Curator’s Eye

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We asked curators of leading twentieth-century and contemporary design collections to discuss one object that they feel is particularly noteworthy. Here is a gallery of their choices.

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Lella Vignelli (1934–2016), Massimo Vignelli (1931–2014), BAR TOOLS, Manufactured by San Lorenzo Silver, 1972. Dallas Museum of Art, Jewel Stern American Silver Collection, Decorative Arts Fund

A SET OF BAR TOOLS DESIGNED by Lella Vignelli and her husband, Massimo Vignelli, and introduced by San Lorenzo in 1972, captures the pure form, sparse ornament, and subtle elegance that defined the oeuvre of these late, Italian-born American designers. The Vignellis, both architects by training, were among the founders in 1965 of Unimark International Corporation, a design firm with offices in Milan, New York, and Chicago, and, in 1971, of Vignelli Associates in New York. In its first year Vignelli Associates designed a silver carafe, celebrated for its architectonic form and unique finish, for the Italian manufacturer San Lorenzo. Inspired by tree bark, Lella Vignelli achieved the carafe’s striated surface through the application of parallel, vertical grooves of various widths and depths.

The following year, in 1972, San Lorenzo introduced this bar tools set—ice tongs, a Hawthorne strainer, olive tongs, and a paring knife—to complement the carafe. While the smooth surfaces of the bar tools differ from what Victoria & Albert curator Eric Turner has described as the “metallic bark” of the carafe, their forms, in particular that of the ice tongs, are based on the carafe’s curved and bisected handle. The Hawthorne strainer demonstrates the adaptability of the Vignellis’ restrained, sophisticated aesthetic to fit a vast array of objects with unique functions: the handle of the strainer terminates in a disk-shaped sieve punctuated with rounded and arced openings that allow only the liquids to pass from cocktail shaker to glass.

San Lorenzo released the set prior to the 1972 holiday season, during which the bar tools were touted by House Beautiful as “the most elegant Christmas gift of 1972” and sold at Cartier in New York. The timeless appeal of this design was evident to affluent, discerning American shoppers at the time, and continues to delight visitors to the Dallas Museum of Art’s exhibition Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail. As Lella Vignelli told New York magazine in 2007, “If you do it right, it will last forever. It’s as simple as that.” And in the case of the bar tools, it appears that the Vignellis did it right. The exhibition is on view through November 12.

Samantha Robinson
Interim Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design
Dallas Museum of Art

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