Neal Small’s Plastic Fantastic

A new exhibit at Material ConneXion reintroduces the designer to a product-loving public

American designer Neal Small will finally get recognition during his first retrospective at an exhibit at New York’s Material ConneXion. The designer is best known for his innovative use of Plexiglas and Lucite in the 60’s and 70’s. Small is referred to in the October, 1971 Time article “The Furniture of Chemistry” which discusses “the bright new plastic furniture now invading U.S. stores can transform an ordinary room into something straight out of 2001.” 2001!

Red Lamp
(©Material ConneXion)

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“Origami” side tables
(© Alan Mittleman)

This exhibit marks the opening of Material ConneXion’s new uptown location (60 Madison Avenue) and seems somewhat dubious. As their press release states, “Small transformed a largely unexplored, industrial material into modern and exciting products that inspired a generation of home furnishings, and his accomplishments are a true testament to Material ConneXion’s mission of advancing new design solutions through the use of innovative materials.” But the material is plastic. Something that’s not likely advocated by the ecologically-minded company.

Ultimately, though, the exhibit—which will contain pieces from loans and private collections—is a historical look at design that according to the Times’ article sold best to “young, intellectually oriented and often ecology-minded buyers…” Oh, how the plastic bottle-filled tides have turned!

Area Lamp (model 1112)

Small’s quirky designs can be found in the collections of MoMA, The Smithsonian Institution, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Walker Art Center. A quick search for the designer’s products of the Web find his pieces in some exclusive modern furniture resell stores. Undoubtedly, a retrospective will drive the prices even higher-so smart shoppers, buy now!

Neal Small: A Retrospective, Opens April 1, Closes June 12
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 16th
Special ICFF Hours: Saturday May 16th & Sunday, May 17th

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