[Clockwise from the top left: Roman Holiday poster; Hamper designed by Ed E. Langbein (American) 1940s. Wicker, 15 3/4 x 11 1/4 x 7 1/4". Manufactured by Langbein, Giftwares Div., Brooklyn, NY. Gift of the manufacturer, MoMA; Chemex Coffee Maker designed by Peter Schlumbohm (American) 1941. Pyrex glass, wood, and leather, 9 1/2 x 6 1/8" (24.2 x 15.5 cm). Manufacturer: Chemex Corp., New York, NY. Gift of Lewis & Conger, MoMA.]
I'm so glad I made it to the High Saturday afternoon for Juliet Kinchin's Modern by Design lecture. Sleek summer drinking glasses, iron-and-leather chairs, coffee makers -- I'm looking at everything from a different angle. There's no question that the exhibition appeals to serious Modernists (fans of the clean aesthetic so beautifully celebrated by Tom Ford in A Single Man enjoy the show), but for design enthusiasts of all stripes, it stimulates conversation: What is "good" design? What endures? What feels perpetually fresh?
[B.K.F. Chair designed in 1938 by Antonio Bonet (Spanish, 1913-1989), Juan Kurchan (Argentine, 1913-1975) and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy (Argentine, 1914-1977). Painted wrought-iron rod and leather, Manufactured by Artek-Pascoe, Inc., New York, NY. Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. Fund, MoMA.]
While there are numerous icons in the show, like the much-loved, original 1930s "safari chair," the exhibition isn't specifically a retrospective of all 20th-century decorative arts. The big focus is on MoMA, the first art museum with a department dedicated entirely to architecture and design, and how the institution lead the way, introducing the general public to cutting-edge (often attainable, American-made) furniture and household objects throughout the last century.
[Boiling Flasks, before 1934. Corning Glass (American, est. 1851) Borosilicate glass. Gift of the manufacturer, MoMA.]
Right now, with this loan exhibition, the High is looking back at three main moments in MoMA’s history: Machine Art (1934), Good Design (1950–1955) and Italy: The New Domestic Landscape (1972). I think the middle phase will particularly interest residential interior decorators, textile designers, retail shop owners and students.
[Armchair designed in 1949 by Hans Wegner (Danish, 1914-2007). Oak and cane, 30 x 24 5/8 x 21 1/4" (76.2 x 62.5 x 54 cm), seat h. 17" (43.2 cm). Manufactured by Johannes Hansen, Denmark. Gift of Georg Jensen, Inc. MoMA.]
Directed by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., who thought the public was bombarded with conflicting messages from shelter mags and advertisers and believed museum curators could help clear through the confusion -- serving as standard bearers of sorts -- MoMA was involved in a host of innovative mid-century design competitions and related exhibitions as well as collaborations with manufacturers. Think Vera Neumann, Earl S. Tupper (Tupperware), Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, and Eero Saarinen.
[Radio (model TS 502) designed in 1963 by Marco Zanuso (Italian, 1916-2001) and Richard Sapper (German, born 1932). ABS plastic and aluminum, Manufactured by Brionvega S.p.A., Italy. Gift of the manufacturer. © 2011 Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso. MoMA; Truck: Utility 1/4 Ton 4 x 4 (M38A1) Jeep, 1952, Willys-Overland Motors, Inc., Toledo, Ohio (American, established 1909). Steel body. Gift of DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund, MoMA; Cartier Tank. ]
I left pondering my own favorite 20th-century designs (hence the three non-exhibition items* thrown in the mix here) and thinking about 21st-century eclecticism. The aesthetic MoMA first presented to the public was a revolt against the earlier, heavily layered Victorian era. It was about youth. In her talk, Kinchin referenced the mid-century image of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on a Vespa in Roman Holiday. The emphasis was on embracing a whole new package. Now we tend to put together highly personal mixes.
[Globe-trotting jewelry designer Temple St. Clair Carr mixed antique chairs from her family's Virginia house with a Saarinen tulip table. Photo by Eric Piasecki as seen in Elle Decor September 2006.]
Indeed, Modern by Design also explores current and future styles with a significant display of pieces from the High's permanent collection, including the Sottsass cabinet, along with the new Joris Laarman commission, Digital Matter, mentioned here the other day.
[My own image.]
In the spirit of MoMA's mid-century Good Design series, some works from the current exhibition, such as the Chemex® Coffee Maker, are available in the High's gift shop.
*The watch and jeep are on my personal list of last century icons. And, again, Kinchin mentioned the films and the Vespa in her lecture. Everything else is on view in the exhibition. Look for a small selection of textiles, too.