“Is there art in a broomstick? Yes, says Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, if it is designed both for usefulness and good looks.” This quote, from a 1953 Time magazine review of one of MoMA’s mid-century Good Design exhibitions, gets to the heart of a question the Museum has been asking since its inception: What is good design and how can it enhance everyday life?
Featuring objects from domestic furnishings and appliances to ceramics, glass, electronics, transport design, sporting goods, toys, and graphics, The Value of Good Design explores the democratizing potential of design, beginning with MoMA’s Good Design initiatives from the late 1930s through the 1950s, which championed well-designed, affordable contemporary products. The concept of Good Design also took hold well beyond the Museum, with governments on both sides of the Cold War divide embracing it as a vital tool of social and economic reconstruction and technological advancement in the years following World War II. This global scope is reflected in many of the items on view, from a mass-market Italian Fiat Cinquecento automobile and a Soviet-era East German Werra camera to a Japanese poster for a Mitsubishi sewing machine and a Brazilian bowl chair. These works join both iconic and unexpected items made in the US, such as the Eames La Chaise, a Chemex Coffee Maker, and Irwin Gershen’s Shrimp Cleaner.
The exhibition also raises questions about what Good Design might mean today, and whether values from mid-century can be translated and redefined for a 21st-century audience. Visitors are invited to judge for themselves by trying out a few “good design” classics still in production, and exploring how, through its design stores, MoMA continues to incubate new products and ideas in an international marketplace.
Organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Andrew Gardner, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design.
Image: Clockwise, from top left: Dante Giacosa. 500f city car. Designed 1957 (this example 1968). Steel with fabric top, 52 × 52 × 116 7/8" (132.1 × 132.1 × 296.9 cm). Manufacturer: Fiat S.p.A., Turin, Italy. Gift of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Heritage; Lina Bo Bardi. Poltrona Bowl chair. 1951. Steel and fabric, 21 5/8 × 33 1/16 × 33 1/16" (55 × 84 × 84 cm). Committee on Architecture and Design Funds; Irwin Gershen, Gershen-Newark. Shrimp Cleaner. 1954. Plastic and metal, 8 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 3/4" (21.6 x 8.3 x 1.9 cm). Manufacturer: Plastic Dispensers Inc., Newark, NJ. Department purchase; Peter Schlumbohm. Chemex Coffee Maker. 1941. Pyrex glass, wood, and leather, 9 1/2 x 6 1/8" (24.2 x 15.5 cm). Manufacturer: Chemex Corp., New York, NY. Gift of Lewis & Conger