Current Exhibition

Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves
May 8, 2014 - September 28, 2014
Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves
Chess & Checkers Set for JCPenney. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.Photo © Michael DeFilippoPoker Set for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.Photo © Michael DeFilippoMonopoly Set for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.Monopoly Pieces for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.Photo © Michael DeFilippoChinese Checkers for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.

Chess & Checkers Set for JCPenney. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.

Photo © Michael DeFilippo

Poker Set for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.

Photo © Michael DeFilippo

Monopoly Set for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.

Monopoly Pieces for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.

Photo © Michael DeFilippo

Chinese Checkers for Target. Photo © Michael DeFilippo. Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group.

Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves focuses on the games designed by the Michael Graves Design Group.

Part of the line of housewares, decorative accessories, and furnishings created for the Target Corporation (now sold exclusively by JCPenney), these games bear the inimitable Graves stamp in their sleek and sophisticated design. While the exhibition features such games as Scrabble, Monopoly, Poker, and Stratego, the central element is the chess set, which is complemented by materials used in the design and creation of the set loaned by the Michael Graves Design Group. The exhibition provides further contextual foundation for Graves’ historical significance through additional examples of product design. For educational purposes, the exhibition also includes video elements that provide additional context for Michael Graves’ work and career, and an education center featuring books and other materials that provide supplementary historical background.

humana-building2graves250Humana Building in Louisville, KY.
Photo courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group

By the time a chess set designed by Michael Graves first appeared on the shelves of Target stores in 2000, its creator’s name was already synonymous with innovation in architecture and design in the twentieth century. One of the vaunted New York Five group of modernist architects based in New York City in the late 1960s, Graves later rejected the stringent efficiency and severity of modernism for the witty eclecticism and formal freedom of postmodernism, an architectural style he was amongst the first to introduce into the American landscape. His Portland Building has been considered one of the most groundbreaking and controversial examples of the postmodern architectural aesthetic since its completion in 1982, and his iconic Humana Building in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, and the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan Hotels are listed among the American Institute of Architects’ 150 top buildings in the United States. The number of awards, accolades, and honorary doctorates Graves has received over the course of his lengthy and consistently productive career is truly staggering. The 2001 Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects (the highest award that it bestows upon individual architects) and the 1999 National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton top the list of over 200 regional, national, and international awards bestowed upon Graves and his two firms, Michael Graves & Associates and Michael Graves Design Group. Rounding this out with a thirty-nine year career as a full-time tenured professor at Princeton, it can be said that Graves’ full impact on architecture and design at the turn of the century is virtually immeasurable.

While Graves has designed a number of extraordinary homes during his more than fifty years in the architectural field, his impact inside the home has been similarly influential, as he boasts some of the most recognizable domestic product designs of the past thirty years. Reflecting the philosophies of such venerable early twentieth-century exemplars as the Austrian Wiener Werkstätte, a visual arts collective who maintained the value of craftsmanship in the face of emerging industry, and the German design school the Bauhaus, whose aesthetic vision embraced both beauty and utility, Graves recognizes that modern industrial manufacturing processes did not signal the end of elegant, stylish design, but rather created a new potential for bringing a more sophisticated, relevant design aesthetic to the middle class. Graves’ reputation as a designer of stylish household products geared toward a more modest budget can be traced back to his work with the Italian firm Alessi that began in the 1980s. This partnership yielded what would become Graves’ most iconic design as well as Alessi’s most popular product, the whistling bird teakettle, with over two million sold since its debut in 1985. While his work with Alessi was a crucial step in the development of his design practice, it was his through his commission for the two hotels at Walt Disney World in the late 1980s that Graves saw the potential for a total thematic vision come to fruition. In these hotels, the extent of Graves’ aesthetic reached beyond the buildings into the furnishings, fabrics, wallpapers, and even the dishware. By the early 1990s, the growth of Graves’ design enterprise necessitated the establishment of a separate department of design within his architectural firm, which would ultimately develop into a firm in its own right, Michael Graves Design Group. 

Graves’ affiliations with Alessi and Disney were but a prelude to his most ambitious and wide-reaching collaboration, one which would change the face of mass-merchandising retail in America. In 1997, the leading sponsor of the renovation of the Washington Monument, the Target Corporation, approached Graves seeking a designer to create an inventive and visually attractive scaffold system for the project. This relationship would spawn a massive, fifteen-year campaign of design collaboration that resulted in over 2,000 Graves-designed products, sold exclusively at Target stores, addressing virtually every facet of the domestic living space. Not only was the Graves association massively successful for Target, it has vastly altered the public perception of product lines introduced by “big box stores,” with partnerships between world-class designers and discount retailers now an everyday occurrence. “I’m as proud of these objects as of anything I’ve ever done,” Graves said of his Target products. “Everything has a budget. In architecture, it’s the difference between stucco and marble. In products, it’s maybe plastic instead of porcelain or glass. Or you can do a candy dish in silver for Tiffany and one in aluminum for Target. The design energy remains the same.” Following his separation from Target in 2012, Graves has embarked on a new partnership with JCPenney, offering a smaller range of products at a higher price point, but the objective remains the same: making good design affordable. “Allowing that democratization of design is the great design story of the late twentieth century,” asserts the distinguished architectural critic Paul Goldberger, “Michael is the only architect who has chosen to take a fully active role in that movement, not only participating, but shaping its direction.”

mg-chess-pieces-sketch677Michael Graves
Sketch for chessmen, 2000
Courtesy of Michael Graves Design Group

It was Graves’ own idea to design new versions of classic board games for Target, beginning in 2000 with the most iconic of them all: chess. According to Phil Patton, author of Michael Graves Designs: The Art of the Everyday Object, Graves had been eager to try to improve upon the utopian abstraction of Josef Hartwig’s famous Bauhaus Chess Set, which utilized a series of rigid geometric shapes that represent each piece’s respective moves on the board. Like Hartwig before him, Graves also sought out a geometric foundation for his design, but one with a decidedly more organic quality that also functioned as the thematic basis for his first line of products at Target: the egg. While eschewing Hartwig’s iconoclastic minimalism by paying homage to the traditional figurative attributes seen in such classic sets as the Staunton chessmen (evident in Graves’ crowned king and queen, the blocky, stylized mane of the knight, and the bulbous mitre of the bishop), there is still an idiosyncratic irreverence to these swollen yet noble combatants. Even in something as emblematic and lacking in practical utility as a chess piece, Graves’ irrepressible ingenuity still led him to identify the potential for functionality, as he noted that he has used the bishops as place-card holders for dinner parties. Along with the chess and checkers set in 2000, the initial series of Graves’ redesigned games included Monopoly® (for which he used his own product designs as the game pieces rather than the traditional ones), Stratego®, Scrabble®, and dominoes. As other Target product lines continued to grow, so too did the number of games, which expanded beyond board games into card games, puzzles, and other amusements. Many of these were also produced in chic travel editions featuring translucent plastic elements and shiny, reflective boards whose futuristic feel differs dramatically from the more traditional effect of the wooden cases and boards of their respective home versions. With the move to JCPenney, the number of games was substantially reduced, with subtle but significant changes in scale and materials that reflect the more upscale ambitions of this new partnership. 

As this exhibition demonstrates, Graves’ games possess the same balance of functionality and flair that characterizes his architecture and his design aesthetic overall. “In designing everyday objects,” says Graves, “I want to encourage the impression of familiarity and also allow these objects to be seen in a slightly different way. Even useful objects can have symbolic function as well as a pragmatic one. In achieving these goals, we often combine simple utility, functional innovation, and formal beauty.” 

—Bradley Bailey, associate professor of art history, Saint Louis University, 2014

 

About Michael Graves

Michael Graves (b. 1934) is a celebrated American architect who studied at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University, and later taught at Princeton University, where he is currently the Robert Schirmer Professor of Architecture, Emeritus. Though Graves first earned acclaim as an architect, he later became well-known for the affordable home products he created for Target from 1999-2012. Believing in the power of beautifully-designed consumer goods to create an uplifting environment, his line made elegant design available to the everyday consumer, a trend that he has continued through his current partnership with JCPenney. Among the awards he has received are the 1999 National Medal of Arts, the 2001 Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, the 2010 Topaz Medallion from the AIA/ACSA. He is currently serving on the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.

 

About the Curator

Bradley Bailey, Guest Curator

Bradley Bailey is associate professor of art history at Saint Louis University. He is co-author of the book Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess (2009) and the author of essays in Marcel Dzama: Sower of Discord (2013), recently published by Abrams Books. In 2011, he curated Out of the Box: Artists Play Chess, one of the inaugural exhibitions at the World Chess Hall of Fame.

 

Games

backgammon677Backgammon
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2002
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
contract-bridge677Bridge
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2003
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
chess-settarget677Chess and Checkers
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2002
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
chess-setjcp677Chess and Checkers
Distributed by JCPenney Corporation, 2013
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
magnetic-travel-chess677Chess, Checkers, and Backgammon
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2003
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
chinese-checkers677Chinese Checkers
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2002
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
cribbage677Cribbage
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2001
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
darts677Dartboard
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2003
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
domino-set677Dominoes
Distributed by JCPenney Corporation, 2013
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
marble-solitaire677Marble Solitaire
Distributed by JCPenney Corporation, 2013
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
monopoly-set677Monopoly®
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2002
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame

Rather than using the familiar objects and animals for the metal tokens found in the standard Monopoly game, Graves customized his set for Target by modeling the pewter game pieces on his own products and architectural designs. The house in the Monopoly game is based on the original Michael Graves Design logo and is colored Graves Blue, the proprietary hue derived from old-fashioned architectural blueprints that was used in all of his packaging for Target. The distinctive shape of the hotel mimics the steeply-pitched gabled roofs of Castalia, the headquarters of the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport in The Hague, the Netherlands, a Graves architectural design constructed in 1998.

playing-cards-set677Playing Card Set
Distributed by JCPenney Corporation, 2013
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
poker-set677Poker
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2004
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
scrabble-set677Scrabble®
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2006
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
stratego-2677Stratego®
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2003
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
yahtzee677Yahtzee®
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2003
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame

 

Home Design Products

big-dripper677Big Dripper coffeepot and filter for Swid Powell, 1986
Hand decorated ceramic and gilding
Collection of Michael Graves Design Group
blender677Blender
Manufactured by Black & Decker
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2000
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
tea-cup677Cup and Saucer
Distributed by Target Corporation, 1999
Collection World Chess Hall of Fame
kettle677Electric Kettle
Manufactured by Black & Decker
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2000
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
swidpowellvase-677Ionic Vase for Swid Powell, 1989
Ceramic
Collection of Michael Graves Design Group
mickey-ss-teakettle677Mickey Mouse teakettle, produced by Moller for the Walt Disney Company, 1992
Enameled steel, stainless steel, and nylon
Collection of Michael Graves Design Group
mini-chairs677Model of lounge chair for the Walt Disney Company, 1988
Miniature of Dorsey Lounge Chair for Apoggi Furniture, 2007
Produced by Jack Markuse
Model of Hampton Lounge Chair for David Edward, 2002
Collection of Michael Graves Design Group
telephone-2677Telephone
Distributed by Target Corporation, 2000
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
toaster-1677Toaster
Manufactured by Black & Decker
Distributed by Target Corporation, 1999
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
toaster-jcp677Toaster for JCPenney, 2013
Stainless steel, aluminum, and plastic
Collection of Michael Graves Design Group
clock677Wall Clock
Distributed by Target Corporation, 1999
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame
alessi-whistling-bird-677Whistling Bird teakettle for Alessi, 1985
Stainless steel and nylon
Collection of Michael Graves Design Group

Perhaps his most immediately identifiable product design, the Whistling Bird teakettle was commissioned by the Italian firm Alessi as a lower-cost item for the high-end retailer in an attempt to break into the American market. With over two million sold since its debut in 1985, the Whistling Bird teakettle is Alessi’s most popular product.

watches677Wristwatches for Projects Watches, 1992-present
Stainless steel, glass, and leather
Collection of Michael Graves Design Group

 

maclogo200Financial assistance has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

 

PRESS

9/8/14: Travel Pulse — 4 High-Scoring Gaming Attractions, by Cherese Weekes

7/31/14: St. Louis Jewish Light — Exhibit features portraits of chess grandmasters, by Sarah Weinman

5/15/14: GG-Art.com — “Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves” opens at the World Chess Hall of Fame

5/8/14: St. Louis Public Radio — On Chess: New Shows At World Chess Hall of Fame Include Burning Boards, by Brian Jerauld

5/8/14: ArtDaily.org — “Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves” opens at the World Chess Hall of Fame

5/7/14: Central West End Guide — Always a surprise at the World Chess Hall of Fame, by Nicki Dwyer

5/6/14: CWE Scene — Two Great Exhibits Opening at the World Chess Hall of Fame

5/5/14: ChessTalk — The World Chess Hall of Fame debuts “two groundbreaking exhibitions” in 3 days time.

5/5/14: Digital Journal — World Chess Hall of Fame Debuts Two Groundbreaking Exhibitions

5/5/14: Dream Builder — World Chess Hall of Fame Debuts Two Groundbreaking Exhibitions May 8

5/5/14: eTurboNews — World Chess Hall of Fame debuts two groundbreaking exhibitions

5/5/14: US News Online — World Chess Hall of Fame Debuts Two Groundbreaking Exhibitions May 8

5/5/14: World News — World Chess Hall of Fame Debuts Two Groundbreaking Exhibitions May 8

5/2/14: The United States Chess Federation — World Chess Hall of Fame Opens Two New Shows

 

Downloads

Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves Exhibition Brochure

Strategy by Design Game Histories