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Press release

A Century of Design, Part III: 1950-1975

November 28, 2000 – April 1, 2001
Lila Acheson Wallace Wing

A Century of Design, Part III: 1950-1975, the third in a series of four exhibitions surveying design in the 20th century, opens November 28 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition will explore the ideas, influences, and technologies that transformed design – particularly modernism – after World War II. The mid-century period of unprecedented exchange among artists, architects, and designers yielded profound changes in the domestic landscape. More than 50 examples from the Metropolitan's modern design collection, including furniture, glassware, ceramics, textiles, and more, will be organized thematically and geographically in the exhibition, which will remain on view in the Museum's Lila Acheson Wallace Wing through April 1, 2001. The fourth and final exhibition in the series, surveying design from 1975 to 2000, will be on view May 1 through October 1, 2001.

During the third quarter of the 20th century, wartime and postwar technologies, materials, and methods of mass-production captured the imagination of a new generation of modernist designers even as the rigorous doctrines of pre-war modernism continued to prevail. New materials and production methods created new aesthetics. The resulting fusion of sensibilities that evolved during the period remains central to design to this day.

Postwar designers in America, still attracted to the biomorphic shapes that were the hallmarks of organic modernism (a 1930s reaction to the hard-edged compositions of the Bauhaus), were also fascinated with new materials and the formal vocabulary of modern art.

Charles and Ray Eames's sculptural furnishings proved highly attractive to postwar homemakers. Designers including Harry Bertoia, Russel Wright, and Eero Saarinen were shaping synthetic materials into organic forms to create affordable and imaginative works for mass-production. Bertoia's Diamond Chair (1952) for Knoll International, made of steel wire, fused plastic, and rubber, as well as a Charles Pollock armchair (1958) for The Herman Miller Company made of fiberglass and steel, are highlights of A Century of Design, Part III: 1950-1975.

Scandinavia had been making a household word of modernism since the 1930s. There, designers continued to produce functional and beautiful works in the tradition of their predecessors, using sensuous materials to create fluid, undulating, and curvaceous forms. Arne Jacobsen's Egg Armchair (1957), upholstered in leather, a silver Covered Serving Dish (1960) designed by Henning Koppel for Georg Jensen, and Timo Sarpaneva's glass Lancet Vase (1953) are dramatic examples on view.

Distinctive Asian sensibilities, traditions, and materials were provocative to Western designers and consumers. Sori Yanagi's Butterfly Stool (1956) and Isamu Noguchi's Akari E Lamp (ca. 1966) are among highlights of A Century of Design, Part III: 1950-1975, as is the Kurashiki City Hall Model (1958-1960) by Kenzo Tange, made of hoo no ki (magnolia hypoleuca wood) and plastic.

Mass-production, affordability, and availability guided the objectives of designers and manufacturers, resulting in a global democratization of objects that maintained the aesthetics and ideals of modernism. An array of household objects on view, produced in Japan, Italy, Scandinavia, and America, exemplify the notion that good design was available to all. Conversely, in reaction to the impersonality of industrialization, the alternative Studio Craft Movement began to produce "one-of-a-kind" objects that were unique, handcrafted, and available only to a few. A guiding principle of this movement was "design for design's sake," and these artisans succeeded in helping to elevate functional objects to the status of works of art. Wharton Esherick's sinuously elegant Music Stand (1962) is among the highlights of this section of the exhibition, as is Claus Bury's dramatic Neckpiece (1975), and Sheila Hicks's Linen Lean-To tapestry bas-relief (1967-68).

Postwar Italy emerged early as a dynamic design center. Brilliantly colored glass works by Paolo Venini and others demonstrate innovation and invention, although their production technique employs age-old traditions practiced at Murano glassworks for centuries. Piero Fornasetti's Writing Desk (ca. 1953-54), provocatively flaunts historic iconography with its extravagant surface decoration of architectural imagery taken from Renaissance engravings.

Plastics, op art, and psychedelia splashed onto the scene in the 1960s. Among the most emblematic of these works in the exhibition is Verner Panton's innovative Stacking Side Chair (designed in 1960) – the first single-form, single-material chair, and a unique example of how materials can define aesthetics. A single piece of plastic, injection-molded into a striking "Z" shape, it was, and still is, mass-produced in black, white, and a spectrum of flat, bright polymer colors. The Djinn Chaise (1965) by Olivier Mourgue, also a highlight, is made of steel, polyurethane foam, and synthetic fabric. Lightweight and low-slung, the form suggests a preoccupation with informal living that was a hallmark of the 1960s. Joe Colombo's Tube Chair (1969-1970), dramatically underscoring leisure, ease, and flexibility, is comprised of four hollow cylinders made of PVC plastic, polyurethane, and synthetic knit fabric that can be hooked together to form a chair. Nested within each other for storage, they can be compactly packaged and sold "off the shelf."

A Century of Design, Part III: 1950-1975 has been organized by Jared Goss, Curatorial Assistant in the Metropolitan's Department of Modern Art.

November 13, 2000

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