Kem Weber, Armchair, Chromium-plated tubular steel with the original leatherette upholstery and chromium-plated metal upholstery tacks, Height 76.7 cm.

America, the Aerodynamically Streamlined, Shaped by Industrial Design

Donald Earl Dailey, Proctor Automatic Pop-Up, 1947, for Proctor-Silex.

Frederick H. Rhead, Two Fiestaware Juice Pitchers, ca. 1936.

Harold L. Van Doren, John Gordon Rideout, Skippy-Racer Scooter, ca. 1933, Eric Brill Collection.

Michael Graves.Rrival toaster (model TT 9275,. 2000.

Robert Heller, 1899-1973, Airflow Fan.

 

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Sherbrooke Street West
Montréal
514-285-2000
American Streamlined Design:
The World of Tomorrow
May 17-October 28, 2007

“An object is streamlined when its exterior surface is so designed that upon passing through a fluid such as water or air the object creates the least disturbance in the fluid.”

— Norman Bel Geddes (1932)

“A speeding automobile is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”

— Italian Futurist poet F.T. Marinetti (1911)

American Streamlined Design: The World of Tomorrow is one of the most comprehensive surveys ever mounted on this style, inspired by the aerodynamic lines and the sleek curves of 1930s aircraft, trains and ships. American industrial designers gave everyday objects glamorous new forms in steel, aluminum and experimental plastics to reflect the world of tomorrow. The exhibition focuses primarily on the impact of American Streamlined design in the 1930s and 1940s with a wide range of exhibits drawn from the domestic sphere, the commercial world, interior decoration, sports and leisure. Some 180 examples of furniture, ceramics, metalwork, plastics, graphic design and books make up the exhibits, which also illustrate the continuing influence of this pioneering design aesthetic today.

American Streamlined Design offers a fresh appraisal of its subject, placing the achievements of its best-known exponents — among them Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy, and Walter Dorwin Teague — squarely alongside the contributions of lesser-known but significant designers such as Lurell E. Guild, Clifford Brooks Stevens, Harold Van Doren, and newly discovered practitioners such as John R. Morgan, William B. Petzold, and Louis Vavrik.

From the Twentieth Century Limited train and Chrysler’s Airflow automobile to the Zephyr digital clock, the aerodynamic style known as streamlining endowed many classic American products with a futuristic sheen — the glamour of speed. The American Streamlined Design: The World of Tomorrow exhibition offers a fresh appraisal of the aesthetic of this style, placing the achievements of its best-known exponents — among them Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy and Walter Dorwin Teague — beside the contributions of other lesser-known but significant designers such as Lurelle Guild, Clifford Brooks Stevens, Harold Van Doren and newly discovered practitioners like John R. Morgan, William B. Petzold and Louis Vavrik. This exhibition also makes a case for the vigour of streamlining in today’s design. Among the contemporary designers represented are Jasper Morrison (Thinking Man’s Chair, 1986), Ross Lovegrove (Go Chair, 1999) and Scott Patt (Air Max Contact sneakers for Nike, 2001).

The exhibits range from a humble computer-card hole-puncher, roasting pan and chrome-plated iron to a lounge chair created of tubular steel and leather, boldly canted as if straining into the future. Although this armchair would look perfectly at home on the deck of an ocean liner, its daring simplification of line belies the engineering bravura of its California designer, Kem Weber. Other objects in the exhibition speak to the birth of American consumerism, when time-saving new products promised a better world for everyone. The streamlined mixers, blenders, juicers, rotisseries and toasters that were flaunted by housewives; the bullet-like soda siphons, torpedo-shaped power drills and pipes with speed lines enjoyed by suburban husbands; and the juke boxes, portable radios, and model airplanes of the younger sets — are all represented in American Streamlined Design: The World of Tomorrow.

The exhibition posits that the streamlining of the 1930s is properly understood as a unique stylistic expression. Criticized as early as 1932 by modernists, the idiom evolved in defiance of both art deco and functionalist modernism. Objects celebrated today as design icons came in for explicit criticism in the 1944 catalogue for The Museum of Modern Art exhibition, Design for Use, with these words: “The desire to make objects look ‘up-to-date’ by borrowing forms from unrelated modern machinery often leads to absurdities such as this pencil sharpener streamlined to resemble an airplane.” “Perhaps a core difference in how American scholars received art deco and Bauhaus functionalism, and how they regarded streamlining,” says David A. Hanks, “lies in the fact that the former arose from an artistic vanguard, while streamlining aimed at the widest possible public and was based on an admiration for industry and speed.” Supporting this case are products ranging from a humble computer card hole-puncher, roasting pan, and chrome-plated iron to a lounge chair created of welded tubular steel and leather, boldly canted as if straining into the future. Although this armchair would look perfectly at home on the deck of an ocean liner, its daring simplification of line belies the engineering bravura of its California designer, Kem Weber.

Other objects in the exhibition, fabricated in such modern materials as aluminum and Bakelite and other plastics, speak to the birth of American consumerism, when time-saving new products spurred spending and promised a better world for everyone. The streamlined mixers, blenders, juicers, rotisseries, toasters, and oven-to-table casseroles that were flaunted by housewives; the bullet-like soda siphons, torpedo-shaped power drills, and pipes with speed lines enjoyed by suburban husbands; the jukeboxes, portable radios, and model airplanes of the younger sets — all are represented in American Streamlined Design, as are patent drawings and large-scale photographs that reveal the conception and use of these up-to-date designs. The exhibition also makes a case for the vigor of streamlining in today’s design. Among the contemporary designers represented are Jasper Morrison (Thinking Man’s Chair, 1986); Ross Lovegrove (Go Chair, 1999); and Scott Patt (Air Max Contact sneakers for Nike, 2001). The exhibition dramatizes six themes. The first five examine streamlining in specific areas of the home, the workplace, and domestic life. The sixth section considers how streamlining has been revived in recent years and has again become a dominant force in the design world. Most of the furniture, graphic design, and products made of metal, plastic, and ceramic on display are drawn from The Eric Brill Collection, which comprises nearly 800 examples of American industrial design assembled by one individual over the last three decades and donated in 2003 to The Liliane and David M. Stewart Program for Modern Design in Montreal. Although the Brill Collection concentrated on American industrial design of the 1930s and ‘40s, the Stewart Program has steadily acquired later objects that reflect a modern aesthetic. Brill himself undertook prodigious research into the United States Trademark and Patent Office records to identify the inventors and designers of many of the patented objects in his collection. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue present these findings for the first time.

Harold I. Van Doren / John Gordon rRdeout. Skippy Sno-planeSled, c. 1933

 

Henry Dreyfuss, Twentieth Century Limited, Hudson model, 1938.