Oversized [Paper] Theater or Diorama for the IBM Pavilion ‘Progressland’ at the World’s Fair held in New York in 1964

Charles Eames American
Ray Eames American
After Inigo Jones British

Not on view

Oversized version of a [paper] theater or diorama, as they were first created and sold in 18th-century Germany. The design for the proscenium of the theater as well as some of the costumes are based on designs by the British artist Inigo Jones. The theater consists of a proscenium, 5 set pieces depicting foliage and a backdrop depicting a distant landscape with Antique ruins. 7 free-standing figures are placed across the stage. The scenery and figures are interchangeable and the theater can be lit with built-in electrical light sources.

This oversized version of an 18th-century paper theater was created by Charles and Ray Eames for the IBM pavilion that was part of the World’s Fair, held at Flushing Meadows, New York in 1964. The pavilion, the exterior of which was designed by Eero Saarinen, was completely devoted to technological innovation and the progress possible through the use of computers. For many visitors, it was the first time they were able to interact with computers on a one-to-one basis. Part of the installation was the so-called ‘Theater Pentagon’ which contained a group of booths containing ‘puppet shows’, based on 18th-century prototypes, but mechanically brought to live with the latest technology in air cylinders, magnets, bell cranks and gears, described in the fair’s brochure as ‘strictly 1964’. The current theater was part of that installation, drawing from theater designs by the British designer and architect Inigo Jones (now at the Courtauld Gallery, London), but mounted in the manner of the German 18th century theaters. As such, the object connects various moments in the history of theater design, and illustrates its technological innovation over time. By invoking the tradition of dioramas to communicate ‘new information’ in an approachable manner, Charles and Ray Eames also tapped into modes of education that had been in use since the late Middle Ages.

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