Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Organic Abstraction

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


Although another case of not constituting an actual art movement, the use of rounded or wavy abstract forms based on what one finds in nature is a feature of many mid-century artists’ works.

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)

Table (c. 1940) — such a piece of funiture Noguchi considered sculpture, and inbued such works with sculptural elegance and refinement.

Noguchi’s “akari” light sculptures are considered icons of 1950s modern design. He coined the term “akari” to emphasize the illumination of light, and also the lightness in terms of weight.

Charles Eames (1907-1978) — US furniture designer.

Eames Plywood Chair (1947)
Trained as an architect, Eames used materials and processes developed in fields unassociated with furniture. Eames and Eero Saarinen developed a shell chair to fit the human form; the Museum of Modern Art held an organic design competition in 1941, and the two won first prize. But the initial design proved unsuited to mass production. Eames worked in the art department of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for a while and perfected the chair design in the mid-’40s.

Achille Castiglioni (1918- )

220 Messadro (1957) — made from a tractor seat, this “found object,” restates the debates of the Bauhaus group about the relationship between art and design, design and technology.

Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Reclining Figure (1936) — universal shapes to which everyone is subconsciously conditioned and to which they can respond if their conscious control does not shut them off.

Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) — Finnish artist and architect.

Saarinen Stem Chair (1957)
Saarinen was bugged by the idea that most indoor furniture arrangements were unsatisfactory, “that even the most modern living room settings were a slum of legs…. legs became a sort of metal plumbing.” To connect the human to the floor more gracefully, he developed in the 1950s a chair resembling a stemmed wine glass.

TWA building at JFK in New York (1956-1962)
Saarinen’s airport building is “a fanciful and rather weird collection of free forms, which overpowers both traveler and aircraft.”

Works Consulted

The Art Book. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1996.

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.