Designing Democracy: The Nut Dish and Other Populist Gems at MoMA

Like a Trojan horse, that may opener may sneak modernist concepts by way of the entrance door.

Under the museum’s founding director, Alfred Barr, and later, René d’Harnoncourt, who grew to become director in 1949, the Modern hyped its design initiatives on radio exhibits and through the rising medium of tv, with curators showing on morning applications to reveal the advantages of recent lounge chairs and folding lamps. There are scratchy, sweetly awkward, black-and-white video clips of those early forays within the present.

In current years, MoMA has archived on-line all of the catalogs, publicity supplies and set up images from these exhibits, a gold mine for design buffs and historians. I appeared up the catalog for “Useful Objects Under $5,” from 1938, which included 5 cent bowls from Woolworth’s, a nineteen cent sherry glass from Macy’s and a nifty little $four.50 orange juice squeezer from Hammacher Schlemmer.

By 1947, when Mies oversaw the present’s set up and the Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant, Le Corbusier’s collaborator, designed the duvet illustration for the accompanying pamphlet, “Useful Objects” included handmade ceramics from California. There was a $25.75 kitchen cupboard by Raymond Loewy; a nut dish fabricated from porcelain by Zeisel ($1.50) and an Eames eating desk that offered for $75.

That Eames desk retails now for $1,200. Vitra is promoting the Eames chaise for $11,525. The message behind the exhibits was that price isn’t worth. This thought was progressively misplaced at the more and more hierarchical museum. Classic furnishings from the Modern’s egalitarian exhibitions have inevitably change into standing symbols for the one p.c.

That stated, the message endures, as “Value” reminds us.

Maybe it’s time for a brand new spherical of “Good Design” exhibitions.

The Value of Good Design

Through June 15 (June 16 for members) at the 11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan; 212-708-9400,

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