MoMA ex­hibit ex­plores roots of mod­ern in­te­ri­ors

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Kather­ine Roth

In the chaotic af­ter­math of World War I in Europe, a small group of en­ter­pris­ing de­sign­ers, artists and ar­chi­tects — many of them women — stepped for­ward with ground­break­ing ideas for how to im­prove the qual­ity of life through ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign.

Their ef­forts even­tu­ally re­sulted in what is now known as Mod­ernist de­sign, and in many of the con­ve­niences peo­ple take for granted today, such as pre­fab­ri­cated houses, open floor plans, and a more prag­matic and stream­lined ap­proach to in­te­ri­ors. Ma­te­ri­als like Pyrex glass­ware and linoleum floor­ing, pre­vi­ously used com­mer­cially, were sud­denly in­tro­duced for do­mes­tic set­tings.

“How Should We Live? Propo­si­tions for the Mod­ern In­te­rior,” on view at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art through April 23, high­lights im­por­tant yet un­sung de­sign­ers from this piv­otal time, from the mid1920s through the mid’50s. It takes a closer look at the tex­tiles, crock­ery, wall cov­er­ings and floor­ing that put iconic Mod­ernist fur­ni­ture in con­text.

Rather than fo­cus­ing on iso­lated mas­ter­works, the at­ten­tion is on the in­ter­ac­tion of de­sign el­e­ments. Vis­i­tors are shown de­sign­ers’ own liv­ing spa­ces, and are in­vited to ex­plore of­ten-ne­glected ar­eas of de­sign, like ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces and pro­mo­tional dis­plays.

The story be­gins in Europe, said Juliet Kinchin, a cu­ra­tor in MoMA’s De­part­ment of Ar­chi­tec­ture and De­sign.

“There was huge so­cial and po­lit­i­cal dis­rup­tion fol­low­ing the First World War, and there was a real hous­ing cri­sis in many parts of Europe that was com­pounded then by the Great De­pres­sion, so ar­chi­tects were re­ally think­ing about new ways of liv­ing, and how to sim­plify one’s life and im­prove the qual­ity of life for masses of peo­ple,” said Kinchin, who or­ga­nized the show with Luke Baker.

The ex­hi­bi­tion traces the start of the era to a huge in­te­ri­ors ex­hibit in Stuttgart, Ger­many, in 1927, which in­tro­duced peo­ple to nov­el­ties like tubu­lar-steel fur­ni­ture and pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing, in­clud­ing the truly con­tem­po­rary Frank­furt Kitchen, an ex­am­ple of which is fea­tured in the show.

In post-war Frank­furt, about 15,000 pre­fab­ri­cated mod­u­lar hous­ing units were built in just five years, and 10,000 of them fea­tured one of sev­eral ver­sions of the Frank­furt Kitchen. It was de­signed like a tiny but highly ef­fi­cient fac­tory, com­plete with a fold-down iron­ing board, pull-out cut­ting board, gas stove, swivel stool, pull-out alu­minum stor­age bins, garbage drawer, drain­ing board and built-in broom closet and cup­board.

The de­sign was by ar­chi­tect Grete Schutte-Li­hotzky, the first woman to qual­ify as an ar­chi­tect in Aus­tria, and it is the ear­li­est work by a fe­male ar­chi­tect in MoMA’s col­lec­tion, Kinchin said.

“She was de­sign­ing for sin­gle work­ing women and work­ing fam­i­lies, and was part of a de­moc­ra­tiz­ing im­pulse in Mod­ernism to take ad­van­tage of new ma­te­ri­als and new pro­cesses, like us­ing heat-re­sis­tant glass or linoleum or cork, and use them in a do­mes­tic con­text,” Kinchin said.


This un­dated photo pro­vided by MoMA shows “Wo­ven Wall Hang­ing” by Benita Koch-Otte, 1923. The piece is part of the ex­hibit at the mu­seum ti­tled “How Should We Live? Propo­si­tions for the Mod­ern In­te­rior.”

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