Art21 New York Close Up

Mika Tajima Customizes Herman Miller

From advertisement for the Herman Miller Action Office furniture line, circa 1974. Courtesy of Herman Miller.

Calling everybody with a love/hate relationship to modernist furniture design, we’ve got the film for you–”Mika Tajima Versus the Cubicle.”

When we first visited artist Mika Tajima at her studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn and she pulled out her stash of Herman Miller research–materials that helped inspire a recent show of cubicle-esque sculpture–we were like, Hell, yes!  This was exactly the kind of archival material we knew could form the core of a historically-flavored New York Close Up film; something we were very excited to try.  (Personal disclaimer:  though we’re serious art nerds here at Art21 HQ, we’re also very much children of the public tv documentary tradition, with a serious admiration for the kind of research-based, ethically-driven storytelling of programs like Frontline.)

So after we wrapped up shooting with Mika and started our edit prep, we got in touch with the incredibly obliging and generous folks at the Herman Miller archive at HQ in Zeeland, Michigan (Wallpaper magazine online has a nice slideshow of Herman Miller archive goodies here.)  They sent us more original photos, graphics, blueprints, advertisements than we could possibly include in a short film.  But there was one artifact we absolutely had to excerpt from, multiple times.  Informally known as “Beautiful Girls” or “Action Office Secretary,” it’s a Herman Miller produced promotional film from 1974 extolling the virtues of the cubicle-based Action Office furniture system and embodying an irresistible mix of sunny design optimism and Mad Men-like paternalism.  Check it below in its entirety (it’s at the very end.)

Unfortunately, between this film and our last one on Mika (“Mika Tajima Wants to Hire Contortionists“), we’ve been able to show only a small slice of her work.  But fortunately there’s a couple of good real world options for checking out her work.  At the Seattle Art Museum, Mika’s created an intriguingly dense and very cool sounding installation, After the Martini Shot, for the museum’s SAM Next series of exhibitions.  It’s up thru June 2012.  And opening at the Vaulted Gallery at the University of Texas at Austin in early September is Mika’s installation The Architect’s Garden.  In the words of the website, “Tajima explores the idea of self-determined refusal, practiced by flâneurs, autonomists, and slackers alike.”  We like it.