A temporary exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art tells the story of Vitra, the family-owned Swiss furniture company, from its roots as a licensed producer of Herman Miller pieces for the European market through its ambitious architectural commissions and its eclectic contemporary design collaborations.
The exhibition—titled “Vitra—Design, Architecture, Communication: a European Project with American Roots”—gathers 120 or so pieces, including furniture, design objects, publications, models, and videos.
Vitra’s founders, Willi and Erika Fehlbaum, started the company as a vehicle for licensing Herman Miller furniture by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, and Alexander Girard for sale in Europe. The company continues to produce many of those pieces, even as it has branched out by commissioning newer objects and furnishings by designers like Verner Panton, Antonio Citterio, Jasper Morrison, and the brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.
Rolf Fehlbaum, who joined the family business in 1977 and later became its chairman, presided over Vitra’s expansion into architecture, hiring Nicholas Grimshaw to design new factory buildings for the company after a fire destroyed much of its production facilities in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Other high-profile commissions followed, including Frank Gehry’s Vitra Design Museum, a fire station by Zaha Hadid, a conference pavilion by Tadao Ando and the VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron.
The exhibit is divided into the following sections: American Roots, Communications, Architecture/Site, Products/Designers, and Vitra Design Museum. It runs through April 26, 2015.