A Designed Life: Contemporary American Textiles, Wallpapers and Containers & Packaging, 1951–54
The all-American spirit of midcentury modernism, in three US State Department-sponsored exhibitions
Published by Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, UMBC.
Edited by Charles Gute, Margaret Re. Foreword by Symmes Gardner. Preface & text by Margaret Re. Text by Virginia Gardner Troy, Greg Castillo, Jan Logemann, Emily A. Margolis, Stuart W. Leslie.
This revelatory volume recovers and presents the history of three exhibitions organized by the US State Department’s Traveling Exhibition Service almost 70 years ago: Contemporary American Textiles, curated by Florence Knoll, Contemporary American Wallpapers, curated by Tom Lee, and Containers & Packaging, curated by Will Burtin.
These exhibitions were made for presentation in West German schools, museums and trade fairs, and through the Amerika Haus program. By joining consumer choice with political choice, the State Department tried to convince West Germans and other Europeans that the United States, its system of government and its capitalist values offered more and better lifestyle choices than those of the Soviet bloc.
This book is both an exhibition catalog and a reader. It restores the spirit of these three exhibitions to the public memory and challenges the idea that design has little political purpose. By piecing together primary sources found within archival collections, libraries and special collections, the book reveals how the State Department deliberately employed design, a process that binds people to daily life, to embody a connection between a rhetoric of political freedom and capitalist values of consumer freedom. Considering these exhibitions and their showcased objects, characteristically associated with midcentury modernism, A Designed Life suggests that, even now, the Cold War affects our lives, habits and culture.
Designers and curators include: Anni Albers, Evelyn Anselevicius, Richard Lee Brecker, Will Burtin, Serge Chermayeff, Morton and Millie Goldsholl, Elizabeth Gordon, Eszter Haraszty, Peter Harnden, Ilonka Karasz, Katzenbach and Warren Inc., Juliet Kepes, Florence Knoll, Walter Landor, Laverne Originals, Tom Lee, Dorothy Liebes, Raymond Loewy, Jack Masey, George Nelson, Walter Paepcke, Annemarie Henle Pope, Noémi Raymond, Bernard Rudofsky, Herwin Schaefer, Saul Steinberg, Angelo Testa and the Tilletts.