The Essence of Things: Design and the Art of Reduction, an exhibition of the Vitra Design Museum, celebrates simplicity in design

This is the first exhibition at NOMA dedicated to 20th century and contemporary design

NEW ORLEANS, LA- The Essence of Things: Design and the Art of Reduction, on view June 24 through September 11, 2016, brings together approximately 150 objects from one hundred years of design history, ranging from humble items like flip-flops and rubber bands to high-concept living pods. Furniture, appliances, lighting, graphic design, and architecture are represented in this exhibition, which includes work by well-known historic and contemporary designers including Gerrit Rietveld, Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Ray & Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Donald Judd, Jasper Morrison, and Shigeru Ban.

“NOMA is delighted to be working in partnership with the internationally-renowned Vitra Design Museum to bring this exciting, thoughtful exhibition to New Orleans as one of only two venues in the United States,” says Susan Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art. “This is NOMA’s first presentation of an exhibition dedicated to 20th-century and contemporary design. It vividly demonstrates today’s interconnected world of visual arts, design, media, architecture, and technology.”

The Essence of Things explores how many designers embrace minimalism as a way to achieve both function and elegant aesthetics, whether they are planning a chair, an article of clothing, or the newest Smartphone. These designers operate under the idea that “good design” is when nothing can be added but also nothing can be taken away. This principle of simplicity has increasingly guided the international field of industrial design for over a century, but it manifests in a variety of ways. In concept, The Essence of Things explores these many facets of minimalism and demonstrates the disparate ways designers have sought to approach “the essential” in an object.

Introducing this exhibition is a prologue gallery featuring a surprising selection of 50 everyday objects that show a minimalist approach as the solution to a successful design. The gallery considers diverse objects including a prehistoric stone hand axe, a metal paper clip, a cardboard egg carton, a cut diamond, and an iPod shuffle.  “I love how this exhibition will encourage you to think about familiar objects in a new way,” says Mel Buchanan, NOMA’s RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design. “Something as deceptively simple as a golf ball, a LEGO block, or a fiberglass Eames chair is the result of a designer’s experimentation and calculation with both science and art.”

The Essence of Things follows four large themes of “manufacture,” “function,” “aesthetics,” and “ethics,” with each large idea shown through a variety of well-known designs and products. Icons like 19th-century bentwood Thonet chairs and a clear plastic chair by French design superstar Philippe Starck are complemented with photo and video projections showing examples from related fields – graphic design, photography, painting, sculpture, architecture, landscape design, product design, fashion, food design, theater design and technology.


The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Vitra Design Museum Publications.

The large-format 132-page volume, written in English and German, contains color images of all exhibition objects and their technical specifications as well as explanatory notes on their particular relevance to the theme. The publication includes four essays, including an exploration of the key idea “The Essence of Things – Design and the Art of Reduction” written by the show’s curator, Mathias Schwartz-Clauss. The catalogue will be available for purchase in the NOMA Museum Shop.

Credit Line

The Essence of Things: Design and the Art of Reduction is organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany. This exhibition is presented at NOMA in memory of H. Mortimer Favrot, Jr. and supported in part by the Favrot Architecture and Design Endowment.

Public Programs Include

Opening Night Lecture, “Architecture at the Vitra Design Museum Campus,” Reiner Packeiser, Head of Exhibitions, Vitra Design Museum – Friday, June 24, 6:30pm

Opening Night Gallery Talk, Mel Buchanan, RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts and Design -Friday, June 24, 7:30 pm

New Orleans Architecture Foundation Lecture and Luncheon with architect Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA – Monday, June 27, 11:00 am. Registration required, tickets available at


Fish Factory Media – Friday, July 8, 6:30 pm

Design Documentary Film Series. All held indoors in NOMA’s Stern Auditorium.

A LEGO Brickumentary – Friday, July 1, 7:30 pm

Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect & The Painter – Friday, July 29, 7:30 pm

Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight – Friday, Sept 2, 7:30 pm

NOMA Late Night: Design It! – Friday, August 19, 5:00 pm-midnight. NOMA’s annual late night event includes a variety of activities, demonstrations, tours, and lectures around the theme of the exhibition.

Film Series curated by Laszlo Fulop,Film Professor, University of New Orleans. All held indoors in NOMA’s Stern Auditorium.

Helvetica – Friday, Aug 12, 7:30 pm

Objectified – Friday, Aug 26, 7:30 pm

Urbanized – Friday, Sept 9, 7:30 pm

Café NOMA Cooking Series themed to The Essence of Things: July 15-September 9. Every Friday at 6:30 pm.

Noontime talks – The Essence of Things Gallery talks with Mel Buchanan,RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design, every Wednesday at noon during the month of August.

About NOMA and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

The New Orleans Museum of Art, founded in 1910 by Isaac Delgado, houses nearly 40,000 art objects encompassing 5,000 years of world art. Works from the permanent collection, along with continuously changing special exhibitions, are on view in the museum’s 46 galleries Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The adjoining Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features work by over 60 artists, including several of the 20th century’s master sculptors. The Sculpture Garden is open seven days a week: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The New Orleans Museum of Art and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden are fully accessible to handicapped visitors and wheelchairs are available from the front desk. For more information about NOMA, call (504) 658-4100 or visit Wednesdays are free admission days for Louisiana residents, courtesy of The Helis Foundation. (May not include special exhibitions.) Teenagers (ages 13-19) receive free admission every day through the end of the year, courtesy of The Helis Foundation.