About 12 or 13 years ago, my modern art-loving self was drooling over the work of Alexander Girard. He came on to my radar because of his collaboration with Braniff International Airways, which I absolutely love but sadly doesn’t exist anymore. As far as modern design goes, I was still trying to keep up with the Eameses, and Girard was a breath of fresh air for me.
Girard’s Impact on Modernism
Girard’s aesthetic is happy and warm, which isn’t something you commonly see in traditional modern design. Minimalism is cool and all, but Girard draws me in because of the way he went against its stoicism. A lot of his work has Native American and Latin folk art flair, and you just can’t be in a bad mood after seeing it (well, at least I don’t think so).
Nonetheless, he was a very important part of the modernist movement. He was a master of interior design and worked on many commercial and home spaces, brightening them with his attention to color. Sitting in a room full of his designs could easily be a form of color therapy, in my totally unbiased, unprofessional opinion.
Getting My Girard Fix
I have a small collection of Girard items, including Braniff tchochkes I bought at estate sales or on eBay. I even have a huge Girard coffee table book that could easily moonlight as a deadly weapon. But when I found out I could finally see his work in-freakin’-person in Palm Springs, I about lost my shit.
I went with a couple of friends to check out the exhibit recently, and oh, man…it did NOT disappoint. I felt joy and anticipation at the mere sight of the entrance.
The amount of Girard’s work on display is staggering. Along with his beautiful textile designs, I saw furniture, restaurant ware, drawings, films, and even dolls. All of it is colorful, fun, and good for your heart and soul.
My Girard Exhibit Highlights
There are a couple of sections that made my heart go pitter-patter. First was the body of work he did for the La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York City. A sun motif accompanies much of the design work he did for it, which delights and inspires happiness. Seriously, if I could wake up to a canvas of a Girard sun with its happy face staring at me every day, I might not need coffee….well, maybe.
There is also a replica of Girard’s awesome conversation pit in the first room, which you can actually sit in and take the load off for a while. My friends and I enjoyed playing with the pillows in it, which all had Girard textile patterns. I could have easily napped there, but I think the docents would have frowned on that.
Of course, I was over the moon to see Girard’s work for Braniff on display. It’s astounding how much he did for them – matchbooks, playing cards, coffee cups, even their dove logo! I was lucky enough to snag a pair of real Braniff flight attendant wings a few years ago, which I wore to the museum as a small way to pay tribute to how I found Girard and his work.
Although Braniff’s flight attendant uniforms were not Girard creations, a couple of them made it into the exhibit. The Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci was responsible for these, and they were absolute perfection as a complement to Girard’s designs.
One of the coolest things on display in the Braniff section was a video ad for their “End of the Plain Plane” marketing campaign, which was sheer GENIUS. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in the room where that concept was birthed! The juxtaposition of the narrator’s deadpan delivery and the rich visual imagery in the video was kind of hilarious. But hey, that made it all the more effective! For those of you who can’t make the exhibit…take a look:
If you’re into modernism and can get to Palm Springs in the near future, you’ve got to see the Girard exhibit for yourself. I don’t feel he gets enough credit for the variety and quality of his life-affirming work, and more people (that means you) should explore it.
Want to plan a trip?
The Alexander Girard exhibit runs through March 1st at the Palm Springs Art Museum, so start making those arrangements! Palm Springs itself is an amazing city with tons to do and see, so you won’t be bored…trust me!
Pro tip: If you’re the budget-conscious type, the museum offers free admission after 4:00 PM on Thursdays only. When you’re done, trot out to Villagefest, the weekly market in downtown Palm Springs. Lots of food, music, and good people-watching!