At what point does a series of family heirlooms become a collection of cultural importance? Probably around the point currently occupied by Claude Samuel’s glasses. The Tel Aviv optometrist’s trove of antique spectacles, the earliest of which date from the seventeenth century, are currently on display at Design Museum Holon’s eye glasses exhibition, Overview.
Samuel’s grandmother sold corrective glasses as a wandering market trader in Paris during the 1930s, and his father worked on eyewear for Pierre Cardin. Items from these family bequests are on display at the museum, though Samuel’s collection also includes antique diagnostic equipment, monocles, opera glasses, fans with lenses embedded into their fronds, and even Inuit snow goggles fashioned from bone.
The lower gallery of the famous design museum expands on Samuel’s offerings, with items from the museum’s own permanent collection displayed in order to examine spectacles’ place within the greater sweep of product design. There’s even a virtual-reality installation, as well as a workshop space, where visitors can take broken glasses and remake them into new pairs.
While the show may attract those interested in bygone fashions, Overview also presents glasses as ever-improving technological implements that, in attempting to correct the wearer’s ocular defects, simultaneously draw attention to the wearer’s visual deficiencies.
Of course, corrective eye surgery and contact lenses mean many of us who once wore glasses no longer sport them. So Samuel’s collection looks set to grow in importance when this somewhat overlooked aspect of product design is no longer right in front of our faces.
For more on product design, from the earliest industrial goods through to the iMac get The Design Book.