• Clara Porset: Living Design
    Zoë Ryan and Valentina Sarmiento Cruz
    Ana Elena Mallet and Randal Sheppard
    Concordia University Press, 2023
    Concordia University Press

Clara Porset, Butaque, ca.1955–56. Walnut and woven rattan, 73 × 54.5 × 59 cm. (28 3/4 × 21 7/16 × 23 1/4 in.). Gálvez Guzzy Family/Casa Gálvez Collection. Photo: Rodrigo Chapa

Now receiving long overdue critical attention, Clara Porset is recognized as one of the most important and influential designers, writers, and thinkers working in Mexico in the twentieth century. Clara Porset: Living Design explores the intersection of Porset’s writing and production activities, particularly her efforts to catalyze local design communities through texts published in Cuba and Mexico between 1930 and 1970, a period of rapid technological, social, and political change. Known for her own designs, she also stimulated discussion through her writings and teaching. At a time when many practitioners believed that craftsmanship could only be modernized through mechanization, Porset valued both approaches for their distinctive qualities. This book highlights the contribution of Clara Porset within the history of international modernism and makes clear the influence of her work as a source of inspiration to designers and scholars today.

Clara Porset (1895–1981) was a Mexico-based, Cuban-born furniture designer. Influenced by the ideas of the Bauhaus, she believed that design could improve communication and standards of living, reshaping entire cities to elevate the quality of life and solve large-scale social problems. Porset worked alongside architects like Luis Barragán and Mario Pani, creating furniture for numerous private residences, as well as social housing projects. She also helped in founding the industrial design department at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in 1969, teaching there until 1981. For years, Porset studied vernacular furniture in Mexico, striving to document the many-layered rituals, traditions, and ways of making integral to daily life in Mexico. Her observations resulted in a variety of finished designs, one of which was accepted into and exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art’s International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design in 1950.

Since November 2020, Zoë Ryan is the Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to the ICA, she was the John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). Her recent exhibitions include In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Midcentury (2019). In 2017, she published As Seen: Exhibitions that Made Architecture and Design History (Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press, 2017), the first volume to explore the important role that exhibitions have played in the history of these fields of practice. In 2014, she was the curator of the Istanbul Design Biennial. Ryan has taught graduate seminars on design history and theory at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a member of the Design Trust International Advisory Council, Hong Kong.

Valentina Sarmiento Cruz is an independent researcher. She has worked at Creative Time, Artforum, The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, and most recently, at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she assisted with the research, conception, and production of the exhibition In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Midcentury (2019). She has a master’s degree from the New School.

Ana Elena Mallet is a Mexico City-based independent curator specializing in modern and contemporary design. She was cocurator of Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978 at the Americas Society in New York (2015). Mallet worked as deputy director of programming at the Museo Rufino Tamayo from 2001 to 2002, and as chief curator at Museo del Objeto from 2010 to 2011. Boutique (2000), at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, was the first exhibition dedicated to fashion in a Mexican museum.

Randal Sheppard is a lecturer at University of Leiden. He is a cultural and political historian of Latin America, focusing on Mexico and the Circum-Caribbean. His research interests include nationalism and state formation, international political networks, and the politics of architecture and modern design. His new book is A Persistent Revolution: History, Nationalism, and Politics in Mexico since 1968 (University of New Mexico Press, 2016).

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