Overview Exhibition /
Holon Design Museum

The exhibition Overview is the first exhibition in the world to display such an extensive collection of objects from the history of optic items. The 30,000 people who visited Design Museum Holon, one of the world’s most acclaimed design museums, between December 2016 and April 2017, were moved by the exhibition that presented only about a third of Claude Samuel’s collection. This site offers a virtual visit to the exhibition.


Curator:Maya Dvash

Exhibition Design: Tal Gur

Photography: Shay Ben Efraim, Alon Porat ,Eli Bohbot

*All the contents of the exhibition presented here (apart from the collectors text), including the categorization, were written by the exhibition curator and belong to the Holon Design Museum.

© All rights reserved to Design Museum Holon

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When we initiate an action or plan, we don’t always know what our motivation is… I think that the thread leading us is invisible, yet nevertheless we take decisions, move forward, and finally attain our goal. Even if the goal lies in infinity, in the end nothing is perfect. When I decided to collect optometric objects, I didn’t intend to build a collection. Nevertheless… it happened. It’s true that I’m the fourth generation of a kind of guild, and that my emotions towards my predecessors were accompanied by, and mixed with, affection, love, and memories of the Holocaust, as well as a desire to carry on… yet I did not know what the leading thread was. I only came to understand this while we were organizing this exhibition. The collection is not retrospective, historical or technological, but is rather the story of man. Behind every apparatus for examining or treating eyes is a meeting involving a patient with their story, history, or pathology, and every apparatus is a witness to countless stories. Behind every apparatus are hopes, expectations, and solutions. Situated behind any optometric object, man discovers the world, changes his face, or accentuates an extreme behavior, such as that of the dandy or the incroyable – a term designating a person who would change his gender identity by means of dress and accessories in the period following the French Revolution. I would now like to tell you a story that deeply moved me, and which will explain to you why there is a person behind every object or pair of glasses This story was told at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial museum to the victims of the Holocaust. I heard it during an event at which I gave the museum the suitcase used by my father during the Second World War, which contained his forgery equipment – hundreds of stamps, apparatuses, and documents. During this event, my son Tom spoke before soldiers and officers about the idea of the Jewish soldier. Yehudit Inbar, Yad Vashem’s chief curator, told the soldiers how the first object arrived in the museum collection. Yehudit was in her office. She heard sobs coming from the adjacent room, and her secretary telling the crying woman that the object she had brought had no significance. The crying grew more distant, and Yehudit found the woman sitting on the stairs. She invited her into her room and asked her what she had brought. The woman answered that she had brought her mother. She shook out a nylon bag containing bits of glass and a broken pair of glasses. The woman explained that when they arrived at the platform at Auschwitz, the Nazis separated her from her mother. The little girl tore off her mother’s glasses, which had been broken. She collected the broken shards, and this was all that remained of her mother. When you visit the exhibition, you will encounter anew these thousands of people, each of whom is an entire universe with a unique view of their world, which is also ours. You are free to view the exhibition as amusing, intriguing, or humorous, but my intention was to share with you my emotions. Like any design exhibition, it can be viewed as an aesthetic gimmick, yet I see it as a personal contribution in support of freedom of expression, and feel an obligation to support the struggle for cultural expression free of all forms of political intervention. Please do not take my words of appreciation as an act of cordiality. They are due to each and every member of the museum’s incredible and talented staff. I would also like to thank Galit Gaon and Hana Hertzman, who initiated this incredible project. Thanks to Tal Gur, whose sensibility led him to highlight all of the objects, and thanks to Maya Dvash, without whom we could not have realized this project.


Do we see the world as it really is? Does vision truly operate as we experience it, like a camera photographing a sequence of objective actions? And does the eye reflect the world in a direct and transparent manner? In the well-known story The Emperor’s New Clothes, the emperor marches before his entire people without anyone commenting on his absence of clothes, until a small child declares that he is, in fact, naked. The viewers were imprisoned by their blindness, as is every person observing the world. Vision itself has not, of course, changed in the course of human history. Yet its meaning – which depends on changing cultural contexts rather than on physiology – has been transformed. Different cultural contexts guide us throughout this exhibition, which examines eyeglasses and vision from a human point of view. Like many material objects, eyeglasses have a rich biography; yet more than historical facts, this biography reflects systems of communication, layers of memory, and cultural and economic changes. The history of eyeglasses is a history of culture. The Upper Gallery features five cultural milestones on the journey of eyeglasses throughout the ages. This gallery contains over 400 rare items from the collection of the optometrist Claude Samuel, which date from the 17th century to the present. The Lower Gallery (Dr. Shulamit Katzman Gallery) features a unique project created by Israeli designers and architects, who expand our understanding of vision and of the way we perceive the world by asking: What are eyeglasses? The Design Lab explores the transformation of reality by focusing on the futuristic dimension of eyeglasses. A special application enables viewers to be fitted with a virtual pair of glasses and to photograph themselves wearing them. VR glasses enable viewers to watch virtual reality films screened in collaboration with the Holon Cinematheque. Lastly, options for eyeglass re-pair are explored in a workshop created in collaboration with REFORMA Eyewear. In the Peripheral Corridor, The Aharon Feiner Eden Materials Library features the exhibition Vision Test, which explores three central elements of vision – focus, color, and distance – and offers interpretations of different challenges to vision by means of various design strategies, materials, and technologies. These numerous perspectives, which are explored throughout the museum, come together to offer a comprehensive view of vision and eyeglasses.

The seeing individual / corrective vision

The exploration of eyeglasses from the viewpoint of the observing eye begins in the world of medicine, where they were invented as a tool for corrective vision. We tend to forget that eyeglasses were originally designed to correct an impairment; that people viewed the world differently from one another before the invention of lenses; and that their different viewing capacities significantly impacted their professional pursuits. Shortsighted individuals Could only work in a limited number of protected environments – as scribes, calligraphers, teachers, merchants, writers, librarians, clerks, judges, carpenters and shoemakers. Farsighted individuals, meanwhile, were constrained to work in the open air – as hunters, farmers, shepherds, woodcutters, miners, or soldiers. We also tend to forget that people suffering from shortsightedness were perceived in the late medieval period as outcasts. They were accused of feigning blindness, and were believed to possess malevolent powers. The invention of ophthalmic lenses (eyeglass lenses) undoubtedly played an important historical role in shaping the modern individual. It brought about a sweeping improvement In the general level of education, and led to the development of highly precise optical instruments, thus providing the technical and scientific basis for the industrial revolution. Although chinese and arab scholars made a connection between the development of lenses and the enhancement of vision as early as the late tenth century, eyeglasses as we know them today, were likely born in the north of italy in the 13th century. Up until the 15th century, monks were the exclusive designers, producers, and users of eyeglasses. Since eyeglasses served mainly for reading and their production cost was high, they created an impressive effect and communicated prestige and intelligence. This impression led to the trend of wearing noncorrective eyeglasses as a sign of intelligence – as in the case of francesco sforza, the 15thcentury Duke of milan, who ordered a dozen pairs of non-corrective eyeglasses.

The thinking man / how to keep eyeglasses perched on the nose?

This display invites us to study eyeglasses in terms of their complex relationship with the human body. Eyeglasses entertain a parasitical relationship with the body – consistently making use of our hands, nose, and ears to achieve balance. Eyeglasses were initially designed as a hand-held accessory that served users for short periods of time. They evolved into a self-balancing object worn on the user’s nose for longer periods of reading, and eventually came to make use of the user’s ears. As such, they are the most prominent example of an object that relies on necessary, inherent principles for the design of a physical ergonomics. From a cultural perspective, the need for glasses as a tool for correcting farsightedness become significant with the rise of literacy and the printing revolution of the 15th century. By the end of the 15th century, eyeglasses were produced out of a range of materials and in different forms. Initially, eyeglasses were designed for short-term use and lacked temples; they were balanced on the nose by the user, who held their handle in one hand. During this earlyperiod, designers focused on enabling glasses to be held without obscuring the user’s vision. It soon became obvious that rivet glasses could become unbalanced and encumber vision, leading to the development of glasses with a similar configuration but without a rivet. When reading glasses came to be used for longer periods of time, leather straps and even weighted strings became common. In the course of the 18th century, men used eyeglasses of a type known as “Martin’s Margins,” which had a frame surrounding the lenses and a closure that wrapped around the user’s head. “Wig spectacles,” a similar type of eyeglasses used during this period, were designed to accommodate the masculine dress and fashion code of the time.

Human language / games of seduction and espionage

In the aristocratic culture of royal courts, the ceremonial aspects of the gaze played a significant role in interpersonal relations. During the 18th and 19th centuries, such customs began filtering down and influencing the behavior of the urban middle classes. Objects designed for espionage and seduction began to play a role in social life. Binoculars, fans, sticks, and elegant pieces of jewelry were all used at the theater and opera to provide a better view of what was transpiring onstage, and were even taken on strolls through the park as “communicative” accessories that enabled men and women to “spy” and forge connections. For a long period of time, wearing “corrective” eyeglasses in public was considered socially inappropriate. The lorgnette and the monocle, the folding jewelry pieces, and later “scissor glasses” were used by those who did not want to be viewed as “bespectacled.” Whereas the monocle served as a male status symbol, especially in the Germanspeaking world prior to the Second World War, the lorgnette was mainly used by women. Both accessories were designed to be pulled out of their cases for shortterm use, resulting in the impressive design of both eyeglass and case. Moreover, the fitting of each monocle to the particular facial structure of its user, which resulted in high production costs, cast it as a desirable status symbol and fashion accessory.

Man and machine / the industrial revolution

In the aristocratic culture of royal courts, theThis display examines the significant role played by the Industrial Revolution in transforming eyeglasses from a medical object into a consumer object. The prevalence of eyeglasses has resulted in a shift from the manual production of frames made of metal or expensive materials such as tortoiseshell to the industrialized production of frames made of cheap, reliable, strong materials – most notably plastic. The Industrial Revolution also gave rise to a need for protective goggles, since it coincided with the birth of tourism and the emergence of new types of sports. Finally, the Industrial Revolution led to a significant rise in the number of workers who needed to protect their eyes in addition to miners and foundry workers. In the early 20th century, one out of every seven work-related accidents involved an injury to the eyes, leading the association of Swiss insurance companies to distribute protective goggles. The 20th century also led to a new desire to explore the world. Mountain-climbing, skiing, bicycles, motorbikes, and convertibles further encouraged the development of new types of glasses and other related accessories.

The new man / multiple identities

“A painting needs its frame at least as much as a frame needs its painting” [Jacques Derrida] This last display examines the contribution of eyeglasses to defining identity in the context of consumer culture. Eyeglasses not only change the way we see the world, but also the manner in which the world sees us. They sharpen our gaze and our observational capacities, while also protecting us and serving as a mask that shields us from our environment. Eyeglasses are a communicative prosthesis – they filter both the light entering the eyes and the gaze passing through the lenses. The shape of the frame, and above all the color of the lenses, can transform our gaze into transparent or opaque. Eyeglasses enable us to see without being seen. During the 20th century, technological developments became related to social statements. Fashion and style ceased to belong uniquely to the wealthy, and eyeglasses were transformed from a medical instrument into a carefully designed object that allows for self-expression, like clothing or jewelry. The functional aspects of eyeglass design prevailed during some periods, while aesthetic considerations ruled during others. Today, we have reached a point of equilibrium between function and form, as the technological aspects of eyeglasses have become almost invisible, camouflaged by fashion as they provide comfort, quality, and beauty. This display completes the transformation of eyeglasses from a medical instrument into a consumer product, while revealing how the design of eyeglasses underscores the impairment rather than concealing. For in contrast to other medical prostheses that can be hidden, eyeglasses showcase the most central part of our bodies – our eyes.