The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

modernism and design

While in DC we also hit the great Modernism: Designing a New World exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery. This exhibition was put together at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Corcoran is the only place it's coming in the US. As a specialist in modernism, I've seen my share of modernism exhibits, but most of them are focused on art--the recent Dada show at the Smithsonian comes to mind. This one was largely centered on modernism in daily life: kitchen products and even model kitchens, Neutra's houses in LA and Le Corbusier's designs for cities, the Ballet Mecanique, Frank Lloyd Wright's chairs, etc. What I've always kind of realized but never in such a clear way is just how much modernism--which we often think of, in retrospect, as being a movement dedicated to the alienated, solitary outsider rebel artist, was in its time a much more COLLECTIVE phenomenon: the Bauhaus were about designing affordable, mass-producible objects and environments for working-class people, for instance, and of course the Soviets and the fascists used the aesthetic appeal of modernism to mobilize and ultimately control masses of people. I'm thinking more and more that the notion of modernism as a movement of alienated outsider rebels was created in the 1940s and 1950s in response to what many modernists saw as the horrors, the tragic effects, of the aestheticizing of the daily life of the masses along modernist lines. But these 1920s and 1930s modernists really thought that the combination of smart design, the new technologies of the machine age, and a devotion to cleanliness and light would create (again in the terms of the Corcoran's exhibition) a utopia.


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