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Photograph of Charles Eames with Steinberg Diploma

c. 1950

In this photograph, Charles appears alongside the fake diploma that Saul Steinberg created for him in 1950. Charles, who had studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis but never completed his degree, poses against a wood-paneled wall and gazes up towards the framed document, his signature bow tie just barely in view. The fake diploma was one of many so-called “false documents” that Steinberg made beginning in the 1940s, often as gifts for friends. Charles’s diploma, like the other false documents, imitates the conventions of real ones, with elaborate calligraphy, prominent seals, and a multitude of signatures. A closer look, however, reveals that the starburst seal in the lower-left corner is suspiciously blank and the frustratingly unreadable text is in fact gibberish. Steinberg had pushed the format of the diploma to the point of absurdity, and Charles’s expression of bemused admiration seems to acknowledge how modern systems of academic accreditation, and bureaucracy more generally, are often as nonsensical as they are important.

  • Manufacturer: Office of Charles and Ray Eames
  • Medium:Photograph
  • Dimensions:5 x 7 in. (12.7 x 17.8 cm)
  • Item:A.2019.2.1818