Crafting Modernism at the Museum of Arts and Design

Crossover, intersection, blurring – these words appear often in the exhibition text for the Museum of Arts and Design’s Crafting Modernism: Mid-century American Art and Design. A revisionist take on the history of craft media during the post-war era, the exhibition expertly debunks the longstanding myth that handcrafted and machine-made objects occupy opposite ends of the art/design continuum. The curators of this thoughtful and stunning show, Jeannine Falino and Jennifer Scanlan, lay down the gauntlet and seriously mix things up.

The exhibit’s broad, holistic approach will appeal to interior design students trained to blur boundaries between craft, art and design. It will come as no surprise to them that designers and artists in the post-war years used crafted objects to humanize the rigid geometry and hard materials—such as glass and steel—favored by Modernist architects. Interior designers are often brought in to make austerely designed living spaces more livable. They know firsthand that the handmade look and the machine aesthetic can peacefully coexist.

Spread out over two floors of the museum’s Columbus Circle building the exhibit is organized into two sections and arranged in roughly chronological order. The first section addresses the rise of designer craftsman from 1945 to the late 1950s, with excellent pieces by such heavyweights as Vladimir Kagan, Jack Lenor Larsen and Dorothy Liebes. The second half explores the emergence of the crafted object as a work of art ­­­­and concludes with a collection of ephemera from the psychedelic culture of the late 60's – a fitting finale to an exhibit that challenges you to take a fresh and somewhat unorthodox look at mid-century design and culture.

We are so pleased to be partnering with MAD on a number of public programs, including the recent Return to Modernism panel discussion. We are also hosting our own tribute to Modernism at NYSID with the exhibition Modern in the Past Tense: Revisiting a Landmark Exhibition – “Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was,” which runs through January 12, 2012.

Chris Spinelli is the Associate Communications Director at NYSID.

Phyllis Greer