Jochen Eisenbrand lives and works thousands of miles Columbus, Indiana, but he is an expert on the design movement that has made it exceptional. Eisenbrand’s curatorial work has brought attention to 20th century masters of modern design, including Alexander Girard. Eisenbrand is participating in the Modern Art & Life session of “Foundations and Futures,” chaired by Michelangelo Sabatino.
Eisenbrand is chief curator at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Vitra Design Museum is an internationally renowned museum dedicated to modern furniture and interior design. Eisenbrand has curated exhibitions and written extensively about many of the most prominent architects and designers of the 20th century, including Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn, and George Nelson. He co-authored a book, Airworld: Design and Architecture for Air Travel, that chronicles the evolution and revolution of design in the fledgling airline industry since its inception in the early 20th Century. Eisenbrand holds a PhD in design history at the University of Wuppertal, where he wrote a dissertation that was later published as George Nelson: Ein Designer im Kalten Krieg (A Cold War Designer).
Eisenbrand’s current exhibit at the Vitra Design Museum is a detailed retrospective of a designer who left his mark on Columbus: Alexander Girard. Alexander Girard: a Designer’s Universe is the first exhibit to delve into Girard’s personal estate, acquired by Vitra in 1996. The accompanying catalogue, co-edited by Eisenbrand, represents the first ever scholarly examination of Girard’s body of work. Eisenbrand’s talk at “Foundations and Futures” will draw on his research into Girard’s work in Columbus as a textile artist and designer.
Girard’s best known work in the city is found in the Miller House, where he designed the interior. He is responsible for the details that make the living spaces so distinctive: the innovative conversation pit, the custom-designed carpet, the embroidered chair cushions, and the wrought iron pool gates. His interests—in folk art, pop art, and crafts—and his sense of playful joy are evident throughout the house. Girard tirelessly worked and reworked his interiors. Eisenbrand explains, “his designs were ongoing processes. He consulted the Millers over the course of 20 years, and the house kept changing from year to year and season to season.”
Girard’s impact on Columbus extends beyond the Miller House into the urban fabric of downtown. At the behest of J. Irwin Miller, he devised a master plan for Washington Street that drew upon the most charming qualities of small-town Columbus while creating a cohesive design that unified individual storefronts. As Eisenbrand will explore in his talk, Girard’s design sense was attuned to vernacular architecture and folk traditions. Eisenbrand explains that Girard’s interest in folk art “was not only nostalgic. He collected folk art so that the creative spirit of the past would inspire new designs.”
Eisenbrand’s exhibition and publications on Girard have already broadened awareness of Girard’s Columbus designs for an international audience. At “Foundations and Futures,” he will share his research in a place where Girard’s designs are a familiar symbol of the city and its treasures. Eisenbrand says, “I hope that Exhibit Columbus will inspire re-examination of Modern design and of the treasure trove of work present in Columbus.”