George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher

This show celebrates the furniture and design of what we now call mid-century modernism. Yes, it's the Mad Men era, but it's also the post-war moment when the realigned U.S. economy began to boom, when Nelson (1908-1986) helped give form to America's new industrial might. As design director for Herman Miller, the furniture- and office-design firm that employed Charles Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Eliot Noyes, he helped invent the modern workplace. His modular approach included desks with tidy hidden compartments, flip-out typing stands, and finally the L-shape desktop configuration so ubiquitous today. In addition to all the vintage furniture on display (most of it scuffed and used, stained with ink and cigarettes), you can examine old Herman Miller brochures and catalogs; each new line, like the Action Office 2, was like an updated iPhone for its day. At a time when we were putting men on the moon, and the first bytes on silicon, the office also had to be smart and modern. Movie posters, corporate logos, ads, promotional videos, and home furnishings also show the breadth of Nelson's influence. Still, unlike Pan Am and other echoes of JFK-era cool, it's worth remembering that his intent wasn't entertainment but commerce. Good design made for good business. In which sense, his modern analogue isn't a fictional character like Don Draper but a packaging perfectionist like Steve Jobs. BRIAN MILLER

Tuesdays-Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fridays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Starts: Oct. 29. Continues through Feb. 12, 2011

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