Open source design: the chairs of Oscar Hagerman

Founded in 1999 by José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto, the Mexico City-based gallery kurimanzutto is best known for representing well-known artists like Gabriel Orozco, Sarah Lucas, and Abraham Cruzvillegas, among others. Earlier this summer, the gallery dedicated an entire exhibition to the work of a lesser known Mexican architect, the 82-year old Oscar Hagerman, and specifically to his exploration of the simple Mexican chair. Sillas de México showcased five chair designs with eight variations of each, as well as two recent versions of the famous Arrullo chair from 1969. Part of the expansive exhibition recently travelled to Miami for this year’s installment of the collectible design fair Design Miami. “It’s an opportunity for the chairs to travel, and for us to let this project find its own place as we go along,” says Kuri of the gallery’s installation as part of the fair’s Curio section. The project was never solely about design, Kuri adds: “It’s much more complex than that. We’ve always looked up to Hagerman’s respect for the knowledge of the Mexican furniture maker.”

Oscar Hagerman, Silla Ruiseñor con Brazos (diseño); Pencil on paper. Image courtesy kurimanzutto.

Born in Spain in 1936, Hagerman arrived in Mexico in 1951 and trained as an architect at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), but was more interested in furniture design. His first chair, the Arrullo (1969), was based on a popular Mexican design which he fine-tuned and executed with workers of the Cooperativa Don Emiliano, a carpenters’ cooperative in Nezahualcóyotl City in the eastern outskirts of Mexico City. At the time the people from the “coope” were building caskets for very little pay, and Hagerman saw an opportunity to teach them how to make and sell their own furniture following his designs.

The Arrullo chair became an icon of design after winning the award of the Instituto Mexicano de Comercio Exterior (Mexican Institute of Foreign Trade) in 1974, however, it quickly returned back to its roots as a ubiquitous Mexican chair which was widely reproduced. Inexpensive versions were made with palm-leaf woven seats. In 1979, Hagerman published a paper entitled “Design in the Service of Mankind,” and together with his wife, the educator Doris Ruiz Galindo, he has spent most of his life studying the different typologies of traditional Mexican architecture in Chiapas, Puebla, Jalisco, Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Guerrero while working with farmworkers and indigenous families in rural Mexico. Together, they’ve built schools, clinics, social reintegration centers, and even a small hotel for a group of Nahua indigenous women in Cuetzalan, Puebla. All projects demand their commitment and dedication for up to six years, in order to learn from the local construction methods and materials and understand the ways in which these can be best adapted for their needs.

Installation view of Sillas de México (2018). kurimanzutto, Mexico City.

For the exhibition in Mexico City in August, Hagerman took over kurimanzutto’s entire space, a 14,000 square feet former industrial bakery in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood renovated in 2008 by Alberto Kalach. “Everytime we work with Óscar we are joined by such incredible people,” says Kuri. “He had the idea to cover the walls with adobe and there were hand-drawn sketches placed above the adobe line, some framed, some pinned up directly to the wall.” The labels on the wall were drawn by hand by illustrator Alejandro Magallanes, who also made a booklet to accompany the exhibition. The large petate for the floor was woven by hand with tule natural fiber by master craftsman Nacho Morales.

While at Design Miami the exhibition is meant as a cabinet of curiosities (on display are nine out of over 40 chairs shown in the gallery’s big hall), the intimate 99 square feet space conveys Hagerman’s appreciation for the simplicity of the Mexican home. Alluding to the “guardapolvo” originally conceived in adobe, a third of the wall was painted in an earth-like color, while the chairs are placed in a U shape on three petate strips. “The presentation is an extension of what we did on a large scale in the gallery in Mexico, for which we produced a publication and a text,” says Kuri, “all this accompanies us to Miami. A good idea, a good intention, can always find its place anywhere.”

Oscar Hagerman, Silla Colibrí (k) (2018); Rattan, jute strips, coconut oil finish.

All images courtesy kurimanzutto.

The Oscar Hagerman Curio booth at Design Miami 2018 was on view until Sunday, December 9, 2018.

Originally published in

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