profile. The seat’s molded plywood bears the influence of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s technical innovations with wood, yet it remains a distinctive object in its own right, exemplifying Lustig’s stylish yet functional approach to design. Its iconic status was underscored by the design’s inclusion in the 2014 exhibition “Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, which recognized the key role of designers like Lustig in the development of modern American interior and furniture design. With its handsome moss green upholstery atop refined legs of painted metal, this highback lounge chair is a comfortable and versatile household object.
Paramount Furniture Company, designed c. 1948
37.5″ x 37.5″ x 32.5″
Provenance: Private Collection, Ojai, California; Museum of California Design, California (acquired directly from the above through Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Van Nuys, California, June 18, 2006, lot 169)
Literature: Arts & Architecture. August 1950. 33.
Estimate: $4,000 – $6,000
“Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism.” The CJM. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
Heller, Steven. “Down the Pigeonhole.” Alvin Lustig, Modern American Design Pioneer – Architecture & Interiors. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
Heller, Steven. “Born Modern.” Alvin Lustig, Modern American Design Pioneer – Architecture & Interiors. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.