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Sold Archive: Modern Textiles

Abacus screen-printed linen
Paul Rand for L. Anton Maix Fabrics
American, 1949
35 x 54 in. (89 x 137.2 cm)

In the immediate postwar period, it was observed that textiles suitable for modernist interiors were scarce. This "problem" was short lived as artists, architects, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs jumped into the fray to remedy the situation. Larry Maix (1915—1999) was a driving force in this invigorated marketplace; having worked for Knoll, and conceptualized the Schiffer Prints "Stimulus" line for Mil-Art Co., he began producing textiles under the name L. Anton Maix around 1948. His 1949 "Campagna" collection, built on the "big name" strategy and launched in 1950, included modern design stalwarts Alvin Lustig, Serge Chermayeff, and Jens Risom. However, Paul Rand (1914—1996) was arguably the most acclaimed figure in Maix's stable at the debut.

Rand's Abacus is the most widely published and exhibited of the "Campagna" group. It was highlighted in the New York Times, on April 22, 1950, as sharing the design originally used for the dust jacket of Rand's 1946 monograph, Thoughts on Design. Both were adapted from his 1943 photogram—an image made by placing objects directly onto the surface of light-sensitive photographic paper. This four-color print, which approximates the gray-scale book cover, depicts beads sliding on rods, bounded by beams. The resulting black grid disguises the short thirteen-and-a-half-inch repeat, while a fifth color, created when the sheer flinty-blue and mid-tone charcoal dyes overlap, further enlivens the pattern. In addition to being illustrated in Current Design (Autumn 1950), American Fabrics (Winter 1951—52), William Hennessey's Modern Furnishings for the Home (1952), and Furniture Forum (Spring 1956), the Museum of Modern Art chose Abacus for its 1950 Good Design exhibition, and it was included again in the fifth anniversary Good Design exhibition in 1955. In 1951, Abacus was shown in the American exhibition at the IX Triennale in Milan, as well as the 1956 exhibitions Designed to Live With, at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida and Design By the Yard: Textile Printing from 800 to 1965, at the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration. In advising consumers on drapery choices, Larry Maix asked in 1951: "Do you think you will look well with this design for a background? . . . And does it suit your personality?" Rand must have felt Abacus reflected his aesthetics as he chose it for his home: documented in a 1953 Esquire editorial, Abacus appears as a room divider and as lively armchair upholstery.

This panel of Abacus has an Ohio-based decorator's showroom tag and MoMA's "Good Design" tag guaranteeing "this article corresponds in every particular to the one chosen by The Museum of Modern Art" attached to it.

Published in the Cora Ginsburg Modern 2019 catalogue.
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