Highlights from one of America’s foremost collections of 20th century design will enjoy a fresh viewing in expanded new gallery space as the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Designing Modern: 1920 to the Present, opening September 15, 2007. The exhibition provides a chronological look at the Museum’s collections of modern and contemporary decorative art, which now includes over 2500 objects ranging from appliances and furniture to ceramics, glass, and lighting. Four platforms and display cases in the newly opened, 2000-square foot Collab Gallery for Modern and Contemporary Design in the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building will present benchmark examples from pivotal movements in the evolving history of twentieth- and twenty-first-century design: Art Deco and the Bauhaus, American and Scandinavian Modernism, Italian Design, and Postmodernism.
The exhibition presents some 140 objects, including much-celebrated familiar masterworks from the Museum’s collection—such as Ettore Sottsass’s “Casablanca” sideboard—together with a striking and varied range of acquisitions that have never before been shown here. These include Kaj Franck’s classic “Kilta” table service, Ingo Maurer’s “Kokoro” red paper heart lamp, and Alessandro Mendini’s “Proust” armchair, which is painted with Pointillist dots of color.
"Designing Modern is an opportunity to present highlights from the Museum’s collections, which beautifully and dramatically illustrate the history of design and those who created that history,” Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger, Curator of Decorative Arts after 1700, explained. “Over the years these collections have enjoyed the generous support and enthusiastic championing of Collab, an energetic and devoted association of architects, designers, and aficionados of “art for every day” founded in 1970.”
The Museum’s Library and Archives, the Department of Costume and Textiles, and the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs—all now housed in the Perelman Building, and each in its own right an outstanding resource for great design—are each lending works from their collections. Herbert Bayer and László Moholy-Nagy’s exhibition catalogue Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar, 1919–23, a fine example of Bauhaus typography, will be accompanied by two postcards designed by Bayer for the same 1923 show. Textile design will be represented with Art Deco fabrics by Raoul Dufy and Alfred Latour, and Junichi Arai’s “Big Wave” high-tech fabric of polyester fiber, aluminum, and polyamide resin. One of the newest acquisitions of modern and contemporary decorative art combines the talents of two formidable artists—industrial designer Ron Arad and fashion designer Issey Miyake—in a 2006 chair “vested” with wearable upholstery.
The Collab Gallery represents a dramatic expansion in exhibition space for the collections, which had previously been shown in a 330 square foot gallery in the Museum’s main building. Named for the nonprofit organization of Philadelphia-area design professionals that works to build the Museum’s modern and contemporary decorative art collections and programs, the new Collab Gallery will enable the curators to present larger and more focused exhibitions.
About the Modern and Contemporary Design Collection
The Museum’s collection of Modern and Contemporary Design tells the story of design as it has unfolded, decade by decade. Among the Bauhaus and Art Deco objects from the 1920s and ‘30s are furniture by Emile–Jacques Ruhlmann, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. Objects from the 1940s and ‘50s display wartime and postwar economy of means and materials seen in the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson’s ever-popular ‘Marshmallow’ Sofa. From the 1960s and ‘70s, the Museum has an important collection of innovative Italian designs that highlight new forms and the pervasive use of plastic, including Joe Colombo’s Mini-Kitchen and futuristic Living Center.
More recent designs shift to Postmodern and Postindustrial styles from the 1980s to the present, including Apple’s ubiquitous yet revolutionary iMac Computer and new iPhone, several prime examples of Ingo Maurer’s poetic lighting fixtures, and Stephen Hobday’s accessible Single-Handed Keyboard. Acquisitions from the 21st century demonstrate unconventional uses of materials, including Tokujin Yoshioka’s ‘Honey-Pop’ Chair made of 120 sheets of paper, and Jasper Morrison’s cork Stool.
The collection is steadily built by the efforts of Collab, a nonprofit organization of Philadelphia-area design professionals. In addition to presenting its annual Design Excellence Award, honoring a design professional who has made a significant contribution to the field, Collab also promotes public understanding and appreciation of contemporary design through an array of educational initiatives, including sponsorship of symposia, lectures, tours, and a nationwide, college-level student design competition.