Exploring Human Perceptions Through the Culture and Evolution of Eyewear

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Eyeglasses have gone from being perceived solely as a medical device to becoming a full on fashion accessory.
Thank goodness observations like “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses” are a thing of the past. What was once a mere medical device is now a personal and powerful fashion statement. Today, you can even add art to the growing qualifications of eyewear's DNA.

Last year, we were all faced with the question, “What is art?” in a rather amusing way after a prank went viral of a teenager and his friends who were attending San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art placing a pair of glasses on the floor. They watched as onlookers gathered around the “exhibit” to take photographs of the frames and were actually surprised at the reception that their impromptu social experiment garnered.


(L to R) Protective eyewear for railway workers; Chinese glasses and sunglasses designed by Niki Boden.


(Top to Bottom) A view of the upper gallery
featuring Eyeglasses from Claude Samuel’s
collection and a closer look at a display from
Claude Samuel’s collection.

While this was a comical account of an individual’s sense of perception, The Design Museum Holon in Israel, takes an artful, detailed approach to the questions “do we see the world as it really is?” and “what are eyeglasses?” The Museum's exhibit, titled Overview,  seeks to explore the dynamic of perception and vision as well as the history and role of eyeglasses through the centuries.

The exhibit is organized into two sections, a private collection of historical pieces curated by Claude Samuel, an Israeli optometrist and the second section is a selection of 50 conceptual eyeglasses by contemporary Israeli designers. Together, they explore the evolving timeline of eyewear from its origins as a medical device all the way up to eyeglasses as a fashion accessory.

The exhibit from Samuel's collection, depicts the ways in which eyeglasses have influenced human development. “The history of eyeglasses is above all a history of culture, and they may thus be examined from countless perspectives. In this exhibition, we have chosen to examine them from a human point of view," according to the Museum.

“The Five Cultural Milestones that make up the display represent five cultural turning points at which eyeglasses played a central role in impacting human development. At the same time, these milestones also reflect the manner in which scientific progress and social change have impacted our view of eyeglasses,” as stated on the Museum Holon’s website.


(L to R) A phoropter from the late 19th century; Pince-nez from 1880; a box of sight test lenses.

Overview showcases the different cultural contexts of eyewear and expands our understanding of vision and perception of the world in a historical, fascinating and innovative way. The Overview exhibition runs through April 29, 2017. Whether you’ll be heading to Israel in the near future or not, these ideas of perception, as well as the cultural and historical significance of eyeglasses and how they alter our views as individuals is quite an interesting topic to explore—and quite frankly impacts us all.

Take a look at this short video that quickly showcases Overview’s highlights.

Photos by: Eli Bohbot and Shay Ben-Efraim