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Bard Graduate Center is pleased to announce that its publication, Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World, has won the 2018 Philip Johnson Exhibition Catalogue Award—one of the most prestigious honors presented by the Society of Architectural Historians.

Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World, edited by Bard Graduate Center Gallery Director Nina Stritzler-Levine and Timo Riekko, archivist at the Alvar Aalto Archive in Jyväskylä, Finland, accompanied the critically-acclaimed exhibition of the same name on view at BGC during the fall of 2016. The first exhibition in the United States to examine Artek, a pioneering Finnish design company founded in 1935, and the first to have a specific focus on the two architect co-founders, Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) and Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894–1949), it offered a specific analysis of Artek’s distinct international role as a disseminator of modernism in art, architecture, interiors, furniture, and other modern products while also contextualizing the contributions of its founders, Alvar and his wife, Aino Marsio-Aalto providing evidence for their close professional partnership as well as critical interpretations of their major projects.

Ms. Stritzler-Levine, who received the award on April 20, 2018, at ceremonies held during the Society’s annual conference in Saint Paul, Minnesota said, “I am grateful to the Society of Architectural Historians for this great honor. It is thrilling to receive this award on behalf of Bard Graduate Center. I want to recognize Timo Riekko’s contribution to this project and the contributions of the authors, Irma Boom, and the Alvar Aalto Foundation and museum. I am grateful to the Artek Company, the Graham Foundation, and Furthermore for supporting this publication. This award is for the founders of Artek—Alvar Aalto, Aino Marsio-Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils Gustav-Hahl, whose progressive vision of design and architecture continues to stand the test of time.”

The award was presented by Maristella Casciato, Senior Curator and Head of Architectural Collections at the Getty Research Institute. The citation reads:

Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World is an impressive investigation of the innumerable design projects Aino and Alvar Aalto developed for the Artek furniture company. The publication makes two uniques contributions. First, it draws attention to the roles played by both architects in co-founding Artek, stressing Aino’s pivotal but heretofore unrevealed position as art director of the company. Second, it provides a fresh and meticulous account of the history and mission of the company, based on thorough research in the Artek archives.
This ambitions project unveils deficiencies in the existing historiography of Artek and retrieves hidden actors—including Maire Gullichsen a Finnish art patron and a key figure in the founding of the company. It introduces concepts of standardization, experimentation, and production line methods to the discussion, tracing their influence on the marketing of products and their relation to interior design and to the arrangement of architectural space.
A collaborative team of scholars contributed to the publication. They have explored aspects of the Artek strategy beyond the pure production of goods and emphasized the novelties connected with the making of advertisements, manifestos, and exhibitions.
Artek and the Aaltos is a book of almost seven hundred pages and includes hundreds of images—among them sketches, posters, and photographs—most of which were previously unpublished. This bounty is presented in a compact format that sometimes challenges the eyes even as it thrills the mind.
The chapters that focus on the international exposure of Artek design in Europe and in the United States reveal another unexplored epoch. Crossing the ocean in the early 1940s, the Artek company became a leading furniture importer int he United States and make “Aalto design” a winning marketing slogan.
The four final chapters are a compendium of the Aaltos’ furniture and design products, including the many versions of the celebrated bentwood chairs, glass items, textiles, and lighting.
In 2017, Artek and the Aaltos: Creating a Modern World, designed by renowned book designer Irma Book, was named among the “50 Books | 50 Covers” of 2016—the best examples of book and cover design— by the AIGA, the professional association for design.

“Ms. Stritzler-Levine’s introduction to its thick catalog surveys previous scholarship, ticks off the new work done by various scholars for the current publication and lays out her multitiered agenda. Did I mention her conviction that the Aaltos, rather than Charles and Ray Eames, were the first design/architect couple of Modernism? Despite a certain triumphal tone, this essay communicates an excitement, anticipation and, above all, an ambition that the exhibition completely fulfills.”—Roberta Smith, The New York Times