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Florence Knoll Bassett (b. 1917), who defined the look and market for modern design in corporate America in the 1950s and, in the process, made modern American design an international style, designed her first museum gallery exhibition of her own work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in fall 2004. The exhibition includes some eleven pieces of the furniture she designed for Knoll, Inc., as well as photographs of interiors that demonstrate the designer’s ability to relate interior design to the building, and furniture and textiles to the interior. The opening coincides with her receipt of the 2004 Design Excellence Award from Collab: The Group for Modern and Contemporary Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
As an architect, interior space planner, and furniture designer, Knoll Bassett profoundly influenced post-World War II design with her pioneering interiors. Her reductive aesthetic of light, open spaces furnished with elegant woven fabrics, furniture grouped for informal conversation, and brightly colored wall panels made the company founded by her husband Hans Knoll (1914-1955) one of the most influential design firms of the time.
Her notable projects include the interior design of the CBS, Seagram’s and Look Magazine offices in New York City and the Heinz Company headquarters in Pittsburgh. Her work is represented in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. A recipient of the 2002 National Medal of Arts, Knoll Bassett has received four Museum of Modern Art Good Design Awards, the American Society of Interior Designers’ Total Design Award, and the American Institute of Architects’ Industrial Arts Medal.
The exhibition is supported by Collab, a nonprofit organization founded in 1970 that raises funds for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary design collection, which now includes over 1,000 works. The collection ranges from appliances and furniture to ceramics, glass, and lighting. Collab presents its prestigious Design Excellence Award to a design professional who has made a significant contribution to the field. Past honorees include Milton Glaser, Michael Graves, Jonathan Ive, Maya Lin, Ingo Maurer, Richard Meier, George Nakashima, Karim Rashid, Philippe Starck with Ian Schrager, and Robert Venturi. Collab also promotes a better public understanding and appreciation of contemporary design through its educational initiatives, including sponsorship of symposia, lectures, tours, and a citywide, college-level student design competition.