Journal of the History of Design and Curatorial Studies Parsons School of Design Issue No. 3 Spring/Summer 2017
Objective: Contemporary and Historical This third issue of Objective, the journal of the Parsons/ Cooper Hewitt MA program in History of Design and Curatorial Studies, connects history to the present by exploring historical and contemporary topics related to design, architecture and material culture. The issue asks two central questions: How does history affect the present? How does the present shape our ideas about history? Many of the articles consider the immense potential of design amid the polemics of the twenty-first century. They connect history with today’s urgent need for critical thought and engagement, illuminating the relationship between past and present at every turn of the page. For the first time, the journal includes an “in print” exhibition of newly discovered theater designs in the collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. This visual essay literally juxtaposes past and present. Objective 3 takes us around the globe with case studies about objects, people and places in the U.S.—New York, the Dakotas, Texas—and abroad, France (via contributors from the Parsons Paris program), Italy, the Netherlands, and as far away as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, thanks to program alumni. Historical topics include speculation on the fact or fantasy of an early-nineteenth-century drawing of an Empire-style bathroom; an early-twentieth-century chaise longue and its connection to an increasingly modern femininity in France; the political activism sewn into nineteenth- and twentieth-century American quilts; and a selection of mid-twentieth-century album covers that uncover the prejudices of their time through graphic design. These historical topics are complemented by contemporary examinations of the postmodern lineage of conceptual design in Italy and the Netherlands; the preservation of
a Brutalist building in Sydney; the assimilation of Native American identity into mainstream American culture with respect to today’s controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project; and the role of design and feminism in a 2015 underwear ad campaign that appeared in the New York City subway system. Objective 3 also reflects upon the changing cultural context of curatorial practice and cultural institutions. Included are a review of an Auckland exhibit on popular music in New Zealand; a contemporary outdoor graffiti gallery in Austin, Texas; Willem Sandberg’s contributions to making Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum a more inclusive institution; and the important opening of the Smithsonian Institution's new National Museum of African American History and Culture which repositions African American identity within American history on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. All topics confront challenging questions of gender, race, class, and the environment. And, if there are more articles related to America than other parts of the world, we attribute this to the highly charged political context of the 2016 election year (which continues). In its third year, Objective continues to be a work in progress. Each issue adds a new layer to Objective’s legacy, always combining curiosity with scholarship. With outstanding faculty and resources—most notably the acclaimed collection of Cooper Hewitt—Objective continues, we trust, to reflect the changes of our time. It is with great enthusiasm and pride that we invite you into Objective 3.
Catherine Acosta and Adrian Madlener
Objective Journal of the History of Design and Curatorial Studies Parsons School of Design Issue No. 3 Spring/Summer 2017
Special Thanks Our sincerest gratitude to all those who have helped make this issue of Objective a success: Dr. Sarah E. Lawrence, Dean of the School of Art and Design, History and Theory of Parsons School of Design; Dr. Sarah A. Lichtman, Program Director, and Dr. Ethan Robey, Associate Program Director, of the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program; Caroline Baumann, Director, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Cara McCarty, Curatorial Director, Cooper Hewitt; Sarah D. Coffin, Curator and Head of Product Design and Decorative Arts, Cooper Hewitt, who took precious time to speak with us about the exciting exhibition The Jazz Age while in the throes of preparing for its opening; Caitlin Condell, Assistant Curator and Acting Head of Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design, Cooper Hewitt, for giving us access to previously unseen theater designs for our first “in print” exhibition; Wendi Parson, Director of Communications and Marketing, Cooper Hewitt, for keeping us as accurate as possible; Janice Hussain, Digital Imaging Specialist, Cooper Hewitt, for essential image support; former Objective editors Anna Rasche, Julia Pelkofsky and Catherine Powell for their valuable advice; Roi Baron and Bill Shaffer, former designers of Objective, for their ever-present contributions to its visual style; Emmanuel Guy, Director of the Parsons Paris MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program, for encouraging the relationship between the two MA programs; and Natalia Dare and Savanna Kustra for their constant administrative help. We thank all our relentless copy editors as listed in the masthead and Matthew Kennedy for merging his theatrical interests with curatorial choices for our first “in print” exhibition and answering sundry questions related to this publication. We are also grateful to all of our contributors, classmates and alumni for sharing their myriad and fascinating scholarly pursuits. Most particularly, we are indebted to one fellow student, our talented designer Annaleigh McDonald, for taking on a job for two and doing it so singularly well. We extend a final and special thanks to our faculty advisor, Dr. Marilyn Cohen, of the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program. 6
Editors in Chief: Catherine Acosta & Adrian Madlener Editorial Board: Emily Birzak, Rachel Hunnicutt, Amanda Kogle, Jeffery McCullough, Narender Strong Designer: Annaleigh McDonald Chief Copy Editor: Jeffery McCullough Copy Editors: Rachel Hunnicutt, Samantha Wiley, Penny Wolfson Faculty Advisor: Dr. Marilyn Cohen
Image credits Unless otherwise indicated, objects illustrated are from the collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Front Cover: (detail) Shopping Bag, Bloomingdale’s: Building façade; CoDesigner: Christoph Radl; paper; 43.2 x 30.5 cm (17 x 12 in. ); Gift of Berle Geronemus; 1998-20-1 Inside front cover, left: Print, Design for a Clock, plate 4, from Nouveaux livre de boites de pendulles de coqs et etuys de montres et autres necessaire au Orlogeurs, 1705–12; Designed by Daniel Marot (French, active Netherlands and England, 1661–1752); France; etching printed in red ink on paper; Mount: 34.2 x 22.1 cm (13 7/16 x 8 11/16 in.) Sheet: 29.8 x 19.1 cm (11 3/4 x 7 1/2 in.) Platemark: 28.5 x 19.5 cm (11 1/4 x 7 11/16 in.) Mat: 45.7 x 35.6 cm (18 x 14 in.) Frame H x W x D: 50.2 x 39.7 x 2.5 cm (19 3/4 in. x 15 5/8 in. x 1 in.); Purchased for the Museum by the Advisory Council; 1921-6-352-77 Inside front cover, right: Advertisement, Restaurant Florent: Clock/Open 24 Hours, ca. 1980–93; Design Director: Tibor Kalman (Hungarian and American, 1949 - 1999); USA; offset lithography; 35.2 x 27.7 cm (13 7/8 x 11 in.); Gift of Tibor Kalman/ M & Co.; 1993-151-308
Page 4: (detail) Sampler (Mexico), 1867; Embroidered by Francesca Martin; silk and wool embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 70.5 x 57.2 cm (27 3/4 x 22 1/2 in.); Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer; 1981-28-371 Page 5: (detail) Sidewall, Moderne, 1953; Manufactured by George Byrnes and Co.; USA; machine-printed; 52 x 54.5 cm (20 1/2 x 21 7/16 in.); Gift of B.H. Hellman; 1954-21-12 Page 6: Exhibition graphic, Process Lab: Citizen Design, on view at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum September 30, 2016-September 17, 2017 Inside back cover, left: Print, Another year by the old clock, 1870; Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910); USA; Museum purchase through gift of the Estate of David Wolfe Bishop; 1958-27-9 Inside back cover, right: Mona Lisa Clock, 1990; Designed by Constantin Boym (Russian, active USA, b. 1955); USA; aluminum (four-color process); 25.2 x 20 x 3.2 cm (9 15/16 x 7 7/8 x 1 1/4 in.); Gift of Elika; 1992-46-2
Table of Contents Fantasy or Reality: A French Empire Bathroom Rachel Hunnicutt
American Quilts as Agitprop: Canvases for Social and Political Activism Jeﬀery McCullough
A Tiﬀany Scarab Beetle Rayna Wang
The Interior Sex and the Chaise Longue Kelly Konrad
Au Lapin Agile Chanel Host
Interview “Riﬃng” with Curator Sarah Coﬃn on The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s Catherine Acosta
Under Cover: Mid-Century Album Designs for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring Amanda Kogle
An “In-Print” Exhibition Raising the Curtain: Theatrical Designs in the Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Matthew Kennedy
Willem Sandberg, Democratizing the Stedelijk Museum Bill Shaﬀer
Exhibition Review Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa Rebecca Gross
Overthrow Boxing NYC Gabrielle Golenda
The Hidden Story of a Poster Sakura Nomiyama
Historicizing Conceptual Design Adrian Madlener
Beyond Face Value: The DiďŹ€erent Meanings of Heritage Rebecca Gross
Website Review Inside InsideInside.org Julia Pelkofsky
Gallery Review GraďŹƒti: Materiality, Accessibility, Equality Catherine Powell
Thinking About Thinx Advertising Alison Underwood
Museum Review Design and Identity: Artifacts of African American Representation, The National Museum of African American History and Culture Narender Strong
Caught in the Middle: The Native American Dream Catcher Annaleigh McDonald
Fantasy or Reality: A French Empire Bathroom Rachel Hunnicutt
Jean-Claude Rumeau’s Interieur vue d’une salle de bain from 1807 belongs to a category of domestic views called interior portraiture, a representational genre that combines minute accuracy with artistic flourish to portray real or imagined spaces (fig. 1). In 2012, Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw gave a gift of 85 nineteenth-century watercolor interior portraits to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Their gift inspired the museum’s 2008–2009 exhibition House Proud: Nineteenth-Century Watercolor Interiors from the Thaw Collection, an exploration of the evolution of the domestic interior in Europe curated by Gail S. Davidson, former curator and head of Cooper Hewitt’s Drawings, Prints and Graphic
Design Department. House Proud cast light on the increasing importance of the nineteenth-century interior as a source of personal status and pride; watercolor interior portraiture emerged as a way for homeowners to simultaneously document and glorify their newly constructed or renovated domiciles. As the catalog essay asserts, elevated esteem for interiors was a product of the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of a consumer economy, a growing bourgeoisie, and the new role of women as guardians of the domestic realm. Professional and amateur artists alike undertook these commissions, which were typically assembled into
Fig. 1 Intérieur vue d’une salle de bain, 1807; Jean-Claude Rumeau; Pen and black ink, brush and watercolor, gouache, varnish, graphite on oﬀ-white wove paper; 29 x 23.7 cm (11 7/16 x 9 5/16 in.); New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Thaw Collection; 2012-5-4.
albums, given as gifts or displayed in the home to impress visitors. Despite the documentary function of room portraiture, however, it was not uncommon for artists to represent capricious domestic scenes sometimes peopled by imagined occupants. Rumeau’s Interieur vue d’une salle de bain asks some intriguing questions: What inspired the artist to depict such a scene? Was it simply reportage, the documentation of an existing interior? Or was his interior view an invention inspired by the neoclassicism of the Empire period and the increasing popularity of watercolor interior views? This essay argues that JeanClaude Rumeau’s Salle de bain is a scene imagined by the artist but adhering closely to the characteristics of the au courant Empire style. An exploration of Empire style as well as contemporaneous bathing practices sheds light on an elusive artist’s interior portrait that, whether real or imagined, captures the spirit of an age. What little is known of Rumeau can be gleaned from Emmanuel Benezit’s Dictionary of Artists, first published between 1911 and 1923.1 The artist was born in the eighteenth century and worked into the first three decades of the nineteenth, painting history and genre scenes, interiors, miniatures, and porcelain.2 Rumeau’s exhibition history places the 1807 signed and dated Salle de bain among his earlier works, executed in the Empire style he employed in other watercolors, such as his Je saurai le fixer; this classicizing style gave way to the Gothic Revival as the nineteenth century progressed; 12
Rumeau’s later watercolor drawings and designs for the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory would feature medieval subjects. The Salle de bain measures 11.5x9.3 inches and was executed in pen and ink, brush and watercolor, gouache, varnish and graphite on off-white wove paper. There are no visible water- or collector’s marks on the drawing, and its surface is smooth and consistent save for one area on the verso where a light crease appears to be either a repair or some kind of mounting.3 In the drawing, the room’s spare furnishings rest upon an inlaid marble floor of blue, green, pink and white, accented by green runners with red and gold borders. On either side of the room stand semicircular, wooden console tables, possibly mahogany, supported at front by two legs that taper into lion’s paws and at rear by the full-length mirrors set into the walls. Upon the console tables rest tall, elongated blue porcelain vases set into fluted gilt-bronze mounts and accented by swan neck handles, mimicking the stylized vases in the alcove fresco; each holds a vertical spray of small pink flowers amidst green sprigs. Toward the left side of the room, a four-legged, two-tiered gueridon table whose legs terminate in swans’ heads holding rings supports a set of three Greek-inspired gilt vessels: the low, open dish resembles a kylix, the medium pitcher an oinochoe, and the tallest a lekythos. It is notable that the tall, angular handles of both the tallest piece on the table and that used by the servant are nowhere to be found in antiquity but instead are
neoclassical interpretations; this is also the case with the trefoil spout of the tallest vessel.4 It is impossible to identify the contents or function of the alcove nearest the gueridon, but it is likely that it would have held a table de toilette, a piece of furniture that emerged during the Empire; used by both men and women, these objects were frequently hinged and unfolded to reveal mirrors and surfaces for the accessories of the bath and dressing as well as a number of drawers and compartments. The opposite alcove houses a daybed; although half obscured by the room’s architecture, it is possible that it is a méridienne or a lit-en-bateau—both favored forms during the Empire period.5 The entire scene keeps with the tenets of the Empire style, which began in France and pervaded the decorative arts throughout Europe and the United States between 1804 and 1814. It was influenced by the objects and motifs of ancient civilizations and was more restrained than the whimsical rococo that dominated French decorative arts in the first part of the eighteenth century. Napoleon’s patronage facilitated the maturation of late eighteenth-century neoclassicism into the Empire style.6 He established dominance over Europe’s economy and trade through the Napoleonic Code and sought to infuse his reign with a grand splendor appropriate for a post-Revolution imperial ruler. However tragic for France, the incredible amount of damage, loss, and looting that transpired during the French Revolution granted Napoleon
a clean canvas upon which to paint the visual culture of the First Empire.7 He refurbished palaces and châteaux, constructed grand monuments and cultivated French industry, all of which impacted the period’s decorative arts. The rise of middle-class patronage combined with an unprecedented transfusion of images due to increasing production and availability of prints allowed the Empire style to flourish. Rumeau’s teacher Jacques-Louis David was an active and highly influential proponent of the Empire style from its earliest stirrings under Louis XVI into its development in the period following the Revolution. A scholar of antiquity who studied in Rome, David commissioned a number of objects by the furniture maker Georges Jacob to serve as props in his neoclassical portraits and history paintings.8 The artist infused his works with a rigid simplicity and formality that echoed the ancient republican values that French revolutionaries sought to reinstate after overturning the monarchy. Prior to the 1790s, most interpretations of antiquity were fanciful rather than faithful reproductions, but by the last decade of the eighteenth century scholars and artists alike were studying ancient artifacts more scientifically, reproducing the strict lines and sober colors discovered at archaeological sites.9 This post-Revolution interest in accurately representing ancient motifs was accompanied not only by changing styles and forms but also by changing methods of production. The French Revolution had abolished the country’s medieval guild system, which resulted 13
in craftspeople free to explore, work and flourish in new media. One such example was David’s collaborator Jacob, a gifted ménuisier, who under the guild system was only able to practice that art, but after the abolition of the guilds expanded into cabinetmaking, at which he truly excelled.10 If Napoleon and Josephine were instrumental in establishing the vogue for Empire taste, Charles Percier (17641838) and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) were responsible for asserting its forms in architecture and interior decoration. They were Napoleon’s official architects and were responsible not only for a vast number of Empire-style innovations in building and interiors but also for transmitting the aesthetic through their publications. Percier and Fontaine developed ambitious projects but were unable to realize many of them before Napoleon was deposed in 1814. What they were able to complete, however, represents the maturity of the Empire style. After studying art and architecture together in Paris, Fontaine had accompanied Percier to the Académie Français in Rome after the latter won the Prix de Rome in 1784; their work took inspiration from the close observation and careful study of antique ruins. The two sketched prodigiously during their travels and brought back images of antiquity that inspired decorators across Europe, as well as the Atlantic, through reproductions of their 1798 collection entitled Palais, maisons et autres édifices modernes dessinés à Rome. 14
The fantastic brand of neoclassicism that dictated the Louis XVI style gave way to Percier and Fontaine’s more studied motifs grounded in archaeological observation.11 The pair’s designs also conveyed unity: their interiors were complete compositions whose architecture, wall decoration, paneling, furniture and objects were conceived as a whole, contributing to the effectiveness of the Empire style as a coherent visual style and propagandistic tool for Napoleon. Percier and Fontaine’s seminal work was the Recueil des décorations intérieures, first published as a series of plates in 1801 and as a complete tome in 1812. It is likely that Rumeau was familiar with this collection and probably took inspiration from its pages for his neoclassical drawings. Along with the style’s severe geometry, simple lines, and monochromatic color palette, one motif that pervaded visual culture at the turn of the nineteenth century was the swan, which Rumeau incorporates into his Salle de bain several times. In Greek mythology, Zeus took the form of the swan to seduce Leda, and the chariot that Zeus gave to their son Apollo was pulled by swans. Although the swan was prominent in ancient mythology, it had disappeared entirely as a motif until Josephine Bonaparte revived it.13 She brought it back en mode, even purchasing swans for the grounds at the imperial château Malmaison,12 where the bird also appears on the headboard of the lit-en-bateau that Percier designed for her apartments there. The motif also appears in
Fig. 2 Bathroom of Mlle Dervieux, ca. 1790. Designed by François-Joseph Bélanger. Cabinet des Estampes. Bibliothèque nationale de France. photo: Service photographique, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Josephine’s son Eugène Beauharnais’s hôtel particulier in Paris in the guise of bath taps. The cygnet was admired for its proficiency both on water and in flight, and its white, downy feathers and the graceful curvature of its neck lent it a connotation of seduction.13 Rumeau incorporated the swan into his Salle de bain in a variety of ways: A pair of the birds perch atop the portico and spit into the bath, the urns on the console table boast swans’ neck handles, and the top tier of the gueridon is supported by swans’ heads holding rings in their mouths. Rumeau incorporated a number of other hallmarks of the Empire style into the Cooper Hewitt drawing: its severe geometry, limited color palette, classical decorative elements such as Corinthian capitals, masks, urns and palmettes, as well as period furniture, including the gueridon, paired console tables, and méridienne, all unembellished and understated in form. He also peopled the scene with ladies in high-waisted Empire costume. But the viewer wonders whether Rumeau’s drawing depicts a fantastic bather in an ancient Roman villa or a contemporary 1807 interior. Is the scene totally capricious or could this bathroom have actually existed, given the status of both personal hygiene and plumbing technology in 1807? Despite the eccentricity of the inset bathtub and swan fountain as water source, bathing history indicates that Rumeau’s bathroom could well have existed at the time of the drawing’s creation. There had been a tradition of bathing 16
in antiquity, but unlike modern conventions, this was part of public and social culture. From the Middle Ages through the bathing revival of the eighteenth century, however, bathing played almost no role in daily life. In fact, it was actively avoided in the late Middle Ages when water was believed to open one’s pores and allow ill humors to enter the body. As an alternative, linen underclothes were used to absorb sweat and filth. People may have occasionally bathed in rivers, or, like Louis XIV, have used damp clothes to scrub their faces and hands.14 But during Louis XIV’s reign the tide began to turn in favor of bathing. His mistress, the Marquise de Montespan, was among the first to consider a room devoted to bathing essential for every home.15 To accommodate her, Louis XIV installed a bathing suite at her residence at the Château de Clagny in Versailles (completed 1680) replete with huge tubs of marble and marble-tiled walls. Eventually, bathing became essential to personal hygiene and developed into a private ritual that was not only necessary but enjoyable. Furthermore, for the first time since antiquity, technology brought water directly into homes. François Blondel was the first architect to include the bathroom in an architectural treatise. His 1737 disquisition set an impressive precedent for bathing spaces: his ideal bathtub was cast in metal and filled by faucets (both hot and cold), and he positioned it like an altar in a dedicated room. It was just one part of a larger scheme that included separate rooms for a
water heater, the warming of linens for drying and napping after bathing and a waiting room for servants.16 The salle de bain had become a necessary convenience for those who could afford it, and although during the French Revolution grand bathing suites were considered ridiculous, the convention was revived during the Napoleonic era.17 It is therefore conceivable that a bathroom such as that depicted in Rumeau’s watercolor actually existed. A dedicated space for bathing and the accommodating technology for such a luxury existed at the time, and the modern bathroom was indeed having a “moment.” Furthermore, although many of the bathrooms designed around the turn of the nineteenth century incorporated above-ground, step-in bathtubs, there was a precedent for Rumeau’s sunken tub. The architect François-Joseph Bélanger had designed an Etruscanstyle bathroom for his mistress (later his wife) Mademoiselle Dervieux around 1790 (fig. 2) wherein the bathing suite was dominated by a circular sunken tub positioned in the middle of the room. This design more closely resembles the Rumeau bathroom than any other known interior from the period, both in terms of its neoclassical style and sunken tub, which recall the baths of antiquity such as those excavated at Herculaneum and Pompeii (fig. 3) in the early to mid-eighteenth century.18 Although to date, no realized bathroom design from the period incorporates the plan or precise decoration seen in JeanClaude Rumeau’s Interieur vue d’une salle
de bain, it is possible that the artist took inspiration from similar rooms, such as that of Mlle Dervieux, or from motifs and designs published by Percier and Fontaine at the turn of the nineteenth century. Rumeau incorporates several elements that can be found in the pair’s Recueil, such as the horizontal tufting of the chaise longue, the paired columns and ceiling design and the rosettes, palmettes, masks and swags found throughout both that collection and the earlier Palais à Rome. Furthermore, French personal hygiene, bathing rituals, and plumbing technology would have allowed for the construction and use of a bathroom such as that presented by Rumeau. Lastly, the drawing was executed at a time when watercolor interior views were becoming popular, and it is reasonable to believe that Rumeau’s watercolor might have reproduced an extant room that did indeed elevate its owner’s personal status in having it. Nevertheless, Rumeau’s figures appear to be generalized as opposed to portraits of specific people, and what’s more, although figures often appear in watercolor interior views in the nineteenth century, few are presented in such a state of undress as Rumeau’s bather. Additionally, few bathroom portraits exist; views of boudoirs or women at their toilettes are more common. While Rumeau’s bathroom could have technically existed, no similar architectural or decorative designs have been found. It is likely that rather than reproducing an existing bathroom, therefore, Rumeau created a capricious one based on 17
Fig. 3 The frigidarium of the Stabian thermal baths at Pompeii, ca. 4th c. BCE. This bath would have been filled with cool or icy water that were part of ancient bathing rituals. Although frigidaria were most frequently rectangular, some were circular and mirrored the architecture of their interior settings.
the popularity of the Empire style and populated it with figures who could have been equally at home in an ancient bathhouse. Whether real or imagined, the drawing illustrates the increasing accuracy of classical styles and the emergence of a new domestic space, the bathroom, as well as the ascendance of the interior as an artistic subject in its own right. In either case, Rumeau’s Interieur vue d’une salle de bain captures the spirit of the French Empire style. NOTES 1. Emmanuel Bénézit, Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs vol. 12 (Paris: Gründ, 1976), 97. 2. Rumeau exhibited at the Salon between 1806 and 1822.
exclusive right to employ veneering and marquetry techniques in their products. 11. Ibid., 72. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid. 14. Joan DeJean, The Age of Comfort (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), 68. 15. Ibid., 69. 16. Ibid., 71. 17. Ibid.,79. DeJean also notes that from the 1830s on, bathing as a pursuit of comfort and leisure ceased and the bathroom once more became a relatively obscure space within the domestic interior. 18. This Pompeiian bath, in particular, resembles that of the Rumeau drawing in its circular shape and rectangular step, used as a seat by Rumeau’s subject.
3. Rumeau’s Je saurai lefixer was affixed to another sheet of paper, so it is conceivable that the Cooper Hewitt drawing received the same treatment. 4. Odile Nouvel and Anne DionTenenbaum, Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800–1815 (New York: American Federation of the Arts; Paris: Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 2007), 205. 5. Le Camus also advised that bathrooms should be furnished with a daybed in a nearby niche. 6. Madeleine Deschamps, Empire (New York: Abbeville Press, 1994), 7. 7. Deschamps, Empire, 8. 8. Ibid., 22. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid., 25. Previously, menuisiers were limited to carving and joinery and ébénistes to cabinetmaking. The latter enjoyed the 19
American Quilts as Agitprop: Canvases for Social and Political Activism Jeffery McCullough
The AIDS Memorial Quilt, The NAMES Project, is one of the most poignant and powerful exhibitions ever mounted. The project was conceived in November 1985 by long-time San Francisco gay rights activist Cleve Jones. Since the 1978 assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, Jones had helped organize the annual candlelight march honoring them. While planning the 1985 march, he learned that over 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost to AIDS. He asked each of his fellow marchers to write on placards the names of friends and loved ones who had died of the disease. At the end of the march, Jones
and others stood on ladders taping these placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. The wall of names looked like a patchwork quilt. Inspired by this sight, Jones and friends made plans for a real quilt as a memorial. On October 11, 1987, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The quilt covered a space larger than a football field and included 1,920 panelsâ€”each devoted to a victim of AIDS. Half a million people visited the quilt that weekend.
Fig. 1 Reconciliation Quilt, 1867; Lucinda Ward Honstain. courtesy of International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2001.011.0001.
The overwhelming response to the quilt’s inaugural display led to a fourmonth, 20-city national tour for the quilt in spring 1988. The tour raised nearly $500,000 for hundreds of AIDS service organizations. By 1992, the AIDS Memorial Quilt included over 9,000 panels, from every state and 28 countries.1 Agitprop!, a show on view at New York City’s Brooklyn Museum from December 2015 through August 2016, exhibited artwork created as “a call to action to create political and social change.”2 The term is a combination of agitation and propaganda, originally used to describe Soviet Russian or Communist political propaganda often spread through a variety of art forms. There were no quilts in Agitprop!, but the AIDS Memorial Quilt is an example of how quilts and quilt-making can be a canvas for civil rights activism, protest and identity. Indeed, the AIDS Memorial Quilt rests on a tradition of American quilting that can be tracked back to those made by African American and white women. Quilt-making as a vehicle for political and social change was most prevalent during two key periods of American history: the 1860s-1890s, that is during and after the Civil War, and the 1960s-1990s during the civil, gay and women’s rights movements. Approximately one hundred years separate these two time periods but the causes and reasons for quilting at both times are alike: there was an urgent need to fight for the rights of the disenfranchised. Quilts made in the eighteenth and 22
nineteenth centuries, therefore, can serve as reference tools when studying the work of quilt artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. But a study of quilts also needs to appreciate a profound change in how quilts and quilt-making were viewed in the later years of the twentieth century. Like other crafts, quilt-making, by the 1970s, had become elevated in the public consciousness—an elevation which enhanced the power of the quilt to function as an artistic call to action. No longer just looked at as utilitarian objects—as they were for far too long—the study of the techniques and meaning of quilts became a focus of museum curators, dealers and collectors and a respected medium for artists. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, quilts as “women’s work,” or a domestic craft, were not taken seriously, but they gave women one of their only tools for expressing opinions, a figurative voice that could be used when a literal voice was not allowed. Women found this voice and fellowship in the sewing bees and quilters circles organized in church social halls and private homes. “Commemorative quilting,” or creating a quilt “to honor the people and events that create our nation’s story,”3 allowed the quiltmaker, through subject matter, to reach far beyond the bed upon which the quilt was placed. These particular quilts are “visual documents of our nation’s history. They can be made to celebrate an important event or record a tragedy. These quilts will not allow us to forget that we are indeed bound
together as a nation despite ethnic, religious, political, and economic differences.”4 Just as the quilt comes together out of its blocks and requires time and effort to make it whole, so too does the nation sometimes need to be sewn together. Lucinda Ward Honstain, a Brooklyn quilter in the 1800s, overtly engaged with civil rights and social activism in her quilts. In “Reconciliation Quilt” (fig. 1), a commemorative quilt dated 1867 and now in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center at University of NebraskaLincoln, Honstain gives a pictorial representation of what life after the end of slavery might look like in her New York neighborhood: “Lucinda’s family owned slaves until 1827. After New York State abolished slavery in that year, her family’s former slaves continued to live in the same neighborhood, where she saw them regularly. This probably influenced some of the blocks in her quilt.” A white woman, Honstain presents an idealized view of “life before, during, and right after the Civil War.”5 Although Honstain’s vision comes with the bias of white privilege, in one block of the quilt she represents a freed slave engaged with his former owner with the words “Master I Am Free Now.” This block is prominently placed just above the blocks that feature the quilter’s home and just to the left of a block with the American eagle and American flags flying. With the inclusion of these two blocks near “Master I Am Free Now,” Honstain is making a statement. She acknowledges
the importance of slaves being set free and the rebuilding of the union that must take place at the end of the war. A crazy quilt dating from 1870 (fig. 2) in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum is a significant early example of women’s fight for civil rights. (The style of the quilt takes its name from its particular design which uses strips and small pieces of fabric, often remnants, abstractly placed and sewn together). A representative suffrage quilt, it is especially powerful because it was done by a woman voicing support for a political party before she had the right to vote. Although the artist is only identified by the initials J.F.R., she was clearly following politics since she collected banners and ribbons and other political ephemera of the time which appear in the quilt. She employed her handiwork to make her convictions known using her craft. A curator at the American Folk Art Museum wrote: The constitutional amendment giving the vote to American women was not ratified until 1920. Therefore, the unidentified maker of this quilt voiced her political sentiments in one of the only socially acceptable means available to her in the late nineteenth century. Using the idiom of the Crazy quilt, she constructed a strong statement of Democratic sympathies in a highly fashionable format. The strutting rooster prominently featured in the center of the quilt was an emblem often used by the Democratic Party during the 1880s and 1890s, particularly in Grover 23
Cleveland’s presidential campaign. Below the rooster are portraits of two unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidates: Samuel J. Tilden of New York, who ran in 1876, and Winfield S. Hancock of Pennsylvania, the candidate in 1880. These fabrics, originally parts of printed campaign banners, evidently were saved by the maker until after Grover Cleveland’s successful bid in the 1884 campaign. Cleveland and his running mate, Thomas A. Hendricks, are shown in the upper corners of the central block. A Cleveland-Hendricks inaugural ribbon, dated March 4, 1885, with an image of an American flag is placed above.6
In Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany, design historian Patricia Mainardi writes: The contrast between the utilitarian necessity of patching and quilting and the beautiful works of art which women made of it, and the contrast between the traditions of patchwork and quilting as brought to America and the quilts made here from colonial times to the present give ample evidence that quilts are The Great American Art.7
Mainardi goes on to say: “Quilting is an art that is a universal female art, transcending race, class and national borders.”8 While quilts may transcend race and class, fundamental aspects of the quilter’s identity inform a quilt’s design, and that message, whether 24
written overtly, subtly, or even hidden, may be found in each piece of fabric comprising the whole of a quilt. Born as a utilitarian object—the need to keep warm—making quilts, writes Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock in “Crafty Women and the Hierarchy of the Arts”: was virtually the one area in which women could express themselves creatively—a woman worked on her quilt in the evenings after she had done the day’s chores. The importance of quilts in women’s lives is best expressed in the statement of one nineteenth-century farm woman who is quoted as saying, ‘I would have lost my mind if I had not had my quilts to do.’9
Writing about nineteenth-century women quilters, Parker and Pollock assert that “personal, political, religious and social meanings were sewn into quilts.” They continue: “Free from the pressures of the dominant conventions of contemporary painting, perspective, illusionism and narrative subject matter, the quilt-makers evolved an abstract language to signify and communicate their joys and sorrows, their personal and social histories.”10
Fig. 2 Cleveland-Hendricks Crazy Quilt, artist unidentified; initialed “J.F.R.”, United States, 1885 - 1890, Lithographed silk ribbons, silk, and wool with cotton fringe and silk and metallic embroidery, 75 x 77”, Gift of Margaret Cavigga, 1985.25.3. photo courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum
When quilters in the 1800s masterfully created a commemorative piece, they did so with no thought of seeking museum or gallery representation. This remained true long into the twentieth century and was especially true for the “Gee’s Bend Quilters,” an Alabama community of black women. The Gee’s Bend Quilters emerged out of The 25
Freedom Quilting Bee established in 1966 as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement. As the story goes: In December of 1965, the year of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, a white Episcopal priest driving through a desperately poor, primarily black section of Wilcox County found himself at a great bend of the Alabama River. He noticed a cabin clothesline from which were hanging three magnificent quilts unlike any he had ever seen. They were of strong, bold colors in original, op-art patterns—the same art style then fashionable in New York City and other cultural centers. An idea was born and within weeks took on life, in the form of the Freedom Quilting Bee, a handcraft cooperative of black women artisans who would become acclaimed throughout the nation.11
While neither The Freedom Quilting Bee nor Gee’s Bend Quilters intentionally used their quilts for protest and/or activist purposes, the appropriation of their quilting style—the only style they knew as it had been passed down from generation to generation—gave these women, perhaps for the first time, a say in the economic circumstances of their lives. Subjected to white bosses who fired any black person who registered to vote and who could shut down the ferries that took anyone anywhere “not because they were black but because they forgot they were black,”12 these quilters now had the tools to take their families and entire communities out of poverty, to put food on the table and clothes on 26
the backs of those they cared for. The graphic, fabric-strip style of quilting of The Freedom Quilting Bee garnered recognition that led to shows at museums around the country and were a sensational success with collectors and dealers; New York department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue sold Freedom Bee Quilts. The success that came from their “women’s” work was of a kind never dreamed possible by Alabama black quilters. The women didn’t change anything about their cultural style or traditions, but their quilting practice had become their voice, as it had been for the earlier quilters of the nineteenth century, and had given them a social identity. In 1971, the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a monumental show of quilts which changed their valuation by setting them quite literally in a museum and within the canon of American art history. Robert Bishop, director of the Museum of American Folk Art at the time, wrote that the Whitney exhibition, Abstract Design in American Quilts, assembled by collectors Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof, “encouraged the public to perceive the extraordinary sense of color and design inherent in these early American textiles.”13 These once marginalized artifacts—the handcraft of women created to soothe and warm—were empowered and sought after for both their design and subject matter as they were now likened to American abstract paintings. Where once you could find them in flea markets, antique shows and estate sales
for a few hundred dollars or less, they were now selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Artists who quilted, however, had differing responses to the Whitney show.14 Some reveled in the newfound monetary value of quilts and were grateful for the exposure and attention to quilt-making. Other artists, primarily feminist ones, had a different response; they felt the exhibition maintained gender stereotypes deeply ingrained in the art world. Nevertheless, the exhibition opened doors for artists whose primary medium is quilts. Coupled with the work of feminist activists struggling for women’s civil rights, the new appreciation for quilts ushered in a different perspective on women and the power of their crafting. As Jean Ray Laury, an artist who chose quilts as her medium, wrote in an essay aptly titled “The 1970s Redefined Quiltmaking as We Knew It”: The 1970s was a significant period of change, new directions, and reevaluation in quilt making. The feminist movement, the Bicentennial and the hippie back-to-the-earth movement, contributed new ways of looking at quilts. None of these approaches tossed out the old, but we discovered that we no longer needed to copy the work of our predecessors. The 1970’s are a rich part of our document history that led to the vibrant, teeming, energy-filled world of quilt making today.15
Linked to the past both in terms of style and the fact of its commemorating
a past event, “Freedom Quilt” (fig. 3) by Jesse B. Telfair, a Georgia quilter who died in 1986, is now in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York. “Freedom Quilt,” made c. 1983, expresses Telfair’s protest to an experience of civil inequality she suffered over twenty years before she made the quilt: When Jessie Telfair invoked the power of a single word repeated over and over in this quilt, she knew the word would reverberate through the history of the United States, back to the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery and the freedom that she was still struggling to attain in the 1960s at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. The making of the quilt was incited by an incident she suffered in those years, when registering to vote was enough to cost this African American woman her job in a school kitchen. The bitterness of that experience still burned years later, and fellow quilt makers urged her to express the pain through her art. Worked in the colors of the American flag, the quilt cries FREEDOM. In a subtle metaphor, Telfair has set each repeated letter in its own block; all are visually related, but no two are exactly alike.16
Included in Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000, Telfair’s Freedom Quilt, writes design historian Pat Kirkham, is a “compelling and forceful statement about the Civil Rights struggle.”17 In the 1800s, it’s been theorized, it was “strong, independent, and self-consciously creative women,”18 that were making quilts whether for 27
Fig. 3 Freedom Quilt by Jessie B. Telfair (19131986), Parott, Georgia, United States 1983, Gift of Judith Alexander in loving memory of her sister Rebecca Alexander, 2004.9.1. photo: Gavin Ashworth, courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum 28
utilitarian needs or not. Like Telfair, others were continuing to do this in the late twentieth century. By 1985, Carolyn Mazloomi had founded the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN) to “foster and preserve the art of quiltmaking among people of color.”19 And Terrie Hancock Mangat, whose “Oklahoma Quilt” hung in the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma when it was bombed, killing 19 children, subsequently produced “The Children’s Casket Map,” a quilt to commemorate the tragedy of children killed by violence in America. “Compelling and forceful” design is the quilter’s goal in using their medium for social protest, activism, and political involvement. The contemporary African American artist Faith Ringgold tells a strong narrative whether she works on canvas or a quilt. For Ringgold, “the issue of heritage comprises both gender and ethnicity, and her art articulates the realities of both.”20 Despite a long tradition of working with fabric in her family—her mother Willi Jones Posey was a fashion designer and her grandmother was a quilter—Ringgold initially rejected quilts as a medium for fear of being considered old-fashioned and discredited as a modern artist. It took her involvement in the Women’s Movement, her success as an artist (her paintings were in collections and museums around the world) and a changing aesthetic consciousness to finally combine fabric and paint with text and imagery to create striking and powerful narratives related to the African American experience. Ringgold has described her reason for
turning to quilt-making as a “search for an earthier medium than painting which seemed distant and cold” and because she enjoyed the process of “figuratively pinning the story to the quilt.”21 In The Men: Mask Face Quilt #2, 1986, Ringgold explores what African American men look like to the world, their communities and themselves. In talking about “The Men” and “The Women,” the counterpart quilt to “The Men,” Ringgold said: Those were the first two quilts that I did for my very first exhibition at the Bernice Steinbaum gallery in Soho. I had this idea that I wanted to do this mixture of visions of African American women and visions of African American men. And call it “The Men” and call it “The Women” and show different faces of these two people. Because the mask is your face, the face is a mask, so I’m thinking of the face as a mask because of the way I see faces is coming from an African vision of the mask which is the thing that we carry around with us, it is our presentation, it’s our front, it’s our face. I was trying to say something, I was trying to use this, this African vision, but I was trying to tell an American story.22
Ringgold goes on to describe why she chose quilts as the medium for this series rather than paintings on canvas: “Most people understand quilts and not a lot of people understand paintings. But yet they’re looking at one. When they’re looking at my work, they’re looking at a painting 29
and they’re able to accept it better because it is also a quilt.”23 Ringgold uses quilts as a medium to reach more people. Humans connect to quilts because of the ‘humanity’ inherent to their method of production, that is the crafter’s or artist’s hand, and, perhaps, also because a quilt’s roots will always recall the comforts of home. In the twenty-first century, quilts are in museums, not just when they appear as a special exhibition—as they did in the 1971 at the Whitney and at the Smithsonian Museum later in the 1970s—but as part of permanent collections around the world. It is no longer necessary to mount a revolutionary show with the purpose of exclaiming that quilts are art. Historians of art history and material culture, among other scholars, categorize quilts now by time period, subject, style and method in the way that paintings and other works of art are studied. While a student in the Masters Program in the History of Decorative Arts at Parsons School of Design and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Sharon Irving interned in Cooper Hewitt’s Textiles Department and studied the influence of African textiles on quilts made by African American quilters. She determined that quilts play the role of “reflecting the fragmentation of history, culture, and daily life” of the quilters and that “all quilts tell a story.”24 It is the role of today’s quilters to continue to tell a story and the viewer to read and understand that story. Through collective consciousness, awareness and understanding of 30
cultural, societal and political realities, the quilt and the quilter’s story can be transferred from hearts and minds to other hearts and minds. A quilt’s craftsmanship and artfulness should not obscure its social and political meanings. This brief study of quilts demonstrates how they can be viewed as agitprop whether made in the past or present. The thousands of blocks comprising the AIDS Memorial Quilt represent the individual lives of thousands of men (and women) of all races and religions sacrificed to ignorance and prejudice— and the thousands of others ready to stand together to combat that evil combination. It symbolizes thousands of deathbeds. But the AIDS Memorial Quilt is only the bed-covering over a longer tradition of quilt-making by women—especially African American ones—whose quilts were a quieter, more private, and often anonymous expression of a deep and desperate desire for social and political change. Could there be any stronger assertion of a quilt’s ability to be agitprop? NOTES 1. Yasir Lateef, “The AIDS Memorial Quilt,” The Names Project, accessed February 19, 2017, http://www.aidsquilt. org/about/the-aids-memorial-quilt. 2. “Art as Social Change.” Brooklyn Museum. December 7, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015. www.brooklynmuseum. org/calendar/event/conversation_tania_ burguera_dread_scott_political_art_ december_2015. 3. Elise Schebler Roberts, The Quilt, a history and celebration of an American art form
(Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2007), 44. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. American Folk Art Museum, New York. http://collection.folkartmuseum. org/view/objects/asitem/ search@/0?t:state:flow=8ee0714a-330f46af-a6f5-2f6e91f2126e, December 6, 2015 7. Patricia Mainardi, “Quilts: The Great American Art,” in Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 335.
Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum”. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, http://collection. folkartmuseum.org/view/objects/ asitem/search@/0?t:state:flow=f9f21d22338b-4b98-880a-2c1528c50fc0#sthash. PUpdeTNT.dpuf, December 6, 2015.
17. Pat Kirkham and Shauna Stallworth, “Three Strikes Against Me: African American Women Designers,” in Pat Kirkham, ed., Women Designers in the USA 1900-2000 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 131.
9. Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, “Crafty Women and the Hierarchy of the Arts,” in Parker and Pollock, eds., Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology (London: Pandora, 1981). 58.
18. Elissa Auther, “The Feminist Politicization of the Art/Craft Divide,” in String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 132.
19. Gayle A. Pritchard, Uncommon Threads: Ohio’s Art Quilt Revolution (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2006), 71.
11. Roberts, 87. 12. Ibid. 13. Robert Bishop, “Guest Speaker: Robert Bishop on Quilts as Art,” Architectural Digest, July 1983, 32. 14. The 1971 Whitney Museum show raised many issues for quilters and quilting and caused some controversy. Almost all the quilts featured in the exhibition were by anonymous quilters, and quilters questioned this. Why was a museum mounting a show primarily featuring work by unknown artists and none by known ones? These questions, among others, persist to this day. 15. Jean Ray Laury, “The 1970s Redefined Quiltmaking as We Knew It” in Elise Schebler Roberts, The Quilt, a history and celebration of an American art form, 52-55. 16. Stacy C. Hollander, “Freedom Quilt,” exhibition label for “Self-Taught Genius:
20. Jacqueline M. Atkins, “Tradition and Transformation: Women Quilt Designers,” in Pat Kirkham, ed., Women Designers in the USA 1900-2000 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 176. 21. http://www.radford.edu/~rbarris/ Women%20and%20art/pattern%20 and%20decoration.html, a piece written about the work of Judy Chicago and Faith Ringgold. 22. from an interview on PBS http://www.pbs.org/americaquilts/ century/stories/faith_ringgold.html 23. Ibid. 24. Sharon Irving, “All Quilts Tell A Story,” Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Journal (Summer 1999), 17.
A Tiffany Scarab Beetle Rayna Wang
Passion for the Exotic, a 2016 exhibition at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, featured works by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the context of the Carnegie Mansion’s Teak Room, a room designed by Tiffany’s former business partner Lockwood de Forest in 1902. The exhibition of thirty-seven objects included a Tiffany Dragonfly lamp, a Daffodil lamp, and twenty-one Tiffany artistic glass vases. A colorful, life-sized favrile glass scarab beetle (fig.1), dated ca.1910 and produced by Tiffany Studios, sat quietly under a glass display case but caught my eye. It is an inset that could be used in jewelry, metal wares or ceramic vases. The motif of the scarab beetle was very popular in the early twentieth century, and Tiffany made thousands of them, but discovering a Tiffany scarab beetle surprised me. From movies, readings and exhibitions I knew a little about the scarab beetle and what it symbolizes. A scarab beetle is a species of the dung beetle. In ancient Egypt, a scarab beetle was linked to Khepri, God of rebirth and the sunrise. The ancient Egyptians believed a scarab beetle pushed the sun across the sky just as they had observed the insect in nature rolling balls of dung on the ground. As Darwin wrote in his 1859 On the Origin of Species, for the Egyptians this genus was “sacred.”
Fig. 1 Scarab (USA), ca. 1910; Produced by Tiï¬€any and Co., New York (United States); mold-blown favrile glass; H x W x D: 2 x 1 x 0.4 cm (13/16 x 3/8 x 3/16 in.); Museum purchase through gift of K.R. Gerry; 1958-51-1 33
The lifecycle of a scarab beetle is indeed inspiring. It goes through various stages and each one is completely different. One has to imagine a fat, shiny black scarab hurriedly moving a dung ball backwards using its hind legs. The dung ball is its food and also a brood chamber in which to lay eggs, then carefully buried in a burrow beneath the ground. A grub then hatches and begins to eat, gradually turning into a plump, white, soft body. It stays a motionless corpse inside a cocoon until it breaks and comes out of its shield, finally born anew and turning into a strong, dark beauty. The ancient Egyptians discovering these magical transformations must have been thrilled to discover an alternative to mortality.
This small insect conveyed ideas of transformation, regeneration, and resurrection. A well-designed scarab ornament eased the pain of confronting death by reassuring a person that there was a life after death, that he or she could be reborn. It brought peace into a person’s life—the way a welldesigned object can resolve a life problem. In the early 20th century, the scarab beetle lent itself especially well to the art nouveau, a movement about change and metamorphosis. No doubt Tiffany appreciated how glass could be transmuted into the scarab beetle’s iridescence—as seen in the one tucked into the glass display at Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition that attracted my attention.
The Interior Sex and the Chaise Longue Kelly Konrad
In the 1953 novella The Victorian Chaise Longue, a tightly-woven tale of psychological horror, Marghanita Laski recounts the story of Melanie Langdon, a young wife and new mother in mid-twentieth-century London. Confined to a perpetual state of recline as she recovers from tuberculosis, Melanie receives care from both her patronizing husband and paternalistic doctor. In a poignant moment, Melanie tells her doting husband that she feels silly when comparing his intelligence to her own. To this he responds, “I like you silly.”1 The noted absence of a comma after “you” reveals his intention as not simply an affectionate address of “silly” but rather an expression of his preference for an ignorant and
Fig. 1 (above) Paul Frédéric Follot, Chaise Longue, c. 1912, sculpted and gilded beechwood with silk upholstery, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. 35
obedient wife. With improving health, Melanie moves from her bed to a Victorian chaise longue, purchased from an antique shop before her diagnosis. She settles into its gracious curves and drifts to sleep, only to awaken—upon the same chaise longue—in the year 1864 and to the life of Milly: a young Victorian woman with whom Melanie shares taste in furniture and a positive tuberculosis diagnosis. Utterly confused, Melanie asserts her identity, argues for her sanity, and grows increasingly helpless as she loses her sense of selfhood—a sense already diminished by the men in her life and the patriarchal society in which she lives. Thus does Laski convey the most atavistic of human horrors: confinement and simultaneous loss of identity by circumstances one can neither influence nor understand.2 As the titular object of this terrifying tale, the chaise longue carries not only the pleasing connotations of femininity and luxury, as developed in seventeenth-century France, but also a strong undercurrent of powerlessness. As this novella suggests, by the twentieth century, the form of the chaise longue connoted illness, invalidity, and infirmity particularly as related to tuberculosis.3 But, as Laski conveys, helplessness and confinement result not only from Melanie’s illness, but also from her womanhood and, specifically, her status as a woman in a patriarchal society. Melanie’s husband adores his wife but subtly limits her potential. A similar dichotomy informs analysis of the object of this study: a chaise longue in the collection of the 36
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, dating from 1912 and attributed to the Parisian atelier of Paul Frédéric Follot (fig. 1). This chaise longue’s elongated frame, sculpted of gilded beechwood, echoes the sinuous lines of such organic shapes as swans, deep sea creatures and the female form. Its base bears twenty carved medallions, ten on each side, arranged equidistant from one another. The base, resolutely resistant to right angles in its gradual curves, supports a plush cushion, upholstered in patterned silk. Tones of red, gold and light green reveal a subtle, abstracted pattern: plumes de paon, or peacock feathers. In the medieval era, both the peacock and its feathers were symbolic of Christ’s resurrection, motifs likewise favored in the nineteenth century by William Morris, who helmed the English Arts & Crafts Movement. The peacock’s form and feathers also lent themselves to the dramatic, undulating lines and decorative excesses that characterize Art Nouveau. Curvilinear in its frame, multivalent in its silk upholstery, and symmetrical in its proportions—save for a single arm rest in the manner of a fauteuil—this chaise longue offers an invitation for elegant repose. In its adherence to the stylistic principles of Art Nouveau and the evolving modern style eventually dubbed Art Deco, Follot’s chaise longue glorifies the female body. Its placement in the traditionally feminine domain of the domestic interior further reveres the traditional role of women within, and no further beyond, the bourgeois home. Yet, at the same time as its making,
opportunities increasingly arose for French women outside of their homes. The women who seized these opportunities inspired a forceful symbol of social menace: the femme nouvelle, or New Woman.4 In fleeing the domestic interior and living more public lives in cities like Paris, such women often selected the newly invented bicycle as their transportation of choice. In marked contrast to the freedoms and opportunities represented by the bicycle’s mobility, the chaise longue, as this essay will argue, exemplifies the relegation of women to lives of docility and domesticity within patriarchal society. When examined through its relationship to Rococo and Art Nouveau’s female iconography, and alongside women’s evolving roles in fin-de-siècle French society, in keeping with the research of scholar Debora Silverman, the chaise longue embodies a simultaneous glorification and delimitation of the very women intended to recline upon its elegant, curvilinear frame.
The Origins of the Art Nouveau Art Nouveau, a style and term often attributed to the artistic group which coalesced in France under the direction of art dealer and connoisseur Siegfried Bing in 1895, resulted from the contemporary French movement towards design reform as directed by the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, or Central Union of Decorative Arts. With the support of prominent politicians and cultural administrators, the Central Union of Decorative Arts, “pursued a common program of craft
revitalization in the 1890s, calling their efforts to create a modern style based on reintegrating art and craft the quest for an art nouveau.” Bing himself served as a central figure in this endorsement of craft modernism, as “articulated within the institutions of official culture” to eventually serve “as a source of national integration and international preeminence.”5 French design reformers sought inspiration from the English Arts & Crafts Movement, governed by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris. However, they departed from the English precedent in privileging “comfort and stimulation of the beholder rather than the imperative of joy in the work process.” Likewise, they criticized the “archaism, inelegance, and ponderousness of English applied arts,” turning instead to a particularly French model to represent the unity of artist and artisan: the eighteenthcentury Rococo style. They considered this style to be not only a link between modernity and interiority, but also an evocation of a private “retreat to an organic, feminine, and intimate interior.”6 By immersing themselves in the Rococo precedent, French artists and artisans “discovered in the period of Louis XV a legacy that matched their own stylistic goals: a unity of all the arts and an organic ensemble of interior decoration.”7 Officially recognized as part of the national patrimony, the Rococo style served as a potent source of inspiration in the development of an art nouveau for the late nineteenth century.
While the English Arts & Craft Movement cites John Ruskin and William Morris as its ideological fathers, the French Art Nouveau style cites the Brothers de Goncourt. Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, nineteenth-century writers, art critics and tastemakers, longed for the bygone social hierarchies and cultural graces of the ancien régime which, to their minds, culminated in the rule of Louis XV (1715-1774). Whereas Ruskin possessed a medieval and social vision, the Brothers de Goncourt professed the Rococo style of the eighteenth-century elite as their ideal. Whereas Ruskin insisted upon the integration of art and quotidian objects, the Goncourts endeavored to coalesce the fine and pretty in all things. Far from social, their vision insisted instead upon “splendid and luxurious embellishments” reserved “for an aristocracy of taste: secular, elite, and socially insulated.”8 The Goncourts revered the reign of Louis XV as “almost a century of grace, the century of woman and her caressing domination over manners and customs”9 as well as a century in which the closed and gilded world of the elite replaced politics with a refined “government of manners.”10 In lament of their misfortune to have missed the “languorous sensuality that noble elites had enjoyed during the era of the fêtes galantes,”11 the Brothers attempted, in the construction and decoration of
their home as well as in their writings, to reconstitute the culture of the eighteenth century. The writings and critiques of the Brothers de Goncourt, in their recovery of the arts of the eighteenth century, would exert an indelible influence on the fin-de-siècle craft reformers. To the extent that John Ruskin would exert an indelible effect upon the generation of William Morris in England, the Goncourts would impact the producers and promoters of the Art Nouveau in France. Three particular precedents, as articulated by the Brothers de Goncourt, would frame the theories of fin-de-siècle craft reformers. These include the unity of fine and applied arts, the rediscovery of the style moderne, and the assertion of the interior as a distinctly feminine space. The Brothers de Goncourt regarded the first of these, the unity of fine and applied arts, as an aristocratic patrimony. They traced this patrimony to the Royal Academy of Painting’s shift in taste from the large-scale history paintings favored during Louis XIV’s reign to the diminutive ahistorical paintings favored throughout the Regency and the reign of Louis XV by such artists as Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard. Each of these artists also engaged in the projects of a designer and artisan: street signs, drawings and decorative panels. Their style of “naturist subjects and serpentine forms” received
frequent commissions for the domestic interior space. Indeed, for these artistsartisans of the eighteenth century, “all concrete media—furniture, picture frames, precious stones, fans, umbrellas, porcelain—were considered art, which was defined as a technical wizardry for fashioning surfaces.”12 In this mid-eighteenth-century aristocratic precedent the craft reformers of fin-de-siècle France would both discover and emulate a unity of art and craft in their creation of an art nouveau. In addition to this unity of the fine and applied arts, the Brothers de Goncourt rediscovered the style moderne of the early eighteenth century in “the birth of private space, and of private space conceived as an ensemble.”13 Interior space and privacy, as expressed in the intimate interiors of the aristocratic elite and intimate interiors of the Louis XV era, appealed to the Brothers de Goncourt’s desire to shield themselves from the dual menaces of contemporary Parisian society—an ever-growing metropolis in which one lived an ever-more public life. As Edmund de Goncourt expressed in 1860, “My Paris, the Paris where I grew up is disappearing. Social life is undergoing a vast evolution. I see women, children, households, and families in cafés. The interior is dying. I am a stranger to (…) these new boulevards, lacking in curves, implacable axes of the straight line.”14
In the same manner as the eighteenthcentury elites, who discovered within the intimate interior, “a sanctuary of nature and the female form, where monumentality was rejected for grace, rational symmetry for sensual irregularity,”15 the Brothers de Goncourt conceived and constructed their own “aristocratic fortress” in which “every object was unique, glorifying nature’s undulating, curvaceous, and irregular rhythms.”16 Thus, in their predilection for the style moderne of the early eighteenth century, the Brothers de Goncourt inspired the craft reformers of fin-de-siècle France in the development of their own style moderne, their own art nouveau. Finally, the Brothers de Goncourt recognized a distinctly feminine space within the Rococo domestic interior. They defined the role of women as essential and central “in the practice of the decorative arts and in the definition of interior space.” In their writings, the Brothers de Goncourt articulated the ethos of the eighteenth-century style moderne: “la grâce, a petite, amorous, and explicitly female form.”17 This ethos manifested in “new aristocratic private spaces with diminutive objects and furnishings, vested with forms and function that were conceived as explicitly feminine.”18 Furnishings given anthropomorphic female names served to facilitate prolonged periods of languorous leisure: la causeuse, “the
Fig. 2 Jacques Gonduin, Armchair (fauteuil à la reine), 1779, carved and gilded beech, modern silk lampas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. —39 x 25 1/2 x 19 3/4 in. (99.1 x 64.8 x 50.2 cm) http://www.metmuseum.org/ art/collection/search/199502
chatterer”; la bergère, “the shepherdess”; la chiffonnière, “the dresser”; la marquise brisé, “the divided marquise”; la chaise à la reine (fig. 2); and la chaise longue.19 Indeed, intimate interior ensembles remained incomplete without the presence of an aristocratic women herself as an objet d’art. So inextricably linked were women and interior furnishings that a special artisan, a marchande des modes, “provided the trimmings and accessories for the 40
dresses and the furniture, coordinating women’s dresses with other curvaceous and meandering surfaces of the interior.”20 One may imagine an impeccably-dressed eighteenth-century woman, carefully placing herself upon the elegant frame of her finely upholstered chaise longue—as both an objet d’art for admiration and to glorify her own form.
The Brothers de Goncourt thus codified the eighteenth-century style moderne as the integration of the arts within a private interior composed of organic rhythms in which a woman played a principal role. Their writings infused the style moderne, the Rococo style, with new meaning. They transcended mere historicism in their creation of an aesthetic model— reviving the eighteenth-century legacies of the decorative arts as aristocratic elements of an inherently feminine organic ensemble. As historians and collectors, the Brothers de Goncourt “chronicled the important tradition of noble women as practitioners of the applied arts,” “reconstituted the explicitly feminine meaning of interior space in the rococo model, which compared women to svelte Sèvres porcelains and assigned to diminutive furnishings the qualities of delicate women,” and, “as aesthetes and misogynists,” even “identified their rococo objects as erotic substitutes for real women.”21
The Female Iconography of the Art Nouveau Style The model of the Rococo, as employed by the Brothers de Goncourt, inspired the artists working in the Art Nouveau style to develop an iconography in which women and the female form also played a principal role. Fin-de-siècle advertisements portrayed two types of women: effervescent and carefree “as in Jules Chéret’s light-hearted, light-headed posters”22 or sensual and seductive in the manner of Alphonse Mucha’s cigarette ads. According to the
artist’s son, for Mucha, a woman “was not a body, [but] beauty incorporated in matter and acting through matter. That is why all his female figures, however solid, are not really of this world. They are symbols, unattainable dreams…”(fig. 3).23 Mucha’s Art Nouveau woman derives, in part from the Pre-Raphaelites’ preoccupation with an idealized female form: tall, thin and “endowed with sensuous lips, drooping eyelids, and a profusion of hair.” 24 (Jane Morris, William Morris’s wife served as the epitome of this feminine ideal.) Despite the increasingly public role of women, they remained zealously patronized as fragile and helpless objects—employed in both “a decorative and literal sense to adorn the household.” Furthermore, as Thompson writes, “a man’s wealth and position were judged by the style in which he kept his wife.” Within an Art Nouveau interior ensemble, reminiscent of the eighteenth-century Rococo style in its delicate and flowering forms, images of women—as well as real women—were placed with both aesthetic and erotic intentions. Indeed, a real woman perched upon a pedestal—or chaise longue—“makes for an attractive decoration and her supposedly precarious position poses very little threat to anyone’s virility.”25 At its decorative apogee, the female form in the Art Nouveau furniture of François Rupert Carabin incorporates the carving of “lasciviously posed women in the supports and construction of his furniture.” These carved women, “almost-embarrassingly 41
Fig. 3 Alphonse Maria, Mucha, Design for a box of LefèvreUtile biscuits, c. 1897, lithograph on paper. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York. —H x W: 8.2 x 21 cm (3 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.) https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/ objects/51685237/
flesh-and-blood,” “hold tables over their heads or wrap themselves around the backs of chairs.”26 Carabin’s furnishings achieved immediate notoriety for their overt sexuality. In an era in which increasing numbers of women were awaking to the idea of their own individuality, this “preoccupation with the female as decorative object appears as a lastditch anxiety-ridden attempt to keep women in their traditional places.”27 That place, of course, was within the domestic interior, preferably, posed upon a pedestal, or on a chaise longue.
The Social Menace of the femme nouvelle The social menace of the femme nouvelle, or New Woman, represented the growing numbers of middle42
class women who left their homes and families to pursue careers. As Silverman writes, these women, who “inverted traditional sexual roles and threatened the essential divisions ordering bourgeois life: public from private, work from family, production from reproduction” inspired the public preoccupation of fin-de-siècle France.28 First, there was a burgeoning feminist movement itself, which sought to strengthen solidarity amongst women of different social classes and to reform the existing Civil Code. As it existed, this Civil Code relegated the status of a married woman to that of a dependent minor beneath her husband. These actions toward solidarity and reform provoked fear and fury within a bourgeois society that perceived this feminist movement
as a threat to traditional family life—a highly-charged issue in the politics of fin-de-siècle France. Second, women were gaining increasing access to higher education and thus professional careers. By the 1890s, women had begun to enter the prestigious world of male-dominated academe. By 1900, twenty female doctors and ten female lawyers had completed their studies.29 The entry of these women, however few in number, into established male vocations, intensified public concerns surrounding the femme nouvelle. Third, contemporaries linked the femme nouvelle to France’s torment over the declining birthrate. The fear of depopulation, particularly when compared to the growing population of France’s adversary Germany, imbued notions of maternity and family with political and national significance. Eschewing motherhood in pursuit of a career, the femme nouvelle garnered public preoccupation and apprehension. Indeed, as opportunity increased for women to circulate beyond the domestic sphere, so too did the demand for clothing to accommodate bicycle riding, their oft-preferred method of transportation. In order to avoid the tangling of skirts within the pedals and chains of her bicycle, for example, a woman cyclist would wear a radically shortened skirt—scandalously divided between the legs in the manner of men’s pants. In 1896, a caricature of a femme nouvelle appeared in the conservative, right wing newspaper Le Grelot. Dressed in bloomers and a straw hat with a cigarette in hand, this woman blasts instructions to her
subservient, housekeeping husband as she leaves—on her bicycle— for a Congrès féministe, or Feminist Conference.30 Such images of the femme nouvelle with a bicycle provoked sentiments like this one expressed by the writer Victor Jozé in his 1895 essay, “Le Féminisme et le bon sens” or “Feminism and Good Sense”: The bicycle’s triumph…necessitates an androgynous outfit…worn by its adepts of the weaker sex…Will we never make our skirted publishers and sociologists in dresses understand that a woman is neither equal nor inferior nor superior to a man, that she is a being apart, another thing, endowed with other functions by nature than the man with whom she has no business competing in public life. A woman exists only through her ovaries.31
While Jozé delimited women to the contents of their bodies, the contemporary aesthete and writer Octave Uzanne, preferred to define women by their appearance. So deeply immersed was Uzanne in the intimacy and femininity of the eighteenthcentury Rococo that he railed against the sartorially-severe femme nouvelle by denouncing the increasing numbers of women who preferred “the silhouettes of ideas, the fine laces of psychology, bejeweled words, and the beauty of simplicity”32 to the “alliance between feminine grace, interior space, and artisanal refinement”33 which had reached its apogee in the eighteenth century. In his conviction that both feminine forms and real-women-as43
adornments were indispensable to the success of the French decorative arts, Uzanne echoed the sentiments of the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs as expressed in the 1890s.
7. Ibid., 9.
Haunted by the “specter of the femme nouvelle,”34 the Union Centrale “promoted women as the natural allies of luxury artisans and as the artificers of a unitary interior design.”35 In their celebration of women as queens and artists of the interior—a role endowed to them by their illustrious eighteenthcentury foremothers—the Union Centrale developed a powerful antidote to the femme nouvelle and her rejection of her prescribed role as decorative object. Thus, the chaise longue, for all its cursive beauty and elegance within the expressly feminine domestic interior, was a luxurious mode of confinement in the cloying disguise of glorification.
12. Ibid., 24.
8. Ibid., 24. 9. Quoted in Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid., 17.
13. Ibid., 25. 14. Quoted in Ibid., 20. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid., 27 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid., 27-28. 19. Ibid., 31-32. 20. Ibid.v 21. Ibid., 35. 22. Jan Thompson, “The Role of Woman in the Iconography of Art Nouveau,” Art Journal 31, no. 2. (1971-1972):160. 23. Jirí Mucha, quoted in Ibid., 162. 24. Ibid., 160.
25. Ibid., 159.
1. Maghanita Lanski, The Victorian Chaise Longue (London: Persephone Books).
26. Ibid., 164.
2. P.D. James, “Preface” in The Victorian Chaise Longue (London: Persephone Books) 1. 3. Margaret Campbell, “From Cure Chair to Chaise Longue: Medical Treatment and the Form of the Modern Recliner,” Journal of Design History 12 , no. 4 (1999) : 327.
27. Ibid., 167. 28. Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France, 63. 29. Ibid., 66. 30. Ibid. 31. Quoted in Ibid., 72.
4. Debora Silverman, Art Nouveau in Finde-Siècle France: Politics, Psychology and Style (University of California Press), 63.
32. Marius-Ary Leblond, quoted in Ibid., 70.
5. Ibid., 8
34. Ibid., 72.
35. Ibid., 74.
Au Lapin Agile Chanel Host
If you happen to wander in the right direction through the hilltop streets of Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood, you will come to an endearing pink cottage which looks as if it was plucked right out of a fairytale. One Friday night, a friend and I decided to see what this fabled cabaret—Au Lapin Agile—was all about. We approached a closed door and shutters, but after a light knock a Parisian man peeped out greeting us: “bonsoir.” We were ushered into a cozy entry—clad above: Maurice Utrillo. Le Lapin Agile. 1910. Oil on Canvas, Paris, Center Pompidou – National Museum of Modern Art – Center for Industrial Creation. image courtesy of L’Agence Photo Réunion des Musées Nationaux- Grand Palais 45
in dark wood—with a low ceiling. We took off our coats and waited patiently, neither of us knowing what to expect. We were warned that the performance would be entirely in French; with our nods of consent, a large bearded old man pulled back the curtain. The small space was filled with a conspicuously local clientele sitting on benches along the edges of the room. In this intimate space dimly lit by red fringe lamps it was difficult at first to tell who was performer and who was
spectator. A waiter came around with a gold tray stacked with little glasses, containing a delicious house-made cherry liquor. Suddenly a burly man with a baritone voice began to sing loudly from the corner. Others joined him immediately. It doesn’t take long for one of the performers to lock eyes with me and say with an encouraging smile, “chante!” (“sing!”). At Au Lapin Agile everyone, no matter his or her native language, was expected to sing, hum, or clap along. It was like being
Pablo Picasso. At the Lapin Agile. 1905. Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art image courtesy of the Estate of Pablo Picasso/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 46
Le Lapin Agile, Montmartre, Paris photo courtesy of Montmartre un Village Oﬃcial Tourism Oﬃce
transported into a Disney ‘sing-along’ where everyone knows the words—in this case, of charming French bar songs. Au Lapin Agile is a traditional “artistic cabaret,” which means there are no girls dancing half naked on tables. Nonetheless, the establishment has seen its share of action. Opened around 1860, by the 1880s it was known as the “Cabaret des Assassins” after a band of gangsters killed the owner’s son. In the early 20th century this hideaway became the favorite spot for artists and writers including Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire, and Utrillo. The walls are decorated with a sparse and eclectic assortment of photos and art. A wooden beam features the establishment’s namesake
image: a spritely rabbit holding a bottle of wine and jumping out of a saucepan. This painted sign by caricaturist Andre Gill (1879) was recreated on the wall after the original was stolen in 1893. Because of the sign, the café’s name evolved colloquially from “Le Lapin a Gill,” or “Gill’s Rabbit,” to today’s similar sounding Au Lapin Agile. This tiny rabbit house remains deeply intimate and reclusive, maintaining an ambiance of covert artistry, picturesque decor, and familiarity which is unmatched anywhere else in Paris. Though it sits tucked away in the shadow of gleaming Sacré-Cœur, it will steal your heart and leave you warmly satisfied that you wandered in.
“Riffing” with Curator Sarah Coffin on The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s Catherine Acosta
The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s is an exciting exhibition opening this spring at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (April 7 through August 20). Curated by Sarah Coffin, Curator and Head of Product Design and Decorative Arts (PDDA) at Cooper Hewitt, and Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Art and Design at the Cleveland Museum of Art (where the exhibit will travel in fall 2017), the exhibition features over 400 objects that highlight the significance of modernity, urban development, modern art, and jazz music in Jazz Age design. Made up of a variety of object types from both private and public collections, The Jazz Age tells the exciting story of cross-cultural and innovative
American design during the 1920s and 1930s. Since beginning the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program in September 2015, I have been working with Sarah Coffin as a Fellow in PDDA, assisting her and the department with this exhibition. Before the exhibition’s opening in April, I interviewed Sarah about some of its major themes. Speaking with Sarah—about any designrelated topic—is like getting a crash course in design history, giving you the opportunity not only to learn but also to make new connections between objects and people.
opposite: Muse with Violin Screen (detail), 1930. Rose Iron Works, Inc. (American, Cleveland, est. 1904). Paul Fehér (Hungarian, 1898–1990), designer. Wrought iron, brass; silver and gold plating; 156.2 x 156.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, On Loan from the Rose Iron Works Collections, LLC, 352.1996. © Rose Iron Works Collections, LLC.) Photo: Howard Agriesti COPYRIGHT: © Rose Iron Works Collections, LLC.
CA: How did you and Stephen Harrison come up with the idea for this exhibition? SC: While reviewing the Cooper Hewitt collection before the reopening of the museum, I became more aware of what was collected in the early twentieth century— obviously beginning with the Hewitt sisters whose collecting formed the basis of our holdings—but then also with the contemporary designed objects of the period that people started giving the museum at that time.1 It turns out that we have quite a lot of material from the 1920s that shows the various influences on American design—both European and American. As I examined this, I realized how rich a topic it is, and that it deserved its own exhibition. At the same time, I met up with Stephen Harrison, who was working on how Paris impacted American culture in the 1920s. His research was a continuation of the 2008-2009 Cleveland Museum of Art exhibition Artistic Luxury: Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique, which discussed luxury design before WWI. This exhibition was special for the CMA, because after WWI the museum showed a particular interest in luxury design, and was one of the first museums to show selections from the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes held in Paris in 1925. We thought this would be a perfect collaboration of our two institutions, because the Cooper Hewitt collection also has a French focus. Additionally, 50
Curator Sarah Coﬃn. photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution.
Stephen and I found a lot of material related to the influence of AustroHungarian and German design during the 1920s, so together we refined the thesis for the exhibition to include this as well. CA: The exhibition especially explores the impact of the 1925 Paris Exposition in a section labeled “A Smaller World.” Can you speak to this? SC: Yes, it does. We have many exhibition objects from the 1925 Paris Exposition, and in fact, most of the ones we have were those that travelled in the U.S. as part of the selections exhibition—a travelling exhibition of objects that had been shown at the 1925 Paris Expo. If not from the travelling exhibition, some of the objects we have actually may have been purchased by Americans in France or were imported objects that ended up here. Certainly the selections of objects from the 1925 Paris Exposition, which had travelled through eight major museums in the country—including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and
Chicago—were also available for sale. This wasn’t a new phenomenon, as several museums, such as the Newark Museum, had been hosting exhibitions of contemporary European craft and design, stressing its affordability to the general public since 1909 or so. Some of these pieces would also end up in the Newark Museum’s collection.
houses, or mansions in the cities with fewer staff on hand.
CA: I think one of the exhibition’s strengths is its contextualization of modern design in the 1920s, particularly through its discussion of historicism in the section “Persistence of Traditional Good Taste.” What is the relationship between modern design and historicism during this time?
So much is happening during this time. There is the first radio broadcast in 1920, women voting, etc. Women are also now consumers because they’re getting out of the home more, and magazines are advertising not just perfume and fashion for them, but also housewares, labor-saving devices, and so forth. So you see these are real changes happening. While Americans could most easily accept modern design in technology, like the idea of a new refrigerator or iron, or vacuum cleaner, they were more insecure about their taste in terms of a design heritage, so we see the profession of the interior designer develop in the 1920s.
SC: There was a lot of creative thinking about what design was in the 1920s and many parallel themes were going on all at once: for example, the founding of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia which celebrated 150 years of independence, the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg in 1926, antique collecting—including the selling of Georgian and French antique furniture; it all took off in this period but evolved out of a preference for “American traditional taste.” Then, there was a slower new wave of design thinking that came about with the rise of urban centers, with people living in apartments with smaller rooms rather than large suburban
I also think architects were important here because the one form that was truly innovative and American was the skyscraper. And many foreign architects, along with other people, admired the skyscraper and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright—both uniquely American—so you get Americans, American buildings, and American architects using the skyscraper form in their design not only for buildings but also for objects. The skyscraper’s iconic form is due to a simple but effective urban design feature, which is the result of the 1916 New York City setback law (the first zoning law in the U.S.) that made it a requirement to design buildings in such a way that sunlight reached the street. [This law, which
was to maintain a more habitable environment, was written about at some length by Hugh Ferriss in 1929.] CA: It’s ironic that you mention Frank Lloyd Wright because he is best known for two things: creating a distinct and unique American style of architecture and designing houses, but it’s during the1920s—in 1929—that he designs St. Mark’s-in-theBouwerie Towers for New York City, which is a design for a skyscraper that was never built. But, independent of Wright, both these themes—the development of an American style and the form of the skyscraper— are major topics within the exhibition. SC: Yes. An interesting thing to consider here is that many architects were celebrating the skyscraper’s form, such as the New York architect Ely Jacques Kahn. He was influenced by the European avant-garde and particularly by the designs of the Wiener Werkstätte. He railed against decorating a skyscraper with 18thcentury ornament that contradicted its modern form. He felt it made no sense to put 18th-century ornament on a steel-structure skyscraper; that a skyscraper is a work of art in its own right—with its own characteristics and that you can’t simply apply motifs on it from another period. So there is this feeling, among Kahn and others, that you cannot apply a simple laminate of another era to a modern form, that you have 52
to make it your own, which doesn’t mean that you can’t borrow from the past. I think the major distinction here is that architects and designers were looking for originality: an understanding of concept and form appropriate to the age. This, I think, was a major breakthrough at the time. Wright was doing this but much more idiosyncratically. CA: The push toward modern design had begun much earlier in Europe but it’s really in the 1920s that you begin to see the profound influence of European avant-garde art on design in America. SC: Yes, the European avant-garde had a major influence on design, and, I think that since Cooper Hewitt was founded as a design resource for students, it’s particularly important that we present and understand the unbelievable variety of influences on design coming here from Europe— whether it’s the influence of Cubism on painting or the minimalism of Mondrian, Rietveld, and the De Stijl movement that influenced Wright. CA: Thinking about color during this period, what are some innovative uses of it in design? SC: Well, there is what Viktor Schreckengost said about the color blue he used in the Jazz Bowl he designed for Eleanor Roosevelt in 1931. While the shade of blue can be associated with Egyptian Revival designs—popular given the discovery
“The New Yorker” (Jazz) Punch Bowl, 1931; Designed by Viktor Schreckengost (American, 1906–2008); Manufactured by Cowan Pottery Studio (Rocky River, Ohio, USA); Glazed, molded earthenware; 29.9 x 42.2 cm (11 3/4 x 16 5/8 in.); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Mrs. Homer Kripke, 1980-21-7; Photo: © Smithsonian Institution COPYRIGHT: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
of King Tut’s tomb late in 1922, Schreckengost said that his choice of that shade of blue came from seeing New York and that “funny light.” What he meant was neon. Of course, neon itself was invented in Paris c.1910 but it became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s. Obviously, it was the look of a sky lit up at night that influenced Schreckengost—although he had been to Vienna before designing the bowl and would have seen that color also used for glass.. I think that’s another important part of the 1920s story: the American interest in progress and technology (also seen
in skyscraper design, of course). CA: How innovative was lighting design in the 1920s since the transition, having begun in 1880s, from gas lighting to electric lighting was rather slow. SC: Lighting design took a rapid leap forward during this time. Although Tiffany, for example, was producing electrified lamps in the 1920s, it was essentially the old form of a lamp but now with electrification. They didn’t redesign the lamps, they just made them electrified. That is, they didn’t 53
redesign the stained glass portion. But then in the 1920s you get the likes of Gilbert Rohde, Walter Von Nessen, and Donald Deskey, who are all applying themselves to the design of new lighting fixtures, obviously along with the Bauhaus, De Stijl, and J.J.P. Oud from the Netherlands. I mean there is a long list of very eminent designers who start thinking about new ways of integrating lighting and contemporary design. CA: Thinking about what contemporary design is at this time, one begins to see the rise of industrial designers and the use of new materials in everyday objects. How is this covered in the exhibition? SC: We cover this issue by showing how chrome, other metals, and glass come into use in living room design. It’s really about the leap into the machine age, and it’s important because most of the design elements that were so helpful in enabling people to feel that they had a tasteful and stylish house or lifestyle in the 1930s, especially during the Depression, was because of the new designs available to them. So you see that someone like Walter Von Nessen, who might’ve worked in the more expensive metals, suddenly turned to materials such as brass and aluminum to make objects that were very beautiful and less expensive to own. Other designers did the same thing. They used basic geometric forms such as the sphere to create a contemporary look for hot water urns 54
or punch bowls—or like the globular form teapot by Ladislav Sutnar or like Walter Dorwin Teague’s glass vases. You also see this ‘modernity’ in Puiforcat silver tea sets in the ‘20s, but suddenly it’s emerging as a form that is beautiful in its own right regardless of the material. These objects are simple and elegant. CA: Could you describe how modern design was marketed to Americans during this period? How did the general public become aware of it? SC: Selling modern design to Americans was initially difficult because modern design was associated with central and eastern European revolutionary thinking or ‘dangerous’ social upheaval. But once Americans saw these forms in the context of the glamorous 1925 Paris Exposition (which weren’t all French displays but included works by Austrian glassmakers such as Lobmeyr and German ceramicists), they returned in awe. It made people feel that it was chic to be modern, and it wasn’t just a socialist statement. Also, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had already started acquiring examples of modern design before the 1925 Paris Exposition, as had the Newark Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. This too had an impact on opening people up to modern design. But the greatest impact in terms of actual selling was when department stores such as Lord & Taylor (which featured
French designs) and Macy’s (which featured Austrian, Swedish, and Italian designs) in New York City started exhibiting modern objects and interiors—with the Met supporting them by having their industrial design curators involved in these displays. For example, Robert de Forest from the Met wrote the forward to the Macy’s 1928 exhibition, and Josef Hoffmann wrote the section on Austria for it. These major design names engendered the public’s interest. Macy’s and Lord & Taylor literally had room settings on view to show people how to decorate their homes using the new style; they also had individual designers creating rooms using objects by a variety of designers. Ultimately, both department stores set up modern design departments where a customer could order essentially a copy of—or a variant design—based on something that might have been featured in one of the exhibitions, or even something the store’s own ‘team’ might design in the spirit of French Modernism. (Of course, this ‘copying’ had the French fuming.) CA: There is that stunning red vanity after a design by Léon Jallot that was in the Lord & Taylor in the exhibit. SC: Yes, which is of course the essential story of Marie Louise Montgomery—Osborne was her maiden name—who, as a young bride-to-be, wanted very modern design for her small apartment, and actually went to see the Lord & Taylor exhibition, where that red
vanity and bench was apparently purchased. (Whether or not she went to the show and ordered it there or afterwards is not altogether clear). There is correspondence between Marie and her mother, in which she describes how much she thought the vanity would cost and how it was designed after one by Léon Jallot that was exhibited at the store. The red lacquering is probably what made it affordable for Marie. It was like the lacquering seen in Jean Dunand’s tables—but not nearly as exotic a lacquer or wood as would’ve been on the original Jallot. However, Marie clearly had control over how her vanity would be produced since they didn’t have this red one sitting there on the sales floor. She told them what she would like—and they may have suggested the red color, or she may have picked it out herself. It’s not clear, but it demonstrates how Americans created a broader market for design and made it more accessible to a greater range of people by considering new materials to reproduce them. They moved away from the rather rarified levels of exotic veneers which for the French was the essence of their craftsmanship. CA: When the show travels to Cleveland will there be a different focus or interpretation? SC: The exhibition’s themes are the same with some slight variations due to layout, but it will be a wonderful opportunity to see the same group of objects alongside more objects from 55
Drawing, Study for Maximum Mass Permitted by the 1916 New York Zoning Law, Stage 4, 1922; Designed by Hugh Ferriss (American, 1889–1962); Black crayon, stumped, pen and black ink, brush and black wash, varnish on illustration board; 66.8 x 51 cm (26 5/16 x 20 1/16 in.); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Gift of Mrs. Hugh Ferriss, 1969-137-4; Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution COPYRIGHT: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 56
the Ohio potteries and ironworks that will not be in New York. At Cooper Hewitt we will have more objects from our collection.
Weiner Werkstätte, were both early exhibitors in Chicago during this period. Then, of course, there is the West Coast.
CA: Ah, I see. I was just imagining that Cleveland might emphasize itself—and the Midwest in general—as an urban center versus Cooper Hewitt’s emphasis on New York, in a sense offering two different geographic perspectives on the material displayed.
CA: Yes, as a native Californian I was excited to see pieces by Kem Weber, Rudolph Schindler, and Richard Neutra included in the exhibition because these pieces show how far-reaching modern design was in the United States during this time.
SC: Well there is some of that, but I think it’s more that we’ve taken both perspectives into account, especially in the essays for the catalog. I decided to write about the impact of imported objects, the immigration of people, the importance of retail and so forth. Essentially I was writing about everything that was covered in the “Smaller World” section. Stephen writes about the persistence of the idea of good taste within the context of what American designers were doing. What we both found intriguing was how someone such as Joseph Urban was asked by a fellow Viennese émigré, who ran the Hotel Gibson in Cincinnati, to design an incredible dining room that looks very much the way a Waldorf Astoria dining room did. Urban was being commissioned by somebody like himself who had come from Vienna, travelled through New York and ended up in Cincinnati. Chicago was also a huge center for cross-cultural influences examined in the exhibition. For example, the Ballets Russes, the
SC: Yes, and all of them were émigré designers working in California. It’s a little bit of a red state/blue state situation in the sense that it’s mostly the urban areas, particularly the New York area and Chicago, but also Los Angeles, that have the highest percentage of this “Smaller World” component and, therefore, the greatest mix or melting pot of design emanating from them. This is especially true of Los Angeles when you consider that Joseph Urban was going back and forth between designing in New York and for the movies in Hollywood. Urban designed the first modern interior for the 1929 movie Enchantment starring Marion Davies. So, of course, if people were going to the movies and seeing the modern graphics used in them, and the movie theaters themselves which were thematically designed (e.g. Mayan-themed theaters related to excavations going on at the time), they were being exposed to modern design—in keeping with the spirit of the Jazz Age. (It’s important to remember that this is before 57
television—when the movies played a role in communicating design and culture to a broad range of people.) CA: In your research for the exhibition, were there any new discoveries? SC: We had somebody come in to the museum just the other day to show us a Ruth Reeves scarf, and we discovered a whole clutch of people who were involved with it—from Henry Varnum Poor to Marion Dorn—who turned out to have been married to Henry Varnum Poor before she went off to study in Paris in the early ‘20s with her friend Ruth Reeves—who was studying there with Léger. Dorn met her future second husband in Paris, Edward McKnight Kauffer, and they created carpet designs and other things together. Back in America, in the 1920s, there were designers such as Ilonka Karasz and Winold Reiss; all of these people had a sort of artistic colony together in New City, New York. So, it’s not terribly surprising that there’s a lot of ‘rub off’ among all these designers. When you don’t know who exactly designed what, it can be quite difficult to sort it all out because they all influenced each other—unless you have the documentation. So some of our research has been to find the documentation. We’re fortunate to work with some of Cooper Hewitt’s terrific resources, such as the archives of American industrial designers Donald Deskey and Henry Dreyfuss. Emily Orr (Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary 58
American Design at Cooper Hewitt) has facilitated both, and has been in contact with David A. Hanks, who has worked extensively on Deskey— he wrote the seminal book Donald Deskey: Decorative Designs and Interiors (Dutton,1987) with Jennifer Toher— and he is working closely with our department. It’s been wonderful to connect our own archives with some of our own objects, in addition to connecting these archives with objects in other collections. This has provided an excellent backbone to the show itself. There are so many different stories to tell. CA: Finally, as discussed before (even with the mention of a red state/blue state comparison), the exhibition features many works by designers and architects who were originally from Austria and Germany, such as Joseph Urban, Frederick Kiesler, and Kem Weber—to name a few. There is a strong parallel between these émigré designers and architects working in the United States then and the topic of immigration now. How does the period covered in the exhibition relate to art and design today? SC: It always takes a few years to see an exhibition from concept to fruition. So some topics especially relevant now—such as immigration— weren’t even an iota of our thinking when we started. The subject of immigration and design, however, has perennially been a part of American design history. And, in fact, the
creative explosion that happened— particularly in the second half of the 1920s—was very much the product of the immigration boom here. Suddenly all of these trained designers from countries defeated in WWI were arriving in the U.S. because their economies were in a parlous state, and so the U.S. quickly became a melting pot of designers. Americans were also going abroad to travel and study; they were working on new ideas stemming from the industrial revolution emerging out of WWI—such as industrial design for the domestic market. There were major changes in social history too as I’ve referenced in this interview.
So while we’re seeing a lot of activity on the subject of immigration today, this was always a part of American history, and it has always played a vital role in the synthesis of different design sources. The Jazz Age is a very interesting period, and one that in many ways shows how Americans go beyond interpreting other peoples’ cultures to synthesize elements from various cultures into their own particularly American moment. NOTES 1. The museum was closed for restoration and renovation from July 2011 until December 12, 2014.
Dressing Table and Bench, ca. 1929; After Léon Jallot (French, 1874–1967); Retailed by Lord & Taylor (New York, New York, USA); Lacquered joined wood, mirrored glass, metal; Dressing table: 79.3 x 105.4 x 60.3 cm (31 1/4 x 41 1/2 x 23 3/4 in.); Bench: 49.5 x 54.8 x 31.5 cm (19 1/2 x 21 9/16 x 12 3/8 in.); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Gift of James M. Osborn, 1969-97-7-a/I; Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution COPYRIGHT: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 59
Fig. 1 George Maas, designer. Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring. Antal Dorati conducting The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Mercury Records, Olympia series, 1954. 60
Under Cover: Mid-Century Album Designs for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring Amanda Kogle
How can the power of music be communicated visually? And how is visual language used to sell something as abstract as music? Music has the power to elicit emotions in ways notably different from any other medium. When artists are given the task of capturing this experience— such as on a record album cover—the results can be culturally powerful. As Phil Ford states in his article “Music at the End of the Construct”: “There is a reciprocal relationship between the musical image—an evocative cue, a gesture, or even a single sound—and the larger multi-media constellation in which it takes part.”1
The mid-twentieth-century album cover art for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring showcases how graphic design can reflect musical invention. As one of the first pieces to experiment with tone, dissonance and rhythm, The Rite of Spring (1913) was loudly denounced in its own time, but by 1966 had “become a classic itself.”2 Nevertheless, with the advent of mass-produced record albums in the 1940s, The Rite of Spring still conveyed the shock of its rocky and controversial premiere through a visual language of “otherness.” This essay explores a small selection of mid-century album covers for The Rite of Spring but begins with a brief
introduction to Igor Stravinsky and the piece.
Igor Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring Igor Stravinsky was a notorious Russian composer known for his startling and arresting modern style. He is best known for his experimentations with syncopation, tempo and dissonance in combination with themes from Russian folk music that breathe a recognizable warmth into the work. Stravinsky challenges the listener with dislocated rhythms and rapid changes in tempo. He consistently sought renown through his work, which might explain his premiere of such a shocking piece as The Rite of Spring.2 He was highly concerned with narrative in his work, the stories of which have since been interpreted in film, dance and art.3 The Rite of Spring, originally a ballet, still stands on its own as a masterpiece of modern composing. To listen to The Rite of Spring is to actually hear modernism, which is one of the reasons it pairs so well with an analysis of its album art from the mid-twentieth century. Like the art movements of its time—Cubism, Fauvism, etc.—The Rite of Spring falls under category titles that describe the sounds it makes. Terms such as ‘12-tone,’ ‘serial’ and ‘atonal’ are often used when describing this piece.4 Stravinsky continually bucked the system, challenging the traditional Russian values found in the conservatories of St. Petersburg and Moscow.5 It’s no wonder that he found himself living in Paris—a 62
city that had developed a feverish appetite for the fiercer style of Russian composing. It was in Paris that he was commissioned to create The Rite of Spring in 1911.6 Stravinsky composed the piece under the title Le Sacre du Printemps for the Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet), a company founded by the Russian ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev.7 The Ballet Russes never actually performed in Russia, but the company was made up of some of the finest Russian dancers of the 20th century.8 Stravinsky had already composed several of his most famous works for them including The Firebird and Petrushka.9 The famous Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed the piece using new and violent dance movements to reflect its new and violent sound.10 The ballet’s story focuses on a tribe of Russian pagans that choose a virgin to dance herself to death in order to appease the gods of spring. The first half of the work opens with an oracle setting the stage for what is to come. From here the tribe, led by elders, dances to become one with the earth. In the second half of the ballet, a group of virgins dance in circles, and one is selected by fate to dance herself to death in front of the men of the tribe.11 The narrative ends with the virgin’s sacrificial death. Ever conscious of the story, Stravinsky makes known the virgin’s might through the ballet’s score: atonal shrieks, the pounding of the timpani and the nervous throb of the strings send the listener to an uneasy place. Gone are the soaring themes of the Romantics or
the soothing melodies of Classical composers.12 Stravinsky’s goal was to make people hear differently.13 On May 29, 1913, when Le Sacre du Printemps premiered at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées, the scene that followed was pandemonium.14 People were so offended by the music that they began to loudly boo and hiss.15 Fistfights broke out in the aisle between those who liked the piece and those who did not.16 Backstage, Nijinsky shouted at the dancers while Diaghilev brought the houselights up to quiet the tumultuous audience.17 The 1913 New York Times article about the premiere reported:
Only later would people with more refined musical palates understand what Stravinsky had done. Ironically, the dislocated sounds of the piece and its unusual play with rhythm were made more palatable with people’s exposure to jazz music in America. In 1922, for the first time, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed The Rite of Spring as an orchestral suite with Leopold Stowkowski at the helm.20 The piece’s savage violence met that of the world head-on, and people were more ready to hear it. The Great War had changed the world and perhaps prepared it for a new and ferocious style of music in keeping with its horrors.
The Album Covers The public could not swallow this. They promptly hissed the piece. A few days ago they might have applauded it. The Russians who are not entirely acquainted with the manners and customs of the countries they visit, did not know that the French people protested readily enough when the last degree of stupidity was reached.18
The Ballet Russes toured all over the world performing The Rite of Spring. In London just a few months later The Macon Daily Telegraph stated, The critics declare Stravinsky’s music has apparently no relation whatever to the ordinary rules of harmony, and leaves even Schonberg behind, while Nijinsky’s choreography, although it produces some clever effects at times, is apparently nothing but aimless movements.19
Record album covers joined design and advertising. In the early twentieth century, a customer would visit a record shop knowing what album they wanted, and the store clerk would retrieve it from behind the counter.21 These records came in either plain grey or tan paper sleeves with little to no ‘artistic’ interpretation.22 In 1939, Alex Steinweiss became Art Director at Columbia Records and invented the cardboard sleeve for the newly introduced 12-inch record.23 Steinweiss’s work opened a world of possibility for graphic designers and musicians alike. His illustrated record album covers sold eight-to-one over the earlier gray and tan paper slips.24 It was evident that eye-catching designs sold music, and these covers were also more durable than their paper counterparts.25 Other record companies took note and a cornucopia 63
of colorful record sleeves resulted. Much like the new supermarkets of post-WWII America, record stores used the method of customer self-service.26 Consumers were able to browse through a myriad of brightly designed album covers providing a much more customizable and ‘aesthetic’ shopping experience. The album cover was often the first thing that reached out and grabbed the customer. By mid-twentieth century, the medium of record covers was a way to make classical music more appealing to the American public. Several themes present themselves on album covers for The Rite of Spring from the 1940s through the 1950s— and later. Use of primitive African imagery, abstract naturalism and even the Biblical narrative of Eve in the Garden appear. These visual choices communicate the shock and novelty of the piece.
The Primitive Marianna Torgovnick, Duke University English scholar states in her book Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives, Formal approaches to primitive objects as art imply a utopian end point in which the primitive and the modern (or postmodern) speak to each other in a timeless dialogue of the form, vision, and design.27
Torgovnick describes the African mask seen in western theater as frequently used out of context. Westerners viewing an African mask in a box at a 64
museum are also seeing it completely separated from its cultural function. On the New York Philharmonic’s 1940 recording of The Rite of Spring, a stoic African statue holds a limp white female figure (fig. 2). The background is a blue sky and a blood-red earth where a small, frail white tree grows. The word ‘SACRE’ is haphazardly printed across the top as if it were stenciled as a cautionary warning. Nothing about this image feels secure. Because only black, white, red and blue are used, the album cover is strikingly simple. What is strange to recognize, however, is the use of African imagery to illustrate a piece about a pagan Russian tribe. Paganism is here associated with African primitivism. In another example, a 1954 album for the Minneapolis Symphony’s rendition of the piece, the design also borrows from African imagery but makes it more playful (fig. 1). The cover’s artist, George Maas, was known for his use of colorful, collage-like imagery. A savage figure splashed with purple, orange and lime green stands at a drum with his arms raised and lips parted as if crying out to the gods of spring. The shapes and patterns throughout the image are simple and imply that one might have fun listening to something so exotic. In the 1950s, Exotica was a style of music that apparently soothed the tensions of the Cold War.28 The genre blended a thirst for thrills with exotic sounds such as drums and jungle animals. It allowed the listener to embark on a trip to Shangri-La.29 So too does Maas’s cover design; it invites the listener into the bright and colorful world of the wild
Fig. 2 Alex Steinweiss, designer. Le Sacre Du Printemps, Stravinsky. Igor Stravinsky conducting The Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York, Columbia Records, 1940.
character ready to beat his drum. It is all at once far-flung and approachable, but still asserts a ‘primitive’ character. It uses a visual language familiar to the American public, one that employs a racist vocabulary to portray an uncivilized world as opposed to a mythic one.
Abstracted Nature Abstract art and abstract music go hand-in-hand. Found on album covers for jazz music, abstract imagery is often the only thing that can visually communicate how music sounds. In Disney’s 1941 classic Fantasia, Leopold Stowkowski introduces Toccata Fugue in D Minor by J.S. Bach, and, as the piece begins, abstract shapes and imagery reveal themselves, bringing the viewer on a visual journey.30 As the piece unfolds, the imagery becomes slightly recognizable. The tips of violin bows sparkle in the clouds; rolling hills look like the strings on a cello; the swelling of the orchestra manifests in a cathedral of light built in the sky and they all come together to comprise this beautiful work. The same tactics can be seen in album art for The Rite of Spring. The organic motifs of trees and natural forms are integral to the story of the piece. The 1960 version of the composition recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra features a striking cover (fig. 3). Two hands come together and in their palms rest the lifeless virgin. The fingers turn into naked branches that stretch to the sky in a powerful fashion, taking the form of a Baobab tree. The colors used are lime 66
green, electric purple and brown while the female figure is a shocking shade of red. The use of natural imagery such as a tree—its trunk made of forearms and its branches sprouting from fingertips—is an example of how nature lends itself to expressive abstraction. It is intriguing to realize, however, that the Baobab tree is a genus almost expressly found on Madagascar, the African continent or the Arabian Peninsula. Thus does the image again hint at the setting as one for non-western primitive ritual. A similar cover from 1951 for the Philharmonia Orchestra’s recording of The Rite of Spring features a body of text flanked by a long arching tree. At closer look, it can be seen that the tree is a human body with outstretched arms turning into long branches across the top of the album cover. This reflects the first half of the ballet where the dancers become one with the earth. The colors used are black and lime green with a light tracing of a white branch and leaves running throughout the composition. The figure looks to be in pain as its branch arms are pulled backward. The body is drawn in a chaotic fashion, neither outlined nor filled out, reminiscent of a woodcut print. The woodcut technique itself is infused with violent undertones attendant to the nature of cutting. This then reflects the fiery haphazardness of the music. (A 1961 Disney record album cover represents the piece using a series of erupting volcanoes. Once again, natural imagery sets the piece apart from the Western world.)
Fig. 3 Unknown designer [possibly Alex Steinweiss]. The Rite of Spring. Sir Eugene Goossens conducting The London Symphony Orchestra. Everest Records, 1960.
The Female Body It is no surprise that the female body is featured in The Rite of Spring album art imagery because of the story the music—and ballet, of course—tells. The female body is often exploited in a way that makes it seem helpless and highly sexualized. The vilification of the primitive and naked female figure harkens back to Biblical imagery of the original woman responsible for man having to leave Eden. The story of The Rite of Spring is titillating enough but the album art takes it further.
In the example of the 1957 recording by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, Henri Rousseau’s painting The Snake Charmer is used on the album cover. The image features a naked woman playing a flute that beckons snakes from the trees and grass. Both the snakes and the charmer are painted a dark, almost black shade that gives a sinuous feel to the entire image. Her eyes are two small white pinpricks that are otherwise lost on her coal-colored face. The imagery of a nude woman in a garden with snakes harkens back to Biblical imagery of Eve. In the Genesis 67
story, Eve is tempted by Satan—who appears as a snake—to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a tree that was otherwise forbidden. After Eve gives in, she brings the fruit to her partner, Adam, and once he has taken a bite they are both cast out of the Garden of Eden and out of the presence of God.31 Through this narrative, women are seen as wicked and evil, doomed to pay for their mistakes forever.32 In The Rite of Spring, the virgin is selected because she is a vulnerable female overcome by the rhythms of the music and ritual. It is as if what makes her female, succumbing to her nature, brings about her demise. In another example, the 1958 recording by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, a scantily clad man in a ripped leopard-print tunic holds an unconscious woman, draped in a sheer garment with one breast exposed, above his head. The man’s posture is strong and dominating while the woman’s is weak and helpless. The entire image is covered with colorful, transparent triangles acting as a sort of sheer overlay, giving the whole album cover an element of modernity or campiness. This is possibly the most provocative cover considered in this study. As previous images have shown, the lifeless body of the virgin rests on some sort of altar whether it be the arm of an African mask statue or the crook of a tree’s branches. Here we see a male figure holding the woman as if offering her up to the gods of spring. In this way the woman in the
image appears the way many women are portrayed in visual art, as forms to benefit the male gaze.33 The man becomes the altar and the woman lies limp in his arms as the sacrifice.
Conclusion Looking at album cover art for Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring—even in these few examples—reveals the ways in which otherness can be displayed. The evolution of The Rite of Spring from a highly contested and controversial work to one that was lauded as a masterpiece is evidenced in the aesthetic embrace and interpretation of its album design. Whether it’s borrowing from primitive cultures, using abstracted nature or villainizing women, these album covers speak to the ways that difference translated into a contemporary exoticism resonant with racist and sexist overtones to sell classical music. After the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring and the explosive audience reaction, Stravinsky remarked, “No doubt it will be understood one day that I sprang a surprise on Paris…but it will soon forget its bad temper.”34 Indeed these words are true; people did forget their outrage at the piece, but the midcentury album covers for The Rite of Spring remain as reminders of a more disquieting “bad temper.”
NOTES 1. Phil Ford, “Music at the Edge of the Construct,” The Journal of Musicology 26, no. 2 (2009): 245. 2. Richard Pells, Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies and the Globalization of American Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 115. 3. Robert Craft, “The Rite of Spring: Genesis of a Masterpiece,” Perspectives of New Music 5, no. 1 (1966): 32. 4. Pells, Modernist America, 113. 5. Ibid., 114. 6. Craft, “The Rite of Spring,” 34. 7. Lisa Simeone and Thomas Kelly, “Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring,’” NPR’s Performance Today, NPR, Washington, D.C.: WNPR, 1999. 8. Simeone and Kelly. 9. Craft, “The Rite of Spring,” 23. 10. Ibid., 34. 11. George Benjamin, “How Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring Has Shaped 100 Years of Music,” The Guardian, May 29, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/ music/2013/may/29/stravinsky-rite-ofspring.
documents/433359/rite-of-spring-1913.pdf. 19. “Weird Russian Ballet,” The Macon Daily Telegraph, August 17, 1913. 20. Pells, Modernist America, 116. 21. Carissa Kowalski Dougherty, “The Coloring of Jazz: Race and Record Cover Design in American Jazz, 1950 to 1970,” Design Issues 23, no. 1 (2007): 48. 22. Ibid. 23. Peter Frank, “Cover Song: A Brief History of Alex Steinweiss, the Inventor of Album Art,” Art on Paper 12, no. 5 (2008): 58. 24. Robert G. O’Meally, “Jazz Albums as Art: Some Reflections,” The International Review of African American Art 14, no. 3 (1997): 40. 25. Dougherty, “The Coloring of Jazz,” 49. 26. O’Meally, “Jazz Albums as Art,” 42. 27. Marianna Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 129. 28. Phil Ford, “Taboo: Time and Belief in Exotica,” Representations 103, no. 1 (2008): 108. 29. Ibid., 114.
14. Simeone and Kelly.
30. Fantasia, film, directed by Ben Sharpsteen with music conducted by Leopold Stowkowski and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra (Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Productions, 1940).
31. Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-24.
16. Pells, Modernist America, 114.
32. Deirdre Keenan McChrystal, “Redeeming Eve,” English Literary Renaissance 23, no. 3 (1993): 491.
12. Pells, Modernist America, 113. 13. Ibid., 115.
17. Benjamin, “Stravisky’s Rite of Spring.” 18. Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times, “Parisians Hiss New Ballet: Russian Dancers Latest Offering, ‘The Consecration of Spring,’” New York Times, June 8, 1913, http://s3.documentcloud.org/
33. E. Anne Kaplan, Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera, (Hove: Psychology Press, 1988), 31. 34. Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph, “Parisians Hiss New Ballet.” 69
Raising the Curtain: Theatrical Designs in the Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Matthew J. Kennedy Theatrical design is a design of fact and fiction, a kind of design suspended between reality and fantasy. Designers construct an identifiable world, but one inevitably filtered by the artifice of performance and a creative, often collaborative, subjectivity. Still, theatrical design can be a signifying and significant lens into society’s preoccupations and perceptions. “As always,” observed Elaine Evans Dee, former curator of Drawings and Prints at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, “popular taste 70
was reflected in the theater.”1 The constructed world of theater, through performance, narrative and design, represents a society grappling with its understanding of itself and its place in time—whether via a design for a living room or a decadent palace, a sailor suit or an extravagant bustle, all on stage. above: Drawing, Design for a Theater Curtain: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 1960. Designed by Oliver Smith (American, 1918–1994). Composed by Meredith Wilson (American, 1902–1984). Written by Richard Morris (American, 1924–1996). Pen and black ink, brush and gouache, graphite on illustration board. 26.2 x 45.3 cm (10 5/16 x 17 13/16 in.). Gift of Oliver Smith, 1969-171-11
Cooper Hewitt, in its dedication to design as a process, houses a collection of nearly 137,000 works on paper, many of which demonstrate how the process of design can evolve into a material reality—or how the material reality of theater begins with design. In the ephemeral art of theater and performance, these documents of process—whether preparatory or presentation sketches anticipating construction in other media—are especially vital to cultural history, as they are often the only documents of what once briefly existed. The actual sets, costumes and props made from them will be deconstructed and sadly consigned to a landfill or simply lost to time once the theatrical run is over or a theater is torn down. It is the drawn designs that will remain for posterity
to see what once was conceived— should production photography not yet have existed or the photographs not be saved. The design process becomes the artifact. As stated in the wall text of the 1983 Cooper Hewitt exhibition Designed for Theater: “The visual aspects are temporary, only drawings and prints such as these remain to hint at the production’s actual appearance.”2 The impetus of my research into Cooper Hewitt’s holdings of theatrical designs was serendipitous: Caitlin Condell, assistant curator and acting head of the department of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design discovered, while conducting other research, the 1983 checklist for Designed for Theater. The checklist contained approximately 200 works
left: Drawing, Costume Design: Dancer to Perform on a Chariot for a Ballet, 17th century. Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, black chalk on paper. 26.8 x 19.1 cm (10 9/16 x 7 1/2 in.). Gift of Miss Marian Hague, 1942-3-13
on paper that were either designs explicitly for performance or prints relating to theatrical architecture. I found scores more designs by searching through many gifts to the museum; the objective was to fortify existing object records through cataloguing and additional research—and raise the curtain on an entertaining romp through history for theater nerds everywhere. Theatrical design is one ticket to a broader understanding of design history. At times theatrical designers are reacting to technical innovations in other media, reflecting new aesthetic tastes or, in some cases, even forging new perspectives on their own. But their designs betray a dichotomous eye: they reflect the culture in which they are produced as much as they communicate ideas about the culture being reproduced, whether the play’s narrative takes place in the past or the present. The theater’s frequent depictions of other times and cultures as well as its rich tradition of revivalism (not unlike design at large) stages a dynamic visual, material and technical dialogue.
It is this interplay of theatrical past and present, its process and preservation, that winds its way throughout the range of Cooper Hewitt’s collection. The theatrical designs commemorate royal celebrations and Victorian mourning, costumes by and for Tony Award winners, baroque fantasies that defined theatrical spectacle for centuries, simulations of sunsets and storm clouds, even otherworldly costumes for vaudevillian follies. The majority of the Cooper Hewitt designs come from two major sources: purchases of drawings and prints from the Italian collector Giovanni Piancastelli (1845–1926), and a series of gifts in the early 1970s from working designers, acquisitions that sparked momentum for the 1983 exhibition Designed for Theater mentioned above. The Piancastelli collection offered an array of works from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries; the latter gifts offered a chronological catch-up, refreshing the collection with work by major twentieth-century designers.
above: Drawing, Costume Design: Hello, Dolly!, 1964. Designed by Freddy Wittop (American, b. Netherlands, 1911–2001). Brush and watercolor, graphite on gray paper. 43 x 46.2 cm (16 15/16 x 18 3/16 in.). Gift of Freddy Wittop, 1971-1-10
What follows is a selection of designs, ranging in chronology, geography and intended use within the theatrical universe. Some honor longstanding buildings while others were never actually produced; some are by members of families of long-standing theatrical royalty, while others are by artists just dabbling in theater; some were used for Off-Broadway productions but then replaced when the production moved to Broadway and were no longer of any use, because—in the end—that’s show business. Here are some visual facts so that you can enjoy the fiction.
NOTES 1. Elaine Evans Dee, Designed for Theater: Drawings and Prints from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Design (Detroit: The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1984), 3. 2. Wall text, Designed for Theater, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.
All images © Smithsonian Institution
opposite top: Drawing, Elevation of the Façade of a Theater, Prague, ca. 1860. Designed by Cesare Recanatini (Italian, 1823–1893). Pen and ink, brush and sepia, blue, green wash on cream paper. 19.6 x 26.4 cm (7 11/16 x 10 3/8 in.). Bequest of Erskine Hewitt, 1938-57-1423
above: Print, Bowery Theater, New York, NY, 1828. Designed by Alexander Jackson Davis (American, 1803–1892). Engraving with etching, brush and watercolor on paper. 27.2 x 21 cm (10 11/16 x 8 1/4 in.). Museum purchase in Memory of Mrs. John Innes Kane, 1948-89-13
opposite bottom: Drawing, Elevation of the Facade of the Theater at St. Petersburg, ca. 1860. Designed by Cesare Recanatini (Italian, 1823–1893). Brush and gray, blue watercolor, pen and ink on paper. 18.8 x 25.6 cm (7 3/8 x 10 1/16 in.). Bequest of Erskine Hewitt, 1938-57-1421
above: Drawing, Costume Design: Christine, for Mourning Becomes Electra, 1969. Designed by Karl Eigsti (American, b. 1938) for the Tyrone Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA). Written by Eugene Oâ€™Neill (American, 1888â€“1953). Brush and watercolor, acrylic on paper. 40.1 x 30.2 cm (15 13/16 in. x 11 7/8 in.). Gift of Karl Eigsti, 1970-52-3
above: Drawing, Costume Design: Night Light, for Ziegfeld Follies of 1920, 1920. Designed by Charles LeMaire (American, 1897â€“1985). Brush and watercolor, graphite on heavy paper. 58.2 x 36.8 cm (22 15/16 x 14 1/2 in.). Gift of Charles LeMaire, 1970-55-3
above: Drawing, Costume Design: Nora, Act I, for A Doll’s House, 1937. Designed by Donald Mitchell Oenslager (American, 1902–1975). Written by Henrik Ibsen (Norwegian, 1828–1906). Brush and watercolor, graphite on white paper with attached fabric swatches. 35.2 x 25.7 cm (13 7/8 x 10 1/8 in.). Gift of Donald Oenslager, 1960-226-11-a
above: Drawing, Costume Design: Chorus Men, for Susannah, 1965. Designed by Jane Greenwood (English, b. 1934) for the Metropolitan Opera (New York, New York, USA). Composed by Carlisle Floyd (American, b. 1926). Brush and watercolor, graphite on paper with attached fabric swatches. 30.5 x 22.8 cm (12 x 9 in.). Gift of Jane Greenwood, 1970-56-4
A costumeâ€™s structure, functionality and tone depend on fabric choice. Consideration of textiles is therefore integral to the costume design process, and swatches of possibilities are often humbly aďŹƒxed to the drawn design to bring it materially to life.
above: Drawing, Film Set Design: Prairie Church, for Oklahoma, ca. 1955. Designed by Oliver Smith (American, 1918–1994). Composed by Richard Rodgers (American, 1902–1979). Written by Oscar Hammerstein, III (American, 1895–1960). For the Magna Pictures Corporation (San Francisco, California, USA). Brush and watercolor, graphite on illustration board. 25.3 x 39.3 cm (9 15/16 x 15 1/2 in.). Gift of Oliver Smith, 1969-171-2
opposite top: Drawing, Stage Design: Rainstorm, for 110 in the Shade, 1963. Designed by Oliver Smith (American, 1918–1994). Book written by N. Richard Nash (American, 1913–2000). Composed by Harvey Schmidt (American, b. 1929). Lyrics written by Tom Jones (American, b. 1928). Brush and watercolor, graphite on illustration board. 11.4 x 20.3 cm (4 1/2. x 8 in.). Gift of Oliver Smith, 1969-171-15
above: Print, Machines de Theatres (Theatrical Machinery), pl. XV, vol. 10 from Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopaedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts), 1772. Designed by Robert Bénard (French, active 1734–1772) for Denis Diderot (French, 1713–1784). After Radel (French). Engraving on paper. 39.1 x 47.2 cm (15 3/8 × 18 9/16 in.). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard B. Freund, 1977-86-34
Theatrical spectacles in vogue in the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries—moving clouds, shifting set pieces, flying goddesses—required complex machinery engineered specifically for theater, often involving ropes, pulleys, and manpower. While cloud eﬀects are now typically created using lighting or projection, principles of early-modern stagecraft remain in use, albeit using more up-to-date technologies. The desire to inject the power of land and sky into a narrative is a constant of theater design.
above: Print, Section of the House and Proscenium, ca. 1720. Designed by Saverio Avesani (Italian, b. 1690) after architecture by Francesco Gallo Bibiena (Italian, 1659–1739). Engraved by Francesco Zucchi (Italian, 1692–1739). Engraving on paper. 24.8 x 34.1 cm (9 3/4 x 13 7/16 in.). Bequest of Erskine Hewitt, 1938-57-1439
opposite top: Drawing, Stage Design: Variation of the Palace Terrace, Act I, Scene 2, for Don Giovanni, 1957. Designed by Eugene Berman (Russian, 1899–1972) for the Metropolitan Opera (New York, New York, USA). Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austrian, 1756–1791). Pen and black, red ink, brush and watercolor on paper. 15.6 × 12.7 cm (6 1/8 in. × 5 in.). Museum purchase through gift of Ogden Codman, 1958-138-1 opposite bottom: Drawing, Stage Design: Variation of the Palace Terrace, Act I, Scene 2, for Don Giovanni, 1957. Designed by Eugene Berman (Russian, 1899–1972) for the Metropolitan Opera (New York, New York, USA). Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austrian, 1756–1791) Pen and black, red ink, brush and watercolor on paper. 15.2 x 13.7 cm (6 x 5 3/8 in.) Museum purchase through gift of Ogden Codman, 1958-138-3
The Bibienas, designers of theaters and scenography, were a theatrical dynasty in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They dominated theatrical architecture in Italy and other parts of Europe, establishing tastes for elaborate sets and spectacular eﬀects that inspired numerous imitators.
above: Drawing, Stage Design: Prison in Gothic Building, Italy, midâ€“late 18th century. Pen and bistre ink, brush and wash on paper. 34.2 x 49.9 cm (13 7/16 x 19 5/8 in.). Museum purchase through gift of various donors and from Eleanor G. Hewitt Fund, 1938-88-452
above: Drawing, Stage Design: All the World Wondered, 1929. Designed by Henry Dreyfuss (American, 1904–1972). Written by John Wexley (American, 1907–1985). Graphite, red crayon, pen and black ink on paper. 50.5 x 75.7 cm (19 7/8 x 29 13/16in.). Gift of University of California, Los Angeles, 1973-15-119
Dreyfuss’s scenic floorplan depicts an intensely rigid location: death row of a prison. Drawn with the precision perhaps expected of the future industrial designer, the uniform cells in the tight, controlled space reflect how modernist constructs can be enmeshed in penal architecture; it contrasts dramatically with the grandiose, dungeon-like gothic prison interior designed centuries earlier.
above: Print, Edmund Kean as Richard III, 1839. Published by A. Park (London, England). Hand-colored engraving, embossed foil, and fabric on paper. 23.2 x 28 cm (9 1/8 x 11 in.). Gift of Hamill and Barker, 1961-105-19
British stage actor Edmund Kean made his US stage debut in New York in 1820 and his last in 1826, both appearances in the title role of Richard III. Kean died in 1833, and, as this print is dated to 1839, it was likely a commemorative print, an early acknowledgment of the advent of international celebrity in the nineteenth centuryâ€”a concept that continues to fuel todayâ€™s culture at large.
above: Drawing, Costume Design: Sir, for The Roar of the Grease Paint, the Smell of the Crowd, 1965. Designed by Freddy Wittop (American, b. Netherlands, 1911â€“2001). Written and composed by Leslie Bricusse (English, b. 1931) and Anthony Newley (English, 1931â€“1999). Brush and watercolor, graphite on gray illustration board. 50.8 x 38 cm (20 in. x 14 15/16 in.). Gift of Freddy Wittop, 1971-1-5
above: Drawing, Stage Design: Scene II, Chair and Bed, for King Lear, 1990. Designed by Robert Wilson (American, b. 1941). Written by William Shakespeare (English, ca. 1564â€“1616). Black pastel chalk on white wove paper. 66 x 97 cm (26 x 38 3/16 in.). Museum purchase through gift of the Advisory Council and bequest of Mary Hearn Greims and from Sarah Cooper-Hewitt Fund, 1992-90-1
Scenic designs harness interiors and their connoted meanings to guide the narrative of performance; they are embedded with visual and cultural signifiers essential to reading time and place. For centuries, set interiors have oďŹ€ered a range of locations to establish the suitable mood for whatever action will take place; sets are enriched through details of furniture, lighting and color, and drafting style itself manifests emotional tenor.
above: Print, Scene from a Tragedy, ca. 1650. Designed by Jean Le Pautre (French, 1618â€“1682). Etching on paper. 21.5 x 31 cm (8 7/16 x 12 3/16 in.). Bequest of Erskine Hewitt, 1938-57-1450
above: Drawing, Stage Design: Atrium of a Villa, Italy, late 18th century. Pen and ink, brush and gray, blue watercolor, graphite on paper. 13.7 x 20.1 cm (5 3/8 x 7 15/16 in.). Bequest of Erskine Hewitt, 1938-57-1436
above: Print, Act II of Chushingura, 1836. Designed by Ando Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797â€“1858). Published by Senichi (Japan). Woodcut on mulberry paper. 24 x 36.4 cm (9 7/16 x 14 5/16 in.). Museum purchase through gift of Herman A. Elsberg, 1962-197-1
above: Print, Theater Interior with Performance Taking Place, Netherlands, ca. 1740â€“60. Engraving on white paper. 29.4 x 44.2 cm (11 9/16 x 17 3/8 in.). Bequest of Erskine Hewitt, 1938-57-1438
Changing audiences have shaped auditorium architecture and decoration. Royalty sat in elaborate central boxes, with scenic designs devised from a central perspective that privileged their view. Today, sight lines in scenic designs are optimized for maximum audience viewing, and acoustic demands often support a U-shaped seating plan for concert halls just as they did in the past.
above: Print, Interior View of the Academy of Music as Seen from Dress Circle, 1864. Lithographed by A. Brown and Company. Published by “The Union” Steam Presses (Brooklyn, New York, USA). Lithograph on paper. 45.6 x 36.5 cm (17 15/16 x 14 3/8 in.). Gift of Hamill and Barker, 1961105-150
above: Drawing, Ceiling Decoration for a Theater, ca. 1820. Designed by Giuseppe Borsato (Italian, 1770â€“1840). Pen and black ink, brush and watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper. 33 x 27.7 cm (13 x 10 7/8 in.). Museum purchase from the Mary Hearn Greims Fund, 1940-21-23
above: Drawing, Ground Plan and Elevations of Theater Boxes, Probably for Teatro del Versaro (later Teatro Morlacchi), Perugia, Italy, 1778. Designed by Giuseppe Barberi (Italian, 1746â€“1809). Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, graphite on oďŹ€-white laid paper. 46.6 x 38 cm (18 3/8 x 14 15/16 in.). Museum purchase through gift of various donors and from Eleanor G. Hewitt Fund, 1938-88-116
left: Drawing, Costume Design: Dancer in a Manège, ca. 1941–57. Designed by Miles White (American, 1914–2000) for Ringling Brothers Circus (USA). Brush and watercolor, pen and ink on paper with attached fabric swatches. 37.7 x 27.7 cm (14 13/16 x 10 7/8 in.). Gift of Miles White, 1971-4-11
right: Drawing, Costume Design: Le Galant, for Le Testament, 1971. Designed by Ariel Parkinson (American, b. 1926) for the San Francisco Opera (San Francisco, California, USA). Composed by Ezra Pound (American, 1885–1972). Written by Francois Villon (French, 1431–ca. 1463). Brush and watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, charcoal, graphite on laid paper. 39.8 x 52 cm (15 11/16 x 20 1/2 in.). Gift of Mrs. Thomas Parkinson, 1973-14-4
above: Print, Theater Interior with a Tight-Rope Walker, ca. 1800. Designed by Alexander Wilson (Scottish, active USA, 1766–1813). Engraving on paper. 23.5 x 15.9 cm (9 1/4 x 6 1/4 in.). Purchased in Memory of Mrs. John Innes Kane, 1948-89-7
From circuses to opera, entertainment takes many colorful forms, and collaboration among designers, directors, and performers—often from all over the world—brings dynamism and life to performance. The exuberance of a performance for both actor and audience lies in this nexus of creativity, no matter how high flying.
above: Drawing, Design for a Theater Curtain, mid-19th century. Designed by V. Bertolotti (Italian, active 1850â€“1860). Pen and black, blue ink, brush and watercolor, gouache, gold paint, graphite on wove paper. 23.5 x 39 cm (9 Âź x 15 3/8 in.). Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, 1931-73-276
above: Drawing, Design for a Theater Curtain: Checkmate, 1937. Designed by Edward McKnight Kauﬀer (American, active England, 1890–1954). Choreographed by Ninette de Valois (Irish, 1898–2001). Composed by Arthur Bliss (English, 1891–1975). Brush and gouache, graphite on heavy white paper. 35.4 x 54.6 cm (13 15/16 x 21 1/2 in.). Gift of Mrs. E. McKnight Kauﬀer, 1963-39-272
The curtain is perhaps the most iconic and enduring visual element of theater, serving the dramatic purpose of concealing and revealing. It also conveys the initial perspective of a performance, oﬀering visual cues—whether classical imagery or modern, abstract forms—to the soon-to-be-experienced, very much designed world behind it.
Willem Sandberg, Democratizing the Stedelijk Museum Bill Shaffer
Over the course of the last two hundred years the relationship between the museum and the museum-goer has changed markedly. Museum directors and, notably, exhibition designers, have increasingly ceded authority to viewers in ascribing meaning to objects by providing more information about them. Contemporary museums strive to be more inclusive places than early so-called universal survey museums1— hierarchical institutions that reinforced social class distinctions by using lauded artwork to mark it. To expand their audiences today’s museums employ such new technologies as smartphone
apps designed for visitors’ use, and social media and virtual tours outside of the museum complex. In exploring the ways this relationship between the museum and museum-goer has evolved over time to make art and design objects ever more accessible to individual appreciation, interpretation and enjoyment, several figures stand out. Willem Sandberg, director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam from 1945 to 1963, was one of the most forward-thinking. The Swiss curator Harald Szeeman, organizer of more than 150 exhibitions and international surveys, and an advocate
Sandberg in his oﬃce at the Stedelijk Museum, c. 1960. photo: Pieter Brattinga
of conceptualism, land art, happenings, Fluxus and performance, and of artists such as Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra and Cy Twombly2 recommended to the contemporary curator Hans Ulrich Obrist that he study Szeeman’s hero, Willem Sandberg.3 Writing about pioneers in the museum world, Obrist describes Sandberg as “one of the great museum innovators of the twentieth century.”4 This essay briefly explores Sandberg’s contributions to making the museum a more communal institution. Willem Sandberg traveled an unlikely path from working as freelance graphic designer in the 1920s to assuming the directorship of the Stedelijk in Amsterdam in 1945 at the conclusion of World War II. Sandberg was born in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, in 1897 and began his university studies at the Rijksacademie (National Academy for Visual Arts) in 1920 upon completion of his compulsory military service. Bored with the rigid course of study at the academy, Sandberg left after six months and traveled first to Italy, and then to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris to study painting, though he later remarked that, “painting was not for me. I needed interaction with people, I wanted to be part of society.”5 Sandberg’s travels included a stop in Vienna in 1927, where he made the acquaintance of Otto Neurath, one of the early members of the Vienna Circle of philosophers, scientists, educators and sociologists. Neurath was the director of the Gesellschafts-und Wirtschaftsmuseum, a museum that was a meeting point 102
for the members of Vienna Circle and regularly held exhibitions devoted to social and economic issues. Neurath had developed the Isotype method (International System of Typographic Picture Education) to explain scientific and statistical information because he believed that pictures, or pictograms, provided the layman a more succinct explanation of complex data sets than a jumble of statistical-based text. Sandberg “was fascinated by the visual statistics and later frequently used that method.”6 The use of pictograms to democratize the dissemination of information, influenced Sandberg and paralleled that of Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who used didactic text and graphic layouts for the landmark exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art in 1936. The visualization of information as presented by Sandberg and Barr provided a means to simplify both complex thoughts and data sets in ways that discounted social hierarchy and allowed museum-goers to comprehend explanatory material on personal terms less related to levels of education. Sandberg also immersed himself in the study of typography, and by 1928, had returned to Amsterdam and begun working as a freelance designer, laying out calendars for Dutch publishers and designing window displays for the post office on Zeestraat in The Hague. In October of that year, the Internationale Congres Arbeid voor Onvolwaardigen (an organization devoted to labor practices of the physically impaired) convened in Amsterdam and mounted an exhibition
devoted to their cause at the Stedelijk Museum. Sandberg was commissioned to design a room with visual statistics à la Neurath, and produced a large series of graphic panels “two metres high and one hundred and twenty centimeters wide,”7 thus beginning his long association with the Stedelijk. He designed the museum’s exhibition catalogs and gained a reputation for a keen eye in appraising the museum’s collection. In 1937, the museum director, D.C. Roell, appointed Sandberg as curator, and after Roell’s retirement in 1945, Sandberg was named museum director. From the beginning of his tenure at the museum until he retired in 1963, Sandberg continued to design exhibition catalogs—he estimated that he had done more than 275 of them—and other printed material for the museum including posters, tickets, billboards and advertisements. He believed in a strong graphic identity for the museum, which was not a goal of most institutions at the time: I tried to impart an open and clear character to everything I could change so that people could immediately recognize it. If they saw a poster, they could see from the color and the letters that it came from the Stedelijk Museum and if they received an invitation, from the stationery. Everything that was issued by the museum, even a catalogue, must have the same character, normal and vigorous.8
Sandberg’s goals for the Stedelijk reached beyond creating a clear
graphic identity (as ambitious as that was) to creating a dual role for the institution: to champion the modern movement, including industrial design and architecture, and to use the museum as a kind of community center—a meeting point for all. Sandberg stated, “the museum— which used to be something for which you dress up in your dark suit and enter aristocratically, with or without your wife and children and mainly on Sunday—had, in my opinion, to become something that is for a normal workday. It had to become some centre of life.”9 For Sandberg, a self-described “fierce enemy of the high-brow,”10 the ability for Stedelijk visitors to ascribe meaning to artwork and objects within the collection came not only from the artwork itself, or the way it was hung, but from creating an overall environment that fostered inclusion and participation in the total ethos of the Stedelijk. Sandberg was willing to cede the authority of the institution to the community-at-large to maximize its members’ potential to create their own experience inside of the museum. Indeed, Sandberg’s effort to transform the Stedelijk from a staid repository of art to a dynamic, inclusive community center included a wide-ranging list of achievements during his eighteen-year tenure as director: • the addition of a 6700 sq m. (72,000 sq. ft.) new wing. • screening of two films per week, plus Sunday afternoon concerts and readings. • mounting fifty exhibitions per year. 103
• the addition of a children’s classroom. • opening of a museum library with separate reading room. • creating a workshop for the graphic arts. • opening a restaurant and sculpture garden. • publication of a monthly newsletter and twenty catalogs per year.11 Sandberg asked rhetorically, “is it a beehive? a museum? or very simply a meeting place for the young and old?”12 Sandberg’s desire to create a more welcoming community—political, social and cultural—was undoubtedly shaped by his involvement with the Dutch Resistance in World War II. Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 even though the nation had declared neutrality. The deportation of Jews began in 1941, affecting many of the artists and writers that Sandberg knew well. Sandberg enlisted his colleagues and used his graphic design skills to create false documents that gave Jews safe passage out of the country. When the Nazis realized that these documents did not match official records in city hall, Sandberg and twelve of his colleagues plotted to break into the building and burn
the existing records. They were partially successful: twenty percent of the records were destroyed before the fire brigade arrived to extinguish the flames. All of the plotters were apprehended and executed, except for Sandberg, who fled Amsterdam (his wife and son were arrested) and lived the remaining war years in hiding on the Dutch border. Sandberg returned to Amsterdam at the war’s conclusion, only to find that the Dutch populace “sought refuge in the social society as we knew it before 1940.”13 Concluding that “the older generations were lost for renewal...we had to build on the new ones if we wanted to make this society liveable, make it a human community.”14 For Sandberg, logically and simply, the ability for a museum-goer to gain knowledge, make an emotional connection or otherwise attach personal meaning to a work of art— and to become a part of a larger community—was not possible unless that art was accessible and could be absorbed by an individual on his or her own terms. Carol Duncan describes the Greek and Roman architectural forms and temple façades of nineteenthcentury museums as becoming “the normal language for distinctly civic
Cover of Open Oog (Open Eye) magazine, 1946. Â© Stedelijk Museum
and secular buildings…(they) brought with them the space of rituals— corridors scaled for processionals and interior sanctuaries designed for awesome and potent effigies.”15 They also created, for some, a barrier of intimidation. Sandberg describes a 1954 conversation with his barber whose shop was on Van Baerlestraat, opposite the Stedelijk. The barber had been at that location for thirty years and, upon prompting by Sandberg, admitted that he had never set foot in the museum. “I wouldn’t know how to behave, it’s something for the gentry and has nothing to do with me.”16 The conversation gave Sandberg the idea to build a platform on the street corner so that people could peer through the glass façade of the new wing, added in 1954, and see the exhibition activity within the museum. Sandberg recalls that he was driving by the platform at eight o’clock in the morning shortly after its completion and noticed his barber looking into the museum. Sandberg relates that, “because he looked inside and saw that perfectly normal things were taking place and nothing extraordinary, he became a visitor to the museum.”17 Sandberg’s natural inclination to not pre-judge the visitors to his museum, and his aversion to the highbrow, drove his desire to make the Stedelijk as welcoming as possible. In the case of his barber (and certainly others), Sandberg transferred the authority of the institution to the individual and in the process gained a patron. Sandberg must also be remembered for the introduction of electronic 106
technology to the art museum. The first use of a mediation device in an art museum–the audio guide–can be found, perhaps unsurprisingly, at the Stedelijk. In 1952, as part of his ongoing effort to make the Stedelijk more accessible to visitors, Willem Sandberg commissioned the Dutch electronics company, Philips, to develop a radio headset that visitors could use for a self-guided tour of key holdings in the museum, allowing them to impart meaning to artwork less on the museum’s terms and more on their own. Sandberg’s pre-recorded audio-guide had its limitations: it required a linear and fixed path through the museum, and permitted only a limited amount of time to be spent in front of any one artwork. But for the first time since the advent of the public art museum, museumgoers had an alternative to either the docent-led tour, museum label, or guidebook for information about what they were viewing. Additionally, the human voice heard through the audio guide personalized the museum for the visitor. Sandberg’s audio guide was introduced at the same time as the ICOM (International Council of Museums) conference was being held in Amsterdam, providing widespread exposure within the museum community to the Stedelijk’s new device. Loïc Tallon, chief digital officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, notes: Above all, I believe that it was the innovation and potential embodied within the audio guide that best
Stedelijk Museum Restaurant and Library, 1960. © Stedelijk Museum
explains why the Stedelijk Museum “invented” it. Whilst one could claim that what was achieved by the system could have been achieved through trained docents, this is too narrow a perspective. After all, this innovation went on to spawn what was arguably the most successful museum technology of the 20th century, and one of the most exciting of the early 21st century.18
Indeed, the proliferation of audio guides in art museums (and their successor, the smart phone app) has become an integral component of museum-going experience in the fiftyplus years since the debut of the audio guide at the Stedelijk.
The democratization and socialization of the public art museum has advanced rapidly since the middle of the twentieth century. The pace of these advancements has quickened considerably and, inevitably, led to the emergence of computer and digital technology as integral tools for today’s museums—such as the digital pen, introduced by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2015. These practices are conceived by exhibition designers and enlightened museum directors—such as Willem Sandberg, whose innovations can be felt in art museums to this day.
1. Universal Survey Museum is a term used by Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach to describe art museums that “present a broad range of art history” and are “indispensable ornaments of any great city.” [Duncan and
5. Ank Leeuw Marcar, Willem Sandberg, Portrait of an Artist (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2013), 58.
Wallach, “The Universal Survey Museum,” Art History 3, no. 4 (December 1980), 452.]. The Louvre, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are archetypal universal survey museums. Lawrence Levine notes that class differences among museum-goers were evident in these early museums: bowing to public pressure, the Metropolitan Museum of Art first opened for Sunday hours in 1891. At the time Museum Director Louis P. di Cesnola stated that Sunday visitors were accustomed to the dime museums on the Bowery “and had come here fully expecting to see freaks and monstrosities similar to those found there.” Lawrence Levine, High Brow/Low Brow: the Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1988), 183. 2. “The Getty.” www.getty.edu, accessed Ocober 30, 2016. http:// primose1.e.getty.edu:1701/primo_ library/libweb/action/dlDisplay. do?vid=GRI&afterPDS =true&institution =GETTY&docId=GETTY ALMA21128687600001551 3. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ways of Curating (New York: Faber & Faber, 2014), 67.
6. Ibid, 59. 7. Ibid., 60. 8. Ibid.,131. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Willem Sandberg and H.I.C. Jaffé. Pioneers of Modern Art in the Museum of the City of Amsterdam, trans. Ian C. Finlay (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1961), 402. 12. Ibid. 13. Marcar, 180. 14. Ibid. 15. Carol Duncan, “Art Museums and the Ritual of Citizenship.” In Interpreting Objects and Collections, Susan M. Pearce, ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 281. 16. Marcar, 106. 17. Ibid., 106-107. 18. “Is Augmented Reality the Ultimate Museum App? Some Strategic Considerations.” www. mobileappsformuseums.wordpress.com, accessed November 4, 2016. https:// mobileappsformuseums.wordpress. com/2011/08/05/is-augmented-realitythe-ultimate-museum-app-some-strategicconsiderations/
Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand 28 October 2016 – 21 May 2017 Rebecca Gross
Pump Up The Volume Popular New Zealand music is diverse and distinctive, influenced by the country’s isolated and remote location, highly multicultural population, and the way in which the nation synthesizes influences from all around the world. Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa is the first exhibition dedicated to popular New Zealand music; it celebrates seven decades of how music has been made, heard, and performed in New Zealand. When music is “on display” it is typically in the form of a concert. But the curators of Volume have transformed music – aural and intangible – into an exhibition that is visual and tangible. Through objects (costumes, instruments, awards, posters, and memorabilia), installations (a recording studio, record store, pub, and music variety 109
all images courtesy of / copyright of Auckland War Memorial Museum
show), and, of course, an aural component (background music, headphones to listen to tracks and albums, and playlists to save and download at home), the exhibition becomes a fully interactive and sensory experience that immerses visitors not just in New Zealand music but also in New Zealand culture. Volume turns the tables on the typical forward chronology of an exhibition, beginning in the 2000s and dialling back through each decade to the 1950s. As each period
of time is presented independent from what came before and after it, the exhibition is less about the evolution of music, and more about highlighting what made the music culture of each decade distinct. In addition, presenting the exhibition in reverse chronological order engages children and young adults right from the start. They can have their fun in the 2000s and 1990s and if they tire or lose interest around the 1980s and 1970s, then it leaves the 1960s and 1950s for those who lived it.
Catering to all age groups with its interactive elements, the exhibition buzzes with energy and activity. Visitors have the opportunity to produce a song in a recording studio, DJ at a mixing desk, flip through LPs in a record shop, perform on stage in a band, dance on the set of a 1960s television show, and be the face on the cover of a music magazine and poster. An electronic swipe pass enables visitors to download music playlists and videos to listen and watch at home.
Volume materializes New Zealand’s soundtrack. There are Lorde’s school shoes that she wore when she won a Grammy, the euphonium Don McGlashan played after his music teacher convinced him it would ‘get him lots of girls,’ the first synthesiser made in New Zealand in 1973 (homemade no less), and Split Enz’s colourful costumes, designed and made by one of the band members and just as theatrical and inventive as their music and concerts.
By giving physical presence to music through objects such as costumes, posters, handwritten sheets of lyrics, instruments, and spaces of production and performance, the exhibition becomes a display of New Zealand culture. It relays and interprets life in New Zealand through its influential, sentimental, home-grown, inventive, and sometimes downright unusual music. Given the size of the country and the population (not yet 4.5 million), it is a soundtrack with which
the vast majority of New Zealanders have grown up. For a humble people not given to exhibitionism or self-promotion, Volume not only displays the nationâ€™s music, musicians, and music culture, but also turns up the volume, so to speak, for visitors to recognize and appreciate the achievements of the countryâ€™s music industry and to celebrate New Zealand culture as a whole.
Overthrow Boxing NYC Gabrielle Golenda
Overthrow New York is an underground boxing gym located in a tenement building in the Lower East Side of the city. For 30 years, the twostory dwelling was headquarters of the Youth International Party (the Yippies), an organization that arose out of the anti-war movements of the â€™60s and became known for social and political activism for decades following. There, they published newspapers on political advocacy and the counter-culture throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Subsequently, it became home to the Yippie Museum until it eventually went into foreclosure in 2014. As the story goes, the founder of the gym, Joey Goodwin, spotted the building while riding his bike and ventured inside; after extensive research he decided to invest in its history.
opposite page: The former counterculture home of The Yippies a political activist group formed in the 1960â€™s, was taken over by Overthrow in June 2014. photo by John Gagliano below: photos by Charlie Himmelstein
The name, Overthrow, came from the stack of newspapers Goodwin happened upon when he first entered #9 Bleecker, its street address. For his part, Goodwin sees himself as paying tribute to the establishment’s history by keeping it front and center, showcasing an entire wall of the studio with copies of the revolutionary Overthrow zine. The walls surrounding the boxing ring are lined with posters from rallies and demonstrations, some of which were given to Goodwin by Youth International Party founder Abbie Hoffman. Underground, sparse neon lights cast a dark chiaroscuro-esque glow onto vintage metal lockers and
punching bags hung by industrial metal piping. All in all, the space feels genuinely tough and honest, like the ideal setting for a boxing club, a formidable community, or an underground movement. It is a melting pot of different subcultures of New York City’s past and present: the “hipster” underground boxing world, the real boxing world, and the activist counter-culture history of the Yippies. There’s not one way to sum up Overthrow, but if there was a single overarching theme, it would be: “What are you fighting for?”
View from the street â€” #9 Bleeker photo by John Gagliano
The Hidden Story of a Poster Sakura Nomiyama
Held in Osaka, Japan, Expo’70 was Asia’s first world’s fair since the 1910 Nanking Exposition. It was a great opportunity for the host country to demonstrate the rapid growth of its economy, science sector, technology, and culture. This signified Japan’s resurgence in the aftermath of World War II. It was also known as one of the first international mega-events – held in Japan – to incorporate graphic design projects, following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The latter pioneered a strategic visual communication system through pictograms and infographics. Expo’70 was expected to advance the mode of design totalization.
Yusaku Kamekura, one of the leading figures in modern Japanese graphic design, was invited to participate in a closed competition for the official poster design. His design for the Expo’70 poster was selected for the international campaign (fig. 1). A symbol placed in the center of the poster—but not designed by Kamekura—was the event’s official logo. It was based on the form of the cherry blossom, Japan’s national flower. Five petals represented the five continents and a circle in the middle stood for Japan. The scale of the logo was rather small in comparison to the size of the poster. Yet a number of
Fig. 1 Poster, Expo ‘70, Progress and Harmony for Mankind, 1970; Designed by Yusaku Kamekura (Japanese, 1915 - 1997); screenprint on paper; 106.4 x 74.2 cm (41 7/8 x 29 3/16 in.). Gift of Sara and Marc Benda, 2009-20-44. This was the oﬃcial poster of Expo’70 for the international campaign. 119
peripheral gold lines drew the viewer’s eyes to the center where the logo was placed. This dynamism successfully suggests the excitement of the event with a strong sense of unity coherent to the event’s theme: “progress and harmony for mankind.” In addition, this poster primarily embraced Japanese aesthetics through its limited use of colors. The combination of black, red and gold was evocative of Urushi lacquerware, Japanese craftwork. With these aforementioned characteristics, the Expo’70 poster seems to have been a perfect medium to attract the attention of an international audience. However, the designer was dissatisfied with his result.1 According to Kamekura, he proposed three different color schemes to create three different posters out of the same design concept. The first version used eight colors on a white background. The second version used eight colors on a black background (fig. 2). The
third version, which became one of the official posters, only used red and gold on a black background. In Kamekura’s opinion, the second multi-colored version would have been a better choice because it would have had more popular appeal.2 One might think that “popular appeal” is not necessary for a poster design announcing such a significant event. But it is important to note that Kamekura’s idea didn’t arise randomly, but was consistent with the key idea of selecting the event logo which, as already noted, was designed by someone else. “It [the design of the logo] is appropriate because it was created by an Osakabased designer and has the ambience of that city. It is naive and cheerful...,”3 commented Masaru Katsumi, the design critic and chairman of the exposition design committee, when the logo was selected. In this, he clearly recognized the importance of reflecting the popularity and locality of Osaka in the design projects. It is uncertain
Fig. 2 The second version of the proposed poster design by Kamekura. image source: Kamekura, Yosaku, Masataka Ogawa, Ikko Tanaka, and Kazumasa Nagai. Kamekura Yusaku no dezain. Tokyo: Rikuyosha, 2005. 121
whether Kamekura intentionally applied the same idea to his poster design that Katsumi did with the event logo design. Considering the fact that the second version of the poster didnâ€™t see the light of day, the characteristics of the Osaka venue werenâ€™t essential in conceptualizing the visual language of the exposition, at least, not for the international campaign. Instead, Japanese aesthetics were the first priority. In the end, design professionals and critics concluded that Expoâ€™70 was unsuccessful in terms of how holistically all the graphic design projects were carried out. There were also controversies about the selection of the event logo and the authority of the design committee.4 One cause for the inconsistent design policy resided in the complexity of filling in a knowledge
gap in Japanese culture: between local audiences and international audiences. It is arguable whether or not the multicolor poster design Kamekura thought would be more communicative in the international context would have been more successful than the one selected. Even though they used the same forms and symbols, differences in color scheme result in different impressions. But it is obvious that Kamekura was eager to depart from an established visual language of Japanese aesthetics and to explore a way in which to promote Japanese culture from a different perspective through his design. Poster design is one example of the fundamental difficulty in establishing a universal design policy for the exposition. Without knowing the process of design involved in this
project, it is hard to acknowledge its challenges by just looking at the final outcome. The poster is ultimately one visual solution, a product of ideas, circumstances and conditions of creation. In this sense, there are more aspects to be examined beyond what we see. Kamekura’s Expo’70 poster is a rare example of a designer expressing his personal viewpoint towards his work to reveal a hidden story. As a case study it provides a different perspective and way to see the poster.
NOTES 1. Yūsaku Kamekura, Masataka Ogawa, Ikkō Tanaka, and Kazumasa Nagai, Kamekura Yūsaku no dezain (Tokyo: Rikuyōsha, 2005), 211.
Osaka Expo ‘70 design project (Tokyo: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 2015), 13. 4. About the selection of the event logo: There were two closed competitions for the official logo design. The logo selected in the earlier competition was dismissed due to disapproval by the chairperson of the exposition committee. The official logo was selected from the second competition. The design committee wasn’t an official group for the exposition but it was a group of people who gathered to signify the importance of establishing the design policy for the exposition. Therefore, it didn’t have control over all of the design projects. Some members of the committee were invited to be part of the design projects and some even became juries for several design competitions for the exposition.
2. Ibid. 3. The National Museum of Modern Art,
Historicizing Conceptual Design Adrian Madlener
When considering the transformation of contemporary design in the past half-century, itâ€™s valuable to expand the definition of Postmodernism (1970s and 1980s). By doing so, we can understand the origins and progression of conceptual design: objects created to express ideas other than their primary function. Within this period, Italian Radical Design coincided with Brutalism and NeoExpressionism before shaping new codified directions such as Droog and Neo-Minimalism. Founded as a reaction to the universalist, categorical, and at times, fascist outcomes of Modernism, these design movements
mirrored societal change. PostIndustrialization, Poststructuralism and rampant Consumerism evolved into a new zeitgeist.1 Whereas the idea of plurality was the product of liberation and equality in the 1960s, the same notion of diversity manifested itself as deconstructed subjectivity, individualism and conspicuous consumption in the 1980s. Radical design that championed a level of vernacular or individual interpretation as a new social good made way for ironic contradiction that both parodied and celebrated new commercial conditions. At its most extreme, design shed its â€˜form follows functionâ€™ ideology
Vetrinetta di Famiglia by Ettore Sottsass image courtesy of Friedman Benda Gallery
to become another artistic medium for personal and metaphoric expression. The precedent set in motion by the late 1960s’ radical social and design revolution left a lasting impact. Derived from the fundamentals of Pop Art, the traditional borders separating art and design continue to blur today. This paper will explore the sometimes prophetic ideals of Italian designer Andrea Branzi – by way of contemporaries Alessandro Mendini, Michele de Lucchi, and Ettore Sottsass. It will also examine how Italian Radical design evolved into the Droog movement in the Netherlands. Tracking this lineage will reveal the foundation of the speculative, conceptual, ironic, expressive, and metaphoric approach to design.
Postmodernism To understand the ambiguous definition of Postmodernism – a peripheral condition of its own making – it is important to take a step back and position our present as separate from the era in question. Leading craft authority Glenn Adamson and historian Jane Pavitt describe the movement as flourishing between the economic recession of the early 1970s to the implementation of the internet in 1993.2 This paper will expand the period a bit further and will consider Droog as its continuation or transformation. Though this movement was more rationalized and socially conscious – marking a clear departure from the frivolity of the 1980s3 – it still employed the powerful tools of ironic 126
expression and metaphoric meaning indicative of Postmodernism. For many, Droog was seen as far more tame and anchored in a regained appreciation for function. Adamson and Pavitt describe Postmodernism as a form of contradiction and duality.4 Historian Michael Collins defines the period as an evolution – fueled by wit and humor – rather than a revolution. He explains: “It took stock of the old as well as absorbing the shock of the new.”5 Memphis (described below) – the Italian design movement that mutated from early radical and antidesign collectives such as Archigram (England), Archizoom, Alchimia, and Global Tools6 is the perfect example of this Postmodernism progression. Andrea Branzi, himself, was reflexively aware of the time as being transitional; what he defined as a second modernity. Between the timeframe set by Adamson and Pavitt, Branzi describes a rapid change in production and manufacturing conditions.7 Aesthetically, Postmodernism was steeped in the biformity of historical revivalism and advancing consumer culture; deriving from the satirical and directly referential nature of Pop Art in the 1960s. Collins states: “Postmodernist design is interwoven with Pop Art developments and represents a reaction against the pure ideas of ‘good form’ preached by the 1930s architects and patrons.”8 Employing the archetypes found in Modernistera commercial production, early Postmodern design, like Pop Art,
employed forms and iconography in new exaggerated iterations to self-critique their own nature. Contemporary German philosopher Jürgen Habermas defines this Postmodern condition as Performative Contradiction. In this case, the manner in which a critique is positioned employs the form and parameters of what it’s critiquing.9 Proponents of Italian Radical Design were similar to Pop artists such as Richard Hamilton, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol in their awareness of this condition. For example, Warhol’s directly referential Campbell’s Soup screen print (1968) can be compared to Archizoom’s Mies chair and footstool (1969, Poltronova) or De Pas, D’Urbino and, Lomazzi’s Blow inflatable chair (1967): a physical satire of Eileen Gray’s Bibendum chair (1929), which is itself a reference to the iconic Michelin Man.10 Branzi contemporary Alessandro Mendini easily drew from similar Pop Art foundations with his “objects for spiritual use.” In his designs, the traditional associations of use, form, and material were collaged together to express new ideas.11 However, these latter works were less direct and perhaps more subversive in communicating their intended meaning. Clearly, these postulations were created for the appreciation of an inner-circle – historians and practitioners – and less for a wider consumer-base. In many cases, this ambiguity was used to justify contradiction. Humoristic or satirical commentary appeared again in early 2000s, when Dutch design12 – a paradoxical condition that grew out of and away from the idea of simplicity
established by Droog in the early 1990s – came to the fore.13
Andrea Branzi A founding member of Archizoom,14 Andrea Branzi arrived into the professional sphere at a time when the fashionable Neo-Baroque and Neo-Art Nouveau styles had already marked an aesthetic deviation from the purist tenets of High Modernism but still relied on the “orthodox” principle of mass production. As mentioned above, Pop Art had already dissolved the standards of high and low art. Like other radical movements and schools, Archizoom borrowed this fundamental ideal but unlike other groups within Italian Radical Design, it didn’t refute consumerism.15 Though well explained as conceptual postulation, the satirical treatment of Modernistspawned consumerism would co-exist with its critique through the form of designed objects well into the height of Postmodernism. In defining the role of design in texts such as No-Stop City and Hot House, Branzi looks to dethrone the predominately Western European impetus towards scientific rationalism: the lineage between the Enlightenment and High Modernism that established universalist principles. For him, the very act of believing in “certainties”16 reveals “cracks in the value system”17 and a growing disconnection with reality.18 The standard that defined creative output had become “secularized.”19 The realities that Branzi addresses included 127
everything from increased globalism, environmental degradation, and the polarity between domestic and urban life,20 down to issues of mitigated technology, and cultural diversity. By accepting these realistic conditions, Branzi makes clear that design is not responsible for changing the world.21 Rather, the domain has to deal with fluctuating parameters. Alluding to the role of conceptual design, Branzi goes so far as to claim that design shouldn’t solve problems but rather create new ones.22 By this, he uses the cultural construct of design in shaping provocative commentary. In a 1997 interview with historian Cristina Morozzi, he explains: “today, the only certainty is uncertainty... This is the real second modernity: indeterminate, weak, [and] incomplete.”23 By suggesting more fluidity or ambiguity, he concedes that design has become riskier and more dangerous but at the same time, humanistic. Branzi’s goal is to recalibrate a new equilibrium. Architecture and design became tools to express this new condition while reflexively embodying these ideals. In the preface of the 1986 Animali Domestici catalogue, the designer wrote: In the Western world, the division of models of behavior into sectors, [sic] and the parallel rejection of established values of tradition has led mass culture to a sort of NeoPrimitivist re[-]foundation [sic] which may have had its ultimate expression in pop music. This code, disjointed but global, consumed by huge masses of society has begun to recreate a new majority. A new 128
archetypal ‘normality’ has emerged, electronic and multicolored... The new era requires the ability to produce stable codes, many stable codes, many compartments of the matrix on which the new normality is based... What is being created are many different stylistic enclaves, each of which is permanent, stable and pure: it is we who will take care of their contamination and their hybridization, by moving freely from one to another. The new standards are on their way.24
Like many of his contemporaries, Branzi was interested in re-establishing something close to William Morris’ idea of localism. Rather than creating products intended for the global market – without any consideration of cultural specificity – Branzi wanted to reintroduce vernacularity, and perhaps in turn, craft-based production. French art critic Pierre Restany explains: “Branzi’s protagonist rebels against any idea of global design, he falls back upon ‘domestic’ and ‘tribal’ values, in search of an optimum communication and consumption threshold.”25 This Neo-Primitivist condition is explained as the combination of new technology and a rediscovered nature.26 Ironically, Branzi called for dynamic resilience in dealing with cultural and societal fluctuations while still establishing set codes. Today, it’s clear that Branzi’s 1997 statement – declaring instability as the only stability – was perhaps the most founded and enduring of his ideals. The duality of localism and connectivity today seems utopian and unattainable within
Knotted Chair, designed 1996, produced 2008; Designed by Marcel Wanders (Dutch, b. 1963); Italy; rope (aramid fibers over carbon core; macramĂŠ knotting technique), soaked in epoxy resin, dried; H x W x D: 70.8 x 53.3 x 63.5 cm (27 7/8 x 21 x 25 in.); Gift of Cappellini; 2008-23-1 129
the current zeitgeist. However, what remains interesting from this Animali Domestici passage is the definition of hybridization; perhaps the truest form of unwavering stability. As is evident in the work of other Postmodernists, the quality of intermixing and remixing contradictory elements, aesthetic compositions, ironic treatments of historical references, and unconventional materials became a new method. One of the most notable examples of this approach was Mendini’s pointillist-inspired Proust chair (1978, Alchimia) – clearly alluding to nostalgia but also Fin-deSiecle sentiment, as a form of subversive or nihilistic interpretation;27 not to mention the stylistic eclecticism of the late nineteenth century. Another of Branzi’s contemporaries, Michele de Lucchi offered his own philosophic underpinning for this design method: “History is not only the past, but the awareness of where we are, where we come from, and above all where we want to go.”28 Offering slight variation on classics, Mendini projected archetypical forms through styles with non-traditional historical associations. Historian Graziella Leyla Ciagà also explained this approach as: “giving new visual meaning to existing things, working from overlapping and crosspollination.”29 Branzi described the effectiveness of such an approach through the observation that people judge forms from a conscious or subconscious historical vantage point.30 In other words, all three designers strategically employed recognizable symbols and idioms to satirize and offer new “food for thought.”31 130
When describing the Animali Domestici collection, Branzi not only defended the obvious connotations of hybridization that came with material juxtapositions – combining found twigs and solid concrete – but also achieved the conventional existential role of function,32 he also determined that the objects were domestic [“pets”] born of “hybrid love between different creatures.”33 This kind of treatment – giving specific characteristics to individual pieces – is one of the first design collections oriented to the conceptual framework of the limited edition market still prevalent today. A singular design not only became valuable because of its exclusive material make up but because it was infused with relatable features – whether of its original state or gained through use. What is perhaps most interesting to retain from this particular design movement as the result of a new practice and evocation of observation,34 are the multiple levels of message imbued within the form of a single object or serried designs. Again Restany provides a clear explanation: These ‘Domestic Animals’ are very effective fetishes, for strictly personal use; contemplative objects, props for meditation – mediation in a dual sense, that of the in-self and the for-self, mediation on human nature and the nature of things... The Domestic Animals are the bearers of redoubtable questions: our own, those of the present time in which we live as primitives in a tribalism on its way.35
Message and Metaphor Designed objects have always contained social, political, cultural, and personalized value. However, the use of the design practice and the resulting forms – created for the function of speculation – arose with the advent of, and conditions afforded to, movements such as Radical Italian Design. In his 1997 interview with Morozzi, Branzi explained this phenomenon: It is true that my projects often contain a metaphor: I believe that I form part of a tradition which has always given Italian artistic and technical culture the role of conveying information far beyond simple aesthetics and functionality. In this sense, I hold that the quality of a project can never be circumscribed by the occasion, but must be related to the broader questions of the discipline.36
Justifying much of what was explained above, defining design’s new role within Postmodernism, Branzi’s explanation defends the infusion of conceptual message within an object saying that it does not necessarily eclipse its primary purpose of everyday function. Often times, the use of that design inspires reactions that reveal the purpose of its metaphoric underpinning. De Lucchi offers insight: The evolution that the contemporary world requires are expressed in the concentration and the contemporary effectiveness of all messages that we could call indirect. Yet indirect does not mean secondary; rather, as often
happens in language, it is the deepest and least external concepts that fit the true meaning to things.37
As with any other output of Postmodernism, an object contains a plurality of function and meaning; both direct and indirect. Branzi’s “new design” was not only defined as the product of a culturally-specific craft, the hybridization of idiosyncratic references, and technological production, but also the expression of metaphoric inquiry. It might even be determined that this method provided designers with the means to circumvent the market’s rapidly increasing annexation of creativity;38 itself employing incendiary, ‘artistic,’ and sensationalist tactics. De Lucchi explained this on a emotional and haptic level: I am still convinced that we live in an [sic] romantic age, the more consumerism goes on, the more need of romanticism we have. Today everything is made to strike your senses, and this is the pure matrix of romanticism. Today you need to excite.39
In matching the conditions of multiplicity and emotionally-driven subversion, Branzi describes Mendini’s practice as perhaps the ultimate means of bypassing these new market strategies while still using them as parameters: Contemporary design finds itself faceto-face with two different territorial 131
options: the first of these is represented by the real market, where projects exist, to become goods that are bought and used, while the second of these is represented by the media territory, where the objects may even not exist physically, as their virtual image alone influences taste, the visual culture and therefore the world of ideas.40
When considering some of Mendini’s later work, a few Memphis icons, or recent limited edition design, the notion of use has become less important over time – and the boundaries between art and design lose definition. In his 1997 interview with Morozzi, Branzi explained this changed condition: “Art produced new languages and design used them. These two forms of thought sometimes dialogue, exchanging information and experiences. The exchange works, as long as it is not programmed or defined.” As the movement progressed, the ‘softer’ metaphoric condition of design expanded as means for personal expression, that of the designer and, in rare cases, the consumer’s. Such a condition is more akin to conceptual art. In analyzing Branzi’s approach, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki describes the paradigm: “Such is design in a society which demands objects able to enter into and maintain relationships with their users, not only on the technical and functional level, but also on the psychological, symbolic, and poetic level.”41
Droog Design As Postmodernism progressed into the 1980s individualism became the new 132
dogma. Conceptual design became less critical and more expressive. The idea of collective and political change were slowly annexed by full-fledged consumerism, throw-away culture, and arguably, a new level of hedonism. Droog co-founder Renny Ramakers describes the decade and the lead up to the 1990s as follows: The experiments of the eighties were geared to the consumer culture and capitalized on the almost limitless possibilities of the Post-Industrial era... There was no more moralizing of the kitsch and bad taste. These had become an unavoidable part of reality and a potential source of great beauty.42
It could be said that the more socio-political mandate of earlier Italian Radical Design was sublated into mass culture or transversely brought to fruition. It is perhaps the difficulty of contradiction inherent to Postmodernism that can explain the issue. However, Italian design movements like Memphis still valued analytical awareness. To highlight the new reality, designers in this movement employed, and boldly accepted the very commercial parameters in place. Memphis group founder Ettore Sottsass once defined this approach as follows: If a society plans obsolescence, the only possible enduring design is one that deals with that obsolescence, a design that comes to terms with it, maybe accelerating it, maybe confronting it, maybe ironizing it, maybe getting along with it... I don’t
understand why enduring design is better that disappearing design.43
Although this statement is in and of itself a form of provocation, the use of the terms “ironizing” is evidence that much of what this paper discusses, in correlation to the advent of conceptual design, continued through the 1980s. As much as metaphor and expression could be conceptually contained within an object, the notion of direct satire still borrowed from the precedence set by Pop Art. The historically referential nature of Postmodern design became even bolder. The mimicking of Neoclassical marble as printed laminate in Sottsass’ Carlton shelf (1981, Memphis), for example, was both a form of material and metaphoric irony. Collins defined Memphis as a fruit salad mixing in both historical and popular culture associations.44 Perhaps this reality evolved out of Branzi’s theory of hybridization or simply, revived eclecticism. Returning to the idea of personal expression, the movement pushed new boundaries in allowing design to become another artistic medium.45 However, according to Ramakers, Memphis had become a manneristic pastiche of itself. Still, the designer once gave Memphis and perhaps the larger period of Italian Radical-cumAnti Design its credit: It is 1991[.] ten years have passed since the Italian design group Memphis put on its first show in Milan. Ten years of particularly fruitful experimenting: an all-out confrontation with the rational
and analytical design that have developed since Bauhaus days. The psychological, symbolic and poetic values of the product now came to the fore. Designers eagerly dipped into all available resources and didn’t hesitate to mix them: high culture, low culture, no culture; home-grown and foreign, present and past, high-technology[,] and crafts.46
Established in 1993 by Ramakers and jewelry designer Gijs Bakker, the new Amsterdam-based Droog platform has remained a production house and launch pad for many top Dutch designers. The movement’s name was chosen to both reference a tradition of Dutch pragmatism and recalibration of Neo-Minimalism in the early 1990s. Along with other designers and schools of thought, Droog took on the role of conceptual design. Vocabulary like ‘memory’ and ‘appropriation’ joined terms like metaphor, expression, and irony.47 The use of material did not have to follow the conditions of quality or mass production. Readdressing environmental issues, the techniques of recycling and up-cycling took both physical and metaphoric value.48 Droog differed from Memphis by attempting to find alternatives to rampant consumer culture.49 The movement sought to create limited edition designs that not only formed out of designers’ personal expression but that could be valued and adapted by users. With this, there is a clear connection to the “Abnormal Normality”50 tenets of Branzi’s Animali Domestici philosophy. Dutch design critic Louise Schouwenberg describes 133
Droog designs as personified actors that should be cherished and given almost individualistic characteristics.51 Like much of Postmodernism, Droog valued pluralism but still looked to anchor its designs in a new understanding of functionalism.52 Much Like Branzi’s promotion of instability as a core condition of contemporary design, the guiding principle of this Dutch movement relied on adaptability. Ramakers explains: Our criteria are flexible, shaped as they are by the developments in product culture and by whatever direction designers are heading in. The only constant is that it is worked out along lines that are clear-cut and compelling.53
Ultimately, Droog adapted Branzi’s practice of adding physical and associative layers to objects with a lessis-more approach. The groundwork54 for allowing everyday products to contain meaning had already been laid. Droog routed this method back in a level of almost Modernist purism. There was no longer a need to make bold, hybridized Pop-Art-like direct references. Still, It might be argued that to use old glass containers as light shades – Tejo Remy’s Milk Bottle Lamp (1991, Droog), for example. – is just a new more sophisticated and subversive form of provocation. As stated earlier in this paper, objects have always been infused with social, political, cultural, and personal 134
meaning. However, such projections have often been intentional or come about through changing uses. The manner in which material culture is understood – everything from a cigarette case to an automobile – has rapidly changed in the past few decades. Though the associations made with historical objects seem to be frozen in photographic or nostalgic time, new correlations can be formed. Post-Structuralists often argue that traditional historical recollection is mired in cultural stigma. Seemingly in its attempt to refute, or at least reflexively critique, the conditions of Modernism, movements such as Italian Radical Design adopted similar dualistic and pluralistic approaches to reconstitute the discipline, at times, readdressing history. Andrea Branzi employed design to express and embody his message of ‘new design.’ Physical forms are dynamically interwoven with their referential content. For many of the Italian Radical designers, the parameters of this domain became an avenue, much like conceptual imagery or even writing, to embody and express new social and cultural ideals. Even if it pushed new values, Droog upheld this core approach. Manifest conceptual or indirectly referential endeavors are often considered arbitrary; they can appear too simply based on tactics of free association and open interpretation. Though some practitioners and provocateurs hide behind their proclaimed ambiguity, much of what
is produced or expressed within this realm is highly calculated. The ultimate goal is to change perception; not always in a direct manner but through the possible confusion that comes with abstraction. Sensational shock can spark awareness of the intended message. What counts is the process of analysis and the tools used to arrive at various conclusions. The latest mutations of conceptual design have arrived in the limited edition or art design markets. Evidently, designers have remained purely concerned with personal expression. A few use the domain to attempt deeper critique. We are left with a series of questions. Was the form-based impetus set in motion by early Postmodernism – Italian Radical Design – effective in addressing ‘real’ issues? Did it establish a more conducive approach to diverse actors and their content? Should conceptual design remain detached so as to mirror society from a safe distance? In what ways can the issues addressed through ‘artistic’ postulation inform or trickle back down to everyday design objects and material culture? How can consumergrade products contain deeper critical meaning?
NOTES 1. Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion (London: V&A, 2011), 13. 2. Adamson and Pavitt, 9. 3. Paola Antonelli, “Nothing Cooler than Dry,” in Droog Design Spirit of the Nineties, ed. Renny Ramakers and Gijs Bakker (Rotterdam: Nai010, 1998), 14. 4. Adamson and Pavitt, 10. 5. Michael Collins, Towards Post-Modernism: Design Since 1851 (London: British Museum, 1994), 8. 6. Ibid., 119. 7. Andrea Branzi, Francois Burkhardt, and Cristina Morozzi, Andrea Branzi, ed. Pierre Staudenmeyer, trans. Stephen Wright and Brian Holmes (Paris: Dis Voir, 1997), 9. 8. Collins, 117. 9. Martin Morris, “On the Logic of the Performative Contradiction: Habermas and the Radical Critique of Reason,” The Review of Politics 58, no. 4 (Autumn 1996). 10. Collins, 119. 11. Graziella Leyla Ciagà and Alessandro Mendini, Alessandro Mendini, trans. Sylvia Adrian Notini (Milan: Ore Cultura, 2011), 36. 12. Jeroen Junte, Hands On, Dutch Design in the 21st Century (Zwolle, Netherlands: WBooks, 2012), 7.
13. Ellen Lupton, “Simplicity,” in Droog Design Spirit of the Nineties, ed. Renny Ramakers and Gijs Bakker (Rotterdam: Nai010, 1998), 81. 14. Collins, 119. 15. Ramakers & Bakker, 31. 16. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 17. 17. Ibid., 37. 18. Ibid., 10. 19. Ibid., 9. 20. Ibid., 10. 21. Ibid., 13. 22. Ibid., 17. 23. Quoting Andrea Branzi, Ibid., 37. 24. Andrea Branzi and Nicoletta Branzi, “Domestic (and Not Trained) Animals,” introduction to Domestic Animals: The Neoprimitive Style (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987). 25. Pierre Restany, foreword, in Domestic Animals: The Neoprimitive Style. 26. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 16. 27. Ramakers & Bakker, 30. 28. Silvia Suardi, Michele De Lucchi: Domotolomeo (Milan: Skira, 2002), 21.
33. Branzi and Branzi, “Domestic (and Not Trained) Animals.” 34. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 9. 35. Restany, foreword. 36. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 10. 37. Suardi, 30. 38. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 17. 39. Suardi, 109. 40. Ciagà & Alessandro Mendini, 5. 41. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 17. 42. Ramakers & Bakker, 33. 43. Quoting Ettore Sotsass, Ramakers & Bakker, 30. 44. Collins, 122. 45. Ramakers & Bakker, 33. 46. Ramakers & Bakker, 34. 47. Schouwenberg, Louise. “Familiar Not so Familiar.” In Simply Droog: 10 + 1 Years of Creating Innovation and Discussion, by Renny Ramakers and Aaron Betsky (Amsterdam: Droog, 2004), 36. 48. Antonelli, 15. 49. Ibid., 12. 50. Branzi, Domestic Animals.
29. Ciagà and Mendini, 25.
51. Schouwenberg, 45.
30. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 51.
52. Ibid., 37.
31. Ciagà, 26.
53. Ramakers & Bakker, 9.
32. Branzi, Burkhardt, & Morozzi, 16.
54. Ibid., 33.
Beyond Face Value: The Different Meanings of Heritage Rebecca Gross
Two Modernist buildings sit on each side of Circular Quay on Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Opera House, Jørn Utzon’s masterpiece, which opened in 1973, is to the east. Sirius, a social housing apartment complex that opened in 1980—a rare example of Brutalist architecture in Australia—is to the west. The opera house has World Heritage listing. The social housing apartment complex is under threat. The government of the state of New South Wales plans to demolish Sirius and sell the site. The Save Our Sirius foundation has been established to fight for the preservation of the Brutalist building not only for its architectural value, but with a goal to retain a portion of it for public housing—in order to maintain the diversity of residents in the local area and to re-house those who have been forcibly evicted. At this stage, less than a handful of residents remain. The case for Sirius comes at a time of heightened focus on the architecture of Sydney as it goes through a large-scale transformation, and as the Sydney Living Museum’s exhibition Demolished Sydney highlights 13 former buildings that tell the story of Sydney from its convict beginnings to its industrial and metropolitan growth. Both the exhibition and the threatened housing development bring attention to the forces that literally shape our changing cities and ask us to consider how we evaluate buildings as “heritage,” particularly those of more recent vintage. While they may not have accrued the years of history typically associated with being “heritage,” these structures still remain exceptional architectural and cultural examples of 137
Fig. 1 Sirius, courtesy of and copyright Katherine Lu.
a significant time period, and may provide more than what appears as face value. Specifically designed for its site, Sirius was created to provide high-quality public housing for low- income and aging residents. In contrast to the celebrated Sydney Opera House across the water, it is not everyone’s aesthetic cup of tea, which is largely the case for many Brutalist structures. Designed by Tao Gofers, the form of Sirius is inspired by Sydney’s rows of Victorian terrace houses and modern city towers built in the 1960s and 1970s. Its stacked and staggered rectangular concrete volumes give the project its distinctive, dominating, and for some, contentious identity. Behind the façade, each apartment (two, three and four-bedroom dwellings) has views and natural light, and is configured for ease of accessibility into and within the building. There are communal terraces, roof gardens, and social spaces throughout the structure. However, the case for saving Sirius goes beyond the building’s architectural merits. It extends to the diversity of demographics it brings to the local area and to the community spirit it brought to the now-evicted residents. Developed in the mid-tolate 1970s, Sirius represents the search for housing solutions that engaged community participation and enabled long-time residents to continue to live in historic working-class neighbourhoods. Gentrification of these inner-city areas has since pushed
out low-income earners to cater to those with far greater financial means. Saving Sirius is not just about preserving architecture but also about preserving community. It was designed to foster a sense of community within the building, and it was developed with respect to its surrounding community. There is now a broader group of people who are fighting to save the building – via a crowdfunded legal campaign – as the state government looks only to the economic value of the site and rejects Sirius’s appeal for heritage status. Their battle for the preservation of Sirius goes beyond the building’s architectural and cultural value, and represents the values of inclusion and diversity instilled by this social housing project itself. The Demolished Sydney exhibition and the struggle over Sirius demonstrate that Sydney, like many cities around the world, has been built and rebuilt over time. Indeed, the architecture of the Sydney Opera House itself, celebrated and enjoying lifelong protection, came at the loss of the 1902 Fort Macquarie Tram Shed, demolished in 1958 to make way for the opera house. Thus as buildings are earmarked for demolition or preservation, it encourages us to consider the different meanings of “heritage” – the architectural, cultural, and, in the case of Sirius, social value of buildings – and presents the opportunity for citizens to become one of the driving forces that shape the city they live in. 139
Website Review Inside InsideInside.org Julia Pelkofsky
The way interiors are constructed, decorated, and utilized reflects the culture which created them. Interiors act as markers of both tradition and fashion. Through reinvention or rebuke, past interiors leave their mark on contemporary spaces. They serve as sources of inspiration for decorators, designers, and historians. It is this function of interiors—that of the muse—that InsideInside.org offers the online viewer. InsideInside is an online database of historic, modern, and contemporary interiors. The database’s online platform allows access to interiors across the globe by supplying; images of rooms, floor plans, and elevations; information about makers, dates, and materials; bibliographic resources; and related websites. Beyond data, InsideInside proposes relationships between interiors that might not be immediately obvious. First, the interiors displayed on the site’s homepage are randomized and change each time the site is accessed to offer new perspectives. Second, the site banner lists categories to define spaces: art, nature, history, fiction, and science. Interiors are linked through these designations to expand understanding of the various ways in which interior space affects us. Nature, for instance, links seemingly disparate projects—like Javier Senosiain’s Organic House in Mexico and King Ludwig II’s Venice Grotto
opposite: Homescreen, Desktop View, InsideInside.org photos: Thomas Ledl, Bruce Berkow, Alain Steinberg, Carmelo Bayarcal, Michael Moran, Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Jean-Christophe Benoist, Anagoria, Lluis Carbonnell, CC BY-SA 4.0. 4, Laura & Fulvio, Reskelinen, Antoine Taveneaux, Michal Osmenda 140
at Linderhof Palace in Germany— which incorporate and manipulate natural elements into internal structures. Third, there is a curated section or online exhibition space which invites historians to select and group interiors from the site with an accompanying text to articulate the rationale behind their selections. InsideInside.org was created by Professor Johanne Woodcock, Director of AAS and BFA Interior Design at The New School, who began the site as a reference for her students. Through the work of site librarian, Rachel Cassiman, also the Reference and Instruction Librarian at The New School; research assistants from Parsons School of Design and Cooper
Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program, Sarah Mallory, Molly Martien, Marlena Matute, Rita Ostrova, Carolina Valdes-Lora, and myself; web development by Parsons MFA Design and Technology students, Andrea Bradshaw, Lien Tren, Weiting Zhang, and currently Saman Tehrani, supported by Scot Weir; and graphic design by Parsons alum, Maria Alcira Gonzalez, the website has developed into a reference tool for designers and scholars alike. To build upon existing site content InsideInside.org invites feedback from users so as to continually enhance its offerings.
Interior Element, Desktop View, InsideInside.org Photos: Alain Steinberg, Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Angoria, Carmelo Bayarcal, Bruce Berkow 142
Gallery Review Graffiti: Materiality, Accessibility, Equality Catherine Powell
“Hi, How are you?” “i Love You So Much.” Austin’s love affair with wall art – some sanctioned and some, not quite – can be observed during a short stroll just about anywhere in the city. With an enthusiasm that verges on cultish devotion, Austin’s most popular wall paintings have been reproduced on t-shirts, ceramic coasters, coffee mugs, and accent pillows, sold in tourist haunts and IT shops alike. The Hope Outdoor Gallery, located in downtown Austin, is a self-described “community paint park” that relies upon this appreciation of wall art, the creativity of the population at large and the accessibility of graffiti art, that transforms an abandoned concrete structure built into the hillside. The artwork here illustrates, in technicolor, the siren call of spray paint, heard by teenagers since aerosol and paint found one another. It is as 143
previous page: South Congress Street, Austin, TX image in the public domain below: Wall art, South Congress Street, Austin, TX image in the public domain
The Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin, TX image in the public domain
much a space that appears designed for selfies as it is a place inviting people to leave their mark. The Hope Outdoor Gallery (“HOG”) was established in March 2011 as part of HOPE, a non-profit organization whose mission is to connect creative people with social justice causes around the world. The brainchild of contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey, HOPE provides opportunities for artists, producers, musicians, and other “creatives” to collaborate and host
events that benefit their chosen causes. According to HOG, it is the only outdoor gallery of its kind in the United States. The only rules are that artists register with the project (loosely enforced), respect the art that is already in place, be courteous to the neighborhood and dispose of trash. Thanks in part to artists such as Basquiat and Banksy, the idea that graffiti can be art is largely accepted. However, for most communities and law enforcement agencies, 145
Wall art, Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX photography by Author
the definition of graffiti still implies trespass and illicit activity. Indeed, even in Austin, the local government encourages residents to call 9-1-1 if they see “anyone in the act of graffiti.” The HOG offers an opportunity for artists to explore the tension between prohibition and acceptance; between the spontaneous marking of a building or other public surface as an act of deviance, defiance and rejection of rules and the planned, welcome expression of that same creative impulse in a designated space. The HOG is a space where art and messages of different nature and styles coexist – an unofficial archive of 146
colorful discourse, mundane perhaps, but also existential. Artists convey messages on a spectrum drawn from love to rejection. More than words and images, however, these artistic expressions acquire a new, deeper meaning by virtue of their materiality and scale. More than particles of pigment, the art becomes one with the concrete on which it is applied. Candy-colored expressions of love become immutable and irrevocable. Paired with the painting of a skull left over from a celebration of Día de los Muertos (or the image of a rainbow flag or of a taco), it becomes by turn a reminder of the transience of life and love, a
political statement or a marker of local pride (arguably, an obsession with it). The meaning of the art can also change dramatically with the weather: an emoticon blowing a kiss, cheerful in the midday sun, becomes a monument to irony in pre-storm gloom. Although imbued with ‘concreteness,’ the gallery is far from static. The art changes continually, emphasizing its temporality. The constant metamorphosis of the space reflects the accessibility of the gallery and of the art it supports. The HOG is open every day and there is no admission fee. There is also no catalogue, no
didactic labels to read, no line to get in and no crowd around “that famous painting.” There are no costly commissions or acquisitions. There are almost no restrictions on subject matter—or whose work is included in terms of race, gender or creed. Unlike any traditional gallery or museum, the art can be made by anyone, and understood by anyone. The HOG has achieved what most museums continually struggle to represent: a dedication to the democratization of art—accessible, popular, and appreciated. As the wall reads: You’re My Butter Half.”
Wall art, United Way for Greater Austin Building, Martin Luther King Blvd., Austin, TX image in the public domain 147
Thinking about Thinx Advertising Alison Underwood
The Thinx ad campaign first appeared in the New York Subway System (MTA) in November 2015—but not without a fight. Outfront Media, the group who reviews ads for the MTA, found both its language and imagery distasteful.1 This was a curious reaction, considering that Thinx set out to design a campaign that was both elegant and aesthetically pleasing—but not so curious when you realize that Thinx produces “underwear for women with periods.” By and large the ads feature young women and fruit in environments of flat and sophisticated color palettes. The women recline or contort themselves in stylish mid-century modern chairs. Despite these high-brow elements, Outfront Media took issue with the ads’ use of the word “period” and their thinly veiled allusions to female anatomy using halved and dripping grapefruits (or even cracked eggs).
opposite: image courtesy of Thinx
Novelty of product and copy isn’t the only thing that sets the Thinx ad campaign apart though. Whereas most advertisements for women’s undergarments are saturated with sexualized female bodies, Thinx manages to promote women’s underwear without relying on objectification. The models in the ad don’t give half-smiles or languish over couches but rather sit rigidly and sometimes upside-down (almost in yoga poses). They turn their heads out of the frame, refusing to meet the viewer’s gaze; instead they command attention with cool indifference. It’s not just that the models would appear at home in New York City’s SoHo gallery district; it’s also that iterations of the ads embody a sensibility closer to the contemporary art scene than advertising. Thinx’s target audience appears to be young women who are well-heeled, urban, and socially liberal. The tone of their ads is conversational and humorous. One ad reads: “Period-proof underwear that protects you from leaks and sometimes the patriarchy, but not from manspreading. We tried tho.”2 This clever mention of the gendered etiquette of manspreading—and use of online or text spelling—attempts to connect cheekily with a woman who at that very moment might be
crammed into half a seat on a train because of it. Thinx does appear progressive in its language and address. While most brands speak to women’s need to be ‘empowered,’ Thinx’s blatant and surprising acknowledgement of menstruation and patriarchy in its ad copy appears to address the adversary “patriarchy” – very directly. But the political reach of such personal and largely unseen items as underwear remain divorced from collectivist goals. By conflating the act of purchasing a good with defending oneself from patriarchy, Thinx positions individual consumption as an alternative to more effective feminist actions.3 Choosing underwear with a ‘feminist’ spin is not the same thing as being a feminist or political activist. Moreover, Thinx does not stray too far from traditional patriarchal representations of women, such as their association with nature or occupation of interior spaces. Less cynically, the very presence of the Thinx ads in highly visible spaces such as the New York subway system contributes to normalizing the conversation around menstruation, which remains a taboo topic. Thinx also sends a portion of its sales profits to AFRIpads, a group in Uganda that trains and employs women to make long-wearing and reusable pads. These pads have a positive effect on girls and women who might otherwise be prohibited from
certain aspects of social life while menstruating. Additionally, Thinx recently included a transgender man in their advertising which confirms the very contemporary fact that not only women get their period. What remains overwhelmingly clear is that issues of liberation, commodity, and politics cannot be easily untangled. Perhaps it is more productive to acknowledge the curious ways in which advertising can simultaneously serve to promote and hinder social equality.
NOTES 1. Rachel Krantz, “Thinx underwear ads on NYC subway are up – but the company has another big announcement,” Bustle (Nov. 9, 2015) https://www.bustle.com/ articles/122564-thinx- underwear-ads- on nyc- subway-are- up-but-the- company-hasanother-big- announcement. 2. Erin Nelson, “Period Piece: How Feminist Brands Are Using Storytelling,” The Content Strategist (December 03, 2016) https://contently.com/ strategist/2016/04/22/period-piece/. 3. Andi Zeisler, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement (New York: BBS, PublicAffairs, 2016).
image courtesy of Thinx
Design and Identity: Artifacts of African American Representation National Museum of African American History and Culture Narender Strong
By design, history is a configuration of narratives imbued with cultural sentience. Whether cultural memory is expressed concretely as material culture or more abstractly through architectural patrimony, this sentience is central to the identity narratives explored by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opened in Washington, D.C. in September of 2016. One hundred years in the making and long overdue, it is “the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture.”1 Through its distinctive architectural design and its exhibition of more than 36,000 artifacts spanning 400 years, NMAAHC functions as an identity museum and cultural edifice of critical design. For centuries America’s history has obscured essential facts about African and African American history. With its assertive scholarship and curatorial authority, NMAAHC offers a canonical re-presentation of American history, memory, identity and achievement inclusive of the African American experience from African and pre-colonial history to transatlantic slavery, colonial America, the Civil War, the Reconstruction era, Jim Crow segregation laws, the Civil Rights Movement and the modern era of the Black Lives Matter movement—all as substantiated facts of the African diaspora and African American experience. Distinctly necessary, NMAAHC provides a socio-historical counternarrative that refutes America’s historical negationism that has intentionally omitted substantial records of the atrocities of slavery 152
Fig. 1 The NMAAHC next to the Washington Monument photo credit: Narender Strong
Fig. 2 The three-tiered shape Corona photo credit: Narender Strong
and racial oppression. The museum proffers, through its impressive object collection under Museum Director Lonnie Bunch and critical design by British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, a re-narration of American history in such a way that it contextualizes the co-dependent histories of western colonization and Black History to frame a complete and more accurate narrative of American history. 154
Designed by Adjaye, as part of the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, NMAAHC is Smithsonianâ€™s 19th museum. The team broke ground in 2012 and completed the building in 2016 erecting more than half of its structure below ground level with four stories of gallery space rising above. Prominently situated on the National Mall, next to the iconic Washington Monument (fig. 1), it is an intrepid 400,000 square-foot darkskinned structure of scale, materiality
and light. It rises majestically near the center of the National Mall as a monument and modern temple of African American identity. Its edifice is made of solid cast bronze with 3,600 lattice façade panels enveloping the exterior to form a three-tiered ornamental trapezoidal stacked shape, known as the “Corona.” (fig. 2) The Corona (or crown) was inspired by the work of Olowe of Ise, a 20th-century Yoruba craftsman, and is also an architectonic reference to the fine sculptural works and craft traditions of the Yoruba people, one of the largest West African ethnic groups. The Corona reaches toward the sky as a reverent ornament to affirm the significance and mobility of the Black American trajectory. It is an affirmative interpretation of Black identity and the will to overcome using the tenets of selfdetermination: faith, hope and resiliency. The open-weave lattice panels pay particular homage to the nineteenth-century wrought ironwork and guild traditions of enslaved African Americans from the southern regions of Louisiana and South Carolina recognizing the diverse contributions of various African American populations.
patrimony is critical but not a diatribe. He has endowed the museum with bold African-inspired abstract forms to contrast with the neoclassical architecture of the adjacent monuments and memorials. He has referenced an Afrocentric vocabulary as an allegorical edict to the building’s surrounding landscape, powerfully expressive of the poet Langston Hughes’s affirmation, “I too am America.”2 Afrocentrism in this context does not imply a unitary cultural reference; instead it affirms that African Americans have cultural roots steeped in the African diaspora and traceable to distinct antecedents. He also selected a richly visible dark exterior to diversify the Mall’s aesthetic, rather than replicate it: a visual antithesis to an otherwise white monochromatic marble landscape. Yet, he acknowledges the museum’s relationship to the environment by matching the Corona’s design to the 17-degree angle of the capstone atop the Washington Monument, which was itself adapted from the form of an ancient Egyptian obelisk. He further projects sentiments of belonging and inclusion by bringing the larger composition of the Mall into the museum’s open landscape design.
As lead designer, Adjaye has looked to the past for historical context and propagated different architectural configurations to intelligently articulate the pluralisms of African American culture while diplomatically opposing the Mall’s homogeneity. His architectural
For the interior, Adjaye has used design to reflect African American identity dialectically and triumphantly over the problems of the nation’s past. He has consciously affirmed Black America’s trajectory by configuring a perpetual journey of progress in the museum’s multi155
level structure. He and Bunch have relegated the atrocities of America’s history to large subterranean chambers, where small galleries are connected by ramps leading up from the lowest level devoted to the origins of the transatlantic slave trade and its aftermath; and then to the triumphant celebrations and jubilatory achievements of Black Americans on the two top public floors, including exhibits on the military, pop culture, sports, and art. The interior’s magnificent light is created by the openings in the Corona, which form a perimeter zone and surround the aboveground primary galleries. Daylight enters the interior through the filigree patterned openings and skylights, which also allow strategic views onto the symbolic landscape where the eastfacing cutaways frame the National Mall. During the early evening, and at night, the Corona’s bronze hue softly gleams like a contemporary African sculpture against the Mall’s white stone façades. The density of the latticed panels modulates the flow of sunlight into the interior. In this context there is a stark contrast between the warm radiant flux of sunlight on the four aboveground galleries and the other half of the museum—which is underground. The subterranean structure establishes the most meaningful counterpoint to the sunny story told above. It is this interplay of light and dark that remains key to the museum’s identity narratives and 156
immersive exhibitions. Visually and emotionally riveting, the museum has astutely curated a diverse collection of cultural artifacts, relics and visual media including remnants of the 221-year old São José-Paquete de Africa, a Portuguese slave ship (c. 1794); a bible belonging to Nat Turner (1830s); a baby’s cradle with shackles (before 1860); a slave cabin from Point of Pines Plantation in Charleston County, South Carolina (1800–1850); a gospel hymnal owned by Harriet Tubman (c. 1876), a Southern Railway passenger car from the segregationist “Jim Crow” era (c. 1922); postcards capturing the ruins and destruction of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot; an Angola prison guard tower (c. 1930–1940); caricatured Negro figurines (1940s); dresses by the pioneering African American fashion designer, Ann Lowe, who designed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s wedding gown (1960s); James Baldwin’s inkwell (mid-20th century); Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac Eldorado (c. 1973); essays and speeches by poet Audre Lorde (c. 1984); Michael Jackson’s fedora (c. 1992); Hurricane Katrina rescue baskets (c. 2005); and artworks by Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden and Henry O. Tanner. All these artifacts help the visitor to re-examine records of American history and correct hegemonic orthodoxies that have omitted the African diaspora or misrepresented facts about African American identity. The museum’s chronological
exhibitions, from the advent of slavery in the 1400s until present day, further challenge the normative ways in which history, and society, define black identity and represent the roles of African Americans in the American story. Curated exhibitions in the Historical, Community and Culture galleries vividly recount, with emotional intensity, the acts of “making a way out of no way”—conjuring the will to survive and thrive in education, business, community and activism despite institutional oppression. It is this historical context that is needed to understand and appreciate the significance of the museum as an identity marker and cultural institution. Among the museum’s core achievements are the curated narratives of place, history, and identity, along with Adjaye’s critically significant architectural exterior and interior design. By using design to communicate the complicated and difficult history of America’s relationship with race and cultural identity, the National Museum of African American History and Culture creates a sentient space within which to understand Black identity representation. Design in this context is “a critical activity defined as the construction of an account that holistically explains all of the relevant facts, features, and effects of a phenomenon in a way that shifts one’s perspective or improve one’s perceptual acuity.”3 Moreover, it is the articulation of a multi-cultural identity that Adjaye’s design conveys,
one that pushes boundaries to remind those who forget that Black identity is far beyond any monolithic narrative. It is far more rich and requires pluralistic provenance to substantiate any intelligent discourse on African American history. The museum fills a critical void in history and meets the national need for factual accounts and artifacts that recount the sacrifices and achievements of Black American life. Equally, it has created a permanent physical space in America’s “front yard” predicated on affirming African Americans’ rightful place in the broader American story. NOTES 1. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, About the Museum, accessed November 10, 2016, https://nmaahc.si.edu/about/museum. 2. Langston Hughes published his poem “I, Too” in 1926. It can be found in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. 3. Jeffrey Bardzell and Shaowen Bardzell, What is “Critical” about Critical Design? (New York: ACM, 2013), 3303.
Caught in the Middle: The Native American Dream Catcher Annaleigh McDonald
In elementary school, we spent a week at an overnight campsite called Camp Ohio. It was built right into the school curriculum—all the fifth graders, counselors and teachers went on night hikes, cooked hot dogs over fires and caught crayfish in the creek. One of my favorite classes at camp, which years later I led as a high school counselor, was called “Indian Traditions.” In this class, students learned to make dream catchers with wooden rings, waxed string, plastic beads and neon feathers. The counselors guided the campers through the process of creating intricate web patterns while a teacher told the legend of the dream catcher. My off-kilter creation managed to make its way back to my bedroom, where I hung it next to a “real” one made by a Native American artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, several years earlier. Even as a white, rural, middle-class young female, I felt a special connection to the dream catcher story. It felt authentic and exotic to own
opposite: campsites at the Standing Rock Reservation, December 2016. photo courtesy Spencer Madison.
a real dream catcher made by a real Native American, and I felt proud that I could contribute my rudimentary craft skills toward the practice. I was certainly not alone. For several decades, dream catchers have been sold everywhere from museum gift shops to Urban Outfitters by both native and non-native artists. Their ubiquity contributes to an attitude amongst the non-native population that often distorts Native American spiritual and craft culture into New Age aesthetics and mysticism. At the same time, however, the dream catcher represents a symbol of unity amongst the many different tribes that have adopted it as a means of identification and profit. Originally, dream catchers were created by the Ojibwa people, who created netted hoops to protect a child from bad dreams and evil spirits. The Ojibwa1 survived in the northern Great Lakes region by hunting, trapping, fishing, gathering and farming some. The materials resulting from these practices, along with their geographic location, seem to inform the construction of the traditional dream catcher, which is made from thin pieces of flexible wood, animal sinew and feathers. Leftover from plants and animals used for food, these materials would have easily been at the Ojibwa’s disposal. The wood is bent into a circular frame, the sinew is strung into a webbed pattern within the frame and the feathers are attached as
decoration. Over time, the practice and symbolism of dream catchers traveled to other tribes, including the Cree, Navajo, Lakota Sioux, Cherokee and Iroquois.2 The legends of the dream catcher, while variable depending on the source and the background of the teller, generally agree that when the object is hung above one’s bed, the dream catcher’s webbing will catch bad dreams trying to enter one’s consciousness and let the good ones pass through. This idea of catching certain things and admitting others can serve as a metaphor for the relationship between the Native population and the European settlers. Since the arrival of Europeans in North America, conflict has ensued between white and native communities. As evidenced by dwindling populations,3 and the current poverty level within the Native American society,4 the Native Americans have not emerged unscathed. Through an endless cycle of repression, relocation, and attempts toward the “civilization” of Native Americans, white settlers have conquered and occupied both the land and the way of life that was once known to over 1,000 tribes.5 In a somewhat paradoxical way, at the same time that settlers suppressed the Native Americans’ presence in the land, they became fascinated with certain aspects of their way of life. In the nineteenth century, shows such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West thrilled both American and international audiences and exposed them to a particular, 159
Originally, dream catchers were attached to infant cradle boards to protect children against bad dreams. Catalog number E289081. Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Donald E. Hurlbert
dramatized impression of Native American life. Through the twentieth century and into the present, children played “cowboys and Indians,” Western films featured Native Americans usually as the bad guys, brands like Land O’ Lakes romanticized the image of Native American, and sports teams adopted Native American caricatures as their mascots. Although the attitudes toward Native Americans have developed into more peaceful and positive ones over the 160
course of the 20th and 21st centuries with increased civil rights efforts, education, awareness and governmental apology and action, the fascination with Native American aesthetic culture remains. To the dismay of many Native American groups, the New Age movement in the 1970s embraced some of the spiritual aspects of the Native American way of life. Although the New Age movement itself did not reach mainstream appeal, its fascination with the exotic allure of Native American symbols and crafts, such as
dream catchers, trickled down into conventional culture. Beginning in the 1960s, the dream catcher caught on as an ideal commodity. As Native American material culture historian Cath Oberholtzer puts it, they were a “perfect souvenir purchase: they are small, portable, nonperishable, handcrafted and affordable.”6 Although earlier anthropologists and settlers had encountered dream catchers, it was at this time that they became a popular commodity outside of the native tradition. As the dream catcher became popularized among the nonnative population, it also became more prominent in the lives of Native Americans during the Pan-Indian movement happening around the same time. The dream catcher developed into a symbol of unity for the once disparate groups of people, now discovering the necessity to unite. Oberholtzer describes this notion of “revived tradition” among the Native American population: The evidence suggests that [the dream catcher’s] singular form with its deeper meaning was retrieved first as a revived tradition by the Ojibwa. Receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, the newly created “Dream Catcher” rapidly acquired a widespread adoption by other First Nations. Thus, in an effort to achieve the ideological solidarity offered by the prevailing panIndian movement, this object became reinvented to serve as a symbol and an icon for that solidarity. In doing so the dream catcher serves a multilayered
purpose, functioning foremost to establish and reinforce Native identity.7
After centuries of exploitation by the white settlers, entertainment industry and the federal government, Native Americans had control over an image that identified and united them in their own eyes as well as in the eyes of the public. Even the federal government recognized the importance of Native American crafts for the population’s prosperity. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 protected Native American artists and makers. It states that no object that has Native American roots can be marketed as Native American unless created by an actual native artist.8 Although this has not stopped the proliferation of imitations by nonnative artists and large corporations, it gives the products native artists create an elevated level of authenticity and distinction, and therefore, value. Throughout this narrative of interactions between Native Americans and incoming settlers, a pattern emerges in which some aspects of Native culture can “pass” while others get “caught.” Just as a dream catcher snares bad dreams in its web before they enter the consciousness of a sleeping child and lets the good dreams pass through, the white establishment decides which facets of culture can pass onto the public, and which are stuck in the web and must be suppressed. Although this may seem like a dismal comparison, it is evident even today that the wellbeing of Native Americans is not prioritized to the extent of that of other populations in the United States. 161
The Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) is a controversial project organized by Dakota Access L.L.C, part of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., a Dallas-based energy transport operator. Before the Department of the Army ordered redirection of its path in late 2016,9 the pipeline was projected to extend 1,172 miles and pass through four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. As indicated by Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline is meant to join a network of existing similar pipelines in the United States with the intent of lessening the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil and reducing the necessity of dangerous oil transfer via rail and truck transportation.10 Quite apart from how this project might contribute to the looming threat of climate change, the pipeline seemed to threaten the wellbeing of a group of people in a direct way. The pipeline was projected to cross the Missouri River, which is the source of drinking water for over 8000 individuals who reside in the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota’s northeast corner. A spill could threaten this water source and the welfare of the people who depend on it. In fact, the pipeline was moved from its original location, north of Bismarck, because of concerns about how a spill might impact the population of that city,11 which is predominantly white. Furthermore, the Standing Rock Sioux claim that the pipeline will pass through sacred burial sites that lie outside the reservation. The Tribe has sued the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that permitted the construction of the pipeline without proper 162
investigation.12 Since the beginning of the dispute, protesters have gathered in increasing numbers at the site of the construction near the Standing Rock reservation. These protestors are not only members of the Standing Rock Sioux but also of over a hundred other tribes and the broader public.13 The protestors felt temporary relief when the Department of the Army, under President Obama, ordered a halt in progress and rerouting of the pipeline to avoid passing under the Missouri River. Still, a threat remains. President Obama’s administration is gone and President Trump takes a different view of the conflict surrounding the construction of the pipeline. On his fourth day in office, Mr. Trump signed an executive order reversing the Army’s orders and clearing the way for the pipeline to progress as originally planned.14 Although the statues and potential environmental impact of the pipeline still remain indeterminate, the reaction amongst the native communities demonstrates a resistance to centuries of the federal government’s mistreatment and disregard for the wellbeing of America’s native population. While some aspects of the lives of Native Americans could pass through—art, spirituality, image—others were destined to get caught in the web—land, agency, identity, religion, health and prosperity. Furthermore, while the dream catcher served as a symbol of unity in image and identity for a large population of Native American people, the presence
of over 100 tribes at the DAPL protest moves beyond symbol to the reality of Native American unity against centuries of oppression. NOTES 1. Also called Ojibwe or Chippewa in the United States. 2. Cath Oberholtzer, Dream Catchers: Legend, Lore and Artifacts (Buffalo, N.Y.: Firefly Books, 2012), 18. 3. It is difficult to accurately estimate the population change over time because of massive uncertainty about the PreColombian population of North America. Some scholars have estimated that it is as high as 1000 million, while earlier scholarship has estimated it as low as 10 million. Presently, 50 million is a common estimate (Alan Taylor, American Colonies (New York: Penguin, 2002), 40.) In 2010, 2.9 million people identified as Native American alone, while 2.3 million reported being Native American along with one or more other race. In total, 5.2 million people identified themselves as at least partially Native American (“The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010,” U.S. Census, accessed November 20, 2016, http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/ briefs/c2010br-10.pdf) 4. Housing Assistance Council, “Taking Stock: Rural People, Poverty, and Housing at the Turn of the 21st Century” (2007), 95. 5. Oberholtzer, Dream Catchers, 94. 6. Ibid. 7. Cath Oberholtzer, “The Re-Invention of Tradition and the Marketing of Cultural Values,” Anthropologica 37, no. 2 (1995): 147.
Department of the Interior, accessed November 20, 2016, https://www.doi.gov/iacb/act. 9. Jack Healy and Nicholas Fandos, “Protestors Gain Victory in Fight Over Dakota Access Oil Pipeline,” The New York Times, December 4, 2016, https://www. nytimes.com/2016/12/04/us/federalofficials-to-explore-different-route-fordakota-pipeline.html 10. “Dakota Access Fact Sheet,” Dakota Access L.L.P., August 2016, http://www.daplpipelinefacts. com/docs-dapl/08092016/DAPL_ FactSheet33-8_09_16.pdf 11. Amy Dalrymple, “Pipeline route plan first called for crossing north of Bismarck,” The Bismarck Tribune, August 18, 2016, http://bismarcktribune.com/news/ state-and-regional/pipeline-route-planfirst-called-for-crossing-north-of-bismarck/ article_64d053e4-8a1a-5198-a1dd498d386c933c.html. 12. “Standing Rock Litigation FAQ ,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, August 30, 2016, http://standingrock.org/data/upfiles/ media/STANDING%20ROCK%20 LITIGATION%20FAQ%20FINAL%20 (1).pdf. 13. Bill McKibben, “A Pipeline Fight and America’s Dark Past,” The New Yorker, September 6, 2016, http://www.newyorker. com/news/daily-comment/a-pipelinefight-and-americas-dark-past 14. Peter Baker and Coral Davenport, “Trump Revives Keystone Pipeline Rejected by Obama,” The New York Times, January 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes. com/2017/01/24/us/politics/keystonedakota-pipeline-trump.html.
8. Indian Arts and Crafts Board, “The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990,” U.S. 163
Contributors to Objective Issue No. 3
Catherine Acosta is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program, focusing on the history of modern design. She is a Fellow in Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department and an intern in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. Gabrielle Golenda graduated from Parsons the New School of Design with a BBA in Strategy and Design and then earned an MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design program in 2015. She has worked for various organizations, including the Museum of Modern Art, Architizer, Man of the World, Christie’s and the AIGA. Currently, she is a creative director for a communications firm and a designer for Metrograph. Rebecca Gross, MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design (2014), is a Sydney-based writer and researcher specializing in design, architecture and visual culture. She contributes to a variety of publications and museums. An avid traveler, her travels inspire much of her work. Chanel Host is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program; she has a background in art history and luxury fashion management. She was a Fellow in Cooper Hewitt’s Textile Department in 2015–2016. Her research focuses on the contemporary art market and socially-responsible design. 164
Drawing, Man with Alarm Clock, ca. 1937; Christina Malman (American, b. England, 1911– 1959); USA; pencil and india ink on cream paper; H x W: 24.6 × 19.9 cm (9 11/16 × 7 13/16 in.); 1960-214-69
Rachel Hunnicutt is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program with interests in postwar corporate design and package design. She is a Fellow in Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department and book reviews coordinator for the Journal of Design History. Matthew J. Kennedy, MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design (2013), works in cross-platform publishing at Cooper Hewitt, assisting with print books and developing digital content for exhibitions. He writes freelance about design and pursues research on the intersection of design, theater and popular culture. Amanda Kogle is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program. Her interests include graphic design and interiors and theories of the built environment. Her thesis is entitled The New (Front)erior: Redefining Corporate Identity in Liminal Spaces.
Kelly Konrad is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program at Parsons Paris. She is interested in eighteenth-century French decorative arts and culture. Her thesis traces the origins of early Empire ornament in Paris’ Hôtel de Beauharnais through contemporary drawings and designs. Adrian Madlener trained at the Design Academy Eindhoven and is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program. He manages Brussels-based TL magazine, and his MA thesis explores the viability of artisanal production in post-industrial Europe. Jeffery McCullough has a degree in interior design from Georgia Southern University and is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program. He established Jeffery McCullough Art & Design Consulting in 2003, and in 2007 was named one of the top “10 under 40” designers by New York Spaces Magazine. Annaleigh McDonald is a first-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program. She studied design at the University of Notre Dame and is a Fellow in Cooper Hewitt’s Publishing Department. She is the designer of Objective, Issue No. 3 (Spring 2017). Sakura Nomiyama, MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies (2016), is a freelance design researcher and a Fellow in Cooper Hewitt’s Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design Department. Julia Pelkofsky, MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies (2016), is currently the collections cataloguer at the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, in Old
Chatham, NY. She was the managing editor of Objective, Issue No. 1 (Spring 2015). Catherine Powell, MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies (2016), is a PhD student in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on gender issues in the production and patronage of art in early modern Europe. She was the editor in chief of Objective, Issue No. 2 (Spring 2016). Bill Shaffer is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program and is a design professional in New York City. His thesis explores the lineage of museum exhibition design. He was the designer of Objective, Issue No. 2 (Spring 2016). Narender Strong is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program whose research focuses on the intersection of material culture, social history and identity. Alison Underwood is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program and is a Fellow in Cooper Hewitt’s Marketing Department. Before moving to New York, she studied fine art at the University of Louisville. Rayna Wang is a second-year student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program. Her interests include material culture, museology, East Asian lacquerware and popular culture theory. She has worked on different arts projects in China, Japan and South Korea.