On Monday, November 14, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) hosted its Visionaries 2011! Gala, celebrating the lifetime achievements and contributions to fashion and design of four exceptional individuals: design legend Vladimir Kagan, Jean-Louis Dumas, longtime guiding light of Hermès, industry leader Denis Abrams of Benjamin Moore & Co., and ergonomic pioneer Robert King of Humanscale.
“The range of this year’s winners makes us particularly proud, as it demonstrates how vital design is to every aspect of our lives. This is something the late Jean-Louis Dumas knew very well. His ability to combine directional design with traditional artisanship and to elegantly promote it around the world should be an inspiration to us all,” says Holly Hotchner, the Museum’s Nanette L. Laitman Director.
Vladimir Kagan, who is one of the featured designers in MAD’s current exhibition Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design, has furniture making in his genes. His father was a master cabinetmaker captivated by the emergent modernism of Deutsche Werkstätten and Bauhaus. In 1948, ten years after fleeing Germany to escape Nazi persecution, the family opened a trailblazing contemporary furniture store in midtown Manhattan, where they purveyed an exciting mix of the younger Kagan’s cutting-edge designs and the works of an international stable of craftspeople. This was at a time when craft was not sold in posh stores. Soon Kagan was collaborating with these artisans on his furnishings. The store became a trendsetter, and Kagan quickly went on to design textiles and interiors as well. What’s most extraordinary is that at age 84 he is still not only designing furniture, but also making sculpture!
Jean-Louis Dumas, the late charismatic chairman of Hermès was the grandson of its founder Emile Hermès. Dumas joined the family firm in 1964, and became the Chief Executive Officer in 1971, building the discreet Parisian harness and saddle workshop into a global multi-billion-dollar house through his dynamic, media-friendly initiatives, his creative spirit and brilliant design instincts. In 1984 a new Hermès icon was born. The Birkin, whose first outlines Jean-Louis Dumas sketched on board a plane from Paris to London, was conceived following a conversation with his neighbor, the actress Jane Birkin. By hiring designers Véronique Nichanian, Pierre Hardy, Jean Claude Ellena, Martin Margiela and Jean-Paul Gaultier, he infused his classic brand with contemporary wit, while retaining traditional French artisans to produce the company’s goods. Dumas’ support of craftsmanship extended to the company’s philanthropy, of which MAD’s Arts Access program for Title One schools is a grateful beneficiary.
Denis Abrams was born in South Africa, earned a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering from U.C. Berkeley and an MBA from the University of South Africa. After spending many years working at his family’s food and household products business, in 1987 he emigrated to the US, where he bought Gilman Brothers Paint Company. He sold the company in 1999, when he joined Benjamin Moore as Vice President of Operations; and in 2007, he became its Chairman and CEO. Since its founding in Brooklyn in 1883, the paint manufacturer has been a leader in color, technology, and innovation. In recent years, the company has not only pioneered such high-performance products as Natura,™ a zero-VOC paint, but has also developed new ways of selecting colors as through ben®ColorCapture,™ an iPhone app that enables the user to snap a picture of any color inspiration and match its hue through Benjamin Moore's expansive color system. Long committed to supporting the arts, Benjamin Moore is the underwriter of MAD’s special initiative: Art Encounters, which commissions artists to paint and transform the Museum’s stairwells.
Robert King is the Founder and CEO of New York City-based Humanscale, the ergonomics pioneer and leader whose products have amassed more than 100 prestigious design awards since 2007. King founded Humanscale in 1983 to improve the health and comfort of computer-based workers and has grown the company into an innovation leader with offices located around the world. In the late 1990s, King teamed up with Niels Diffrient, the design legend, to develop a revolutionary task chair that would eliminate the many manual controls found on traditional desk chairs. Since its introduction in 1999, the Humanscale Freedom chair has become one of the world’s top sellers and started the trend toward simpler, more user-friendly designs that can now be seen throughout the industry. Today, the Humanscale brand is synonymous with performance, simplicity, innovation and beauty, and with products that represent the next generation in categories ranging from air purification to LED lighting and high-tech healthcare delivery solutions. All Humanscale products share a focus on simplicity and minimal design that both improve the user experience and reduce environmental impacts.
Each year, more than 500 guests, including arts patrons, artists, designers and noted corporate and civic leaders, attend the event.
Past Honorees of MAD’s Visionaries! Award have included:
• Architects and Designers Ron Arad; Michael Graves; Todd Oldham; Lella and Massimo Vignelli; Marcel Wanders
• Business Leaders George Beylerian, Material Connexion; Daniel L. Doctoroff, President of Bloomberg, LP; Shelly Lazarus, Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide; Kenneth A. Himmel, CEO, Related Companies; Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., CEO of the Kohler Company; Martha Stewart, CEO of Martha Stewart Living; Burton M. Tansky, CEO of Neiman Marcus; Claudio Luti, Chairman of Kartell
• Artists El Anatsui; Dale Chihuly; Ruth Duckworth; Sam Maloof; William Morris; Lino Tagliapietra; Toshiko Takaezu; Lenore Tawney; Peter Voulkos; and Eva Zeisel
• Arts Patrons Jerome Chazen; Ella Fontanal Cisneros; Nanette L. Laitman; Henry Luce III; and Barbara Tober
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