Fig. 23.81. Anne Jacobsen. Ant side chair, Fritz Hansen, Denmark, 1952. Plywood, chrome-plated tubular steel, rubber; 29¹⁄₈ x 21¹⁄₁₆ x 23 in. (73.4 x 53.5 x 58.4 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Norbert Schoenauer, courtesy of The Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts (AC1992.264.1). Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY.
Plastics were used for myriad items, from surfboards to sports cars with fiberglass bodies, such as General Motors’s Chevrolet Corvette (1953), designed by Harley Earl. The Deutsche Demokratische Republik’s (DDR; German Democratic Republic, commonly known as East Germany) compact Trabant (1957) had roof, doors, hood, bumpers, and trunk-lid of lightweight Duroplast, a hard plastic made of recycled cotton waste and phenol resins from dye making, while the Polish Syrena Sport (1960), a two-door prototype sports car designed by Cezary Nawrot (1931–2004), had a fiberglass body.
Fig. 23.82. Roman Modzelewski in a prototype for his fiberglass RM58 armchair, c. 1959–60. Provate collection of Mrs. Wera Modzelewska.
Plastics were popular for furniture because they could be readily formed into “biomorphic” shapes. U.S. examples include the Eamses’ fiberglass shell dining chair and armchair (1949 and 1950, respectively) and Eero Saarinen’s elegant, sculptural Womb Chair—he trained as a sculptor as well as an architect—which was upholstered in latex foam and fabric partly for comfort and partly to avoid finishing the fiberglass shell. Saarinen’s integration of seat, back, and arm-rest inspired many other designs, most famously Jacobsen’s Swan and Egg chairs (1957–58). Although access to synthetic materials was limited in Poland, Roman Modzelewski (1912– 1997) and Czeslaw Knothe (1900–1985) pioneered furniture made from synthetic fibers in the late 1950s. Le Corbusier (1887–1965) was interested in mass-producing Modzelewski’s fiberglass chair (1959–60; patented 1961; fig. 23.82), but Polish bureaucracy and Cold War politics intervened, and Le Corbusier died in 1965. Dinnerware made from Melamine (melamine formaldehyde), a hard thermosetting plastic developed in prewar Germany and the United States, was so popular in the 1950s and early 1960s that ceramics manufac-turers, such as Gustavsberg in Sweden and Britain’s Midwin- ter Pottery, began producing lines of plastic products. Russel Wright’s Residential line (1953) proved a best-seller for Northern Plastic Company of Boston, while the DDR, with its well-established chemical industry and access to Soviet oil, supplied the Eastern Bloc with plastic products such as Albert Krause’s rainbow-colored nesting dishes (1959).
Fig. 23.83. Charles and Ray Eames. Living Room, Eames House, Pacific Palisades, Calif., 1958 (designed 1945–49). Photographed by Julius Shulman, with Ray and Charles Eames seated on Indian chairs. Research Library, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10). © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).
Informal Living and Personal Expression
Informal living, with an emphasis on open-plan interiors and easy access between indoors and out, was a key characteristic of postwar life in North America and Western Europe. Mary (c. 1904–1952) and Russel Wright’s Guide to Easier Living (1950) stressed informality, personal expression, open-plan spaces, lightweight and easy-to-clean furnishings, and husbands helping with chores. Wright’s best-selling dinnerware lines American Modern (1937–57) and Casual (1946–67) con- noted and facilitated more modern and informal ways of living. Zeisel’s colorful mass-produced Town and Country earthenware (1947), and Kaj Franck’s heatproof Kilta pieces (1953) helped popularize the notion that items within a line could be mixed and matched in terms of color. Many lines now came in “starter sets” for young homemakers, while sturdy oven-to-table ware added to the informality of meal- times while reducing the number of dirty pots.
Informal clothing also grew in popularity, with U.S. sportswear designers leading the way. Claire McCardell (1905–1958), Clare Potter (1903–1999), Vera Maxwell (1901– 1995), Bonnie Cashin (1907–2000), and others continued to create attractive, affordable, and comfortable clothing that was influential abroad. In Europe, German designer Sonja de Lennart (b. 1920), who was best known for her stylish, casual Capri pants (1948), attracted American celebrity clients along with European ones. In the 1950s, tapered, ankle-baring Capri pants and the more sporty “pedal-pushers” (which came above the calf to clear bicycle chains) epitomized as much as tableware or barbecues the increasingly casual life- style of the postwar period.
Some designers urged homemakers to create and personalize their living environments in what were increasingly standardized and mass-produced homes. Handcrafted, “preindustrial,” and natural objects served as popular visual and cultural counterpoints to what was perceived as the increasing uniformity of modern life. New approaches to home decoration included the juxtaposing of disparate objects from different cultures, continents, and time periods in group settings created to achieve what British architect-designer Peter Smithson (1923–2003) called “extra-cultural surprise.”1 Objects from all over the world were readily available in the 1950s and 1960s in North America and Western Europe, and eclectic groupings of them expressed both the fashionable cultural pluralism of the day and the cultural capital of those who created them. In the example illustrated here, the Eameses mixed items bought abroad with ones available at home, old with new, and found with made (fig. 23.83). Objects from Japan (paper lanterns, combs, and ceramics) mingled with those from India (brasswares, embroidered pillows, and low chairs), Africa (wooden stools), and the United States. The cost or rarity of the items was not a deciding factor in these displays. Indeed, because the aesthetic could be achieved with “found” and cheap objects, from starfish, driftwood, and pebbles to old toys, souvenirs, candlesticks, textiles, and flowers, this type of design was considered democratic because it gave greater agency to homemakers (mainly women) who could personalize and thus humanize living spaces.
Cold War Frameworks
Fig. 23.84. Paul László. Atomville USA, designed 1950 from Paul László, Beverly Hills, California, 1958.
By 1950, both the United States and the USSR had atomic and hydrogen bombs, and fear of Soviet nuclear attacks led Western Bloc governments to institute civil defense programs. Graphic designers conveyed information to fellow citizens about campaigns such as Operation Lifesaver (1955), which included a simulated nuclear attack on the Canadian city of Calgary. Over the border in the United States, Hungarian-born Paul László (1900–1993) envisioned Atomville USA (1950), a city with an underground community center surrounded by a bomb shelter (fig. 23.84). Within this technological utopia, homes were placed underground not only for protection against nuclear fallout but also to provide room for individual home heliports. Benign representations of atomic power cir-culated alongside more dystopic visions. The former included the Ball clock (1948), suggestive of a nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons designed by the office of U.S. industrial designer George Nelson, the “atomic balls” on Race’s Antelope chair (see fig. 23.78), and Walt Disney Productions’ children’s book Our Friend the Atom (1956) by physicist Heinz Haber, together with an eponymous film and exhibition. At the same time as Erik Nitsche’s (1908–1998) poster preached Atoms for Peace (1955) on behalf of the U.S. nuclear technology firm General Atomics, Swiss designer Hans Erni’s (b. 1909) Atom-krieg Nein (Nuclear War No, 1954) poster featured atomic mushroom clouds emerging from a globe shaped like a human skull. British designer F. H. K. (Frédéric Henri Kay) Henrion’s (1914–1990) Stop Nuclear Suicide poster (1963) used similar imagery and incorporated the peace symbol created for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958 by Gerald Holtom (1914–1985), a British designer and pacifist (fig. 23.85). It became one of the most widely recognized symbols of the second half of the century.
Fig. 23.78. Ernest Race. Antelope bench, Race Furniture Ltd., England, c. 1951. Painted steel rod, plywood; 31¾ x 40¾ x 22¼ in. (80.7 x 103.5 x 56.5 cm). Victoria and Albert Museum, London (W.35-2010). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Attitudes toward consumption, and thus also toward design, shifted in Eastern Bloc countries after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953 and revelations in 1956 by his successor Nikita Khrushchev about the brutality of Stalinist rule, on the one hand, and fear of internal protest on the other. Even during the resultant “thaw” in the Cold War, however, which led to a period of relative liberalization of official policies between about 1953 and 1968, the rate of production of clothing, home furnishings, and decorative arts objects, let alone cars and televisions, rarely met demand in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, designers were allowed greater freedom of expression. Furthermore, most decorative arts media, unlike the fine arts, were not considered potentially subversive. Poland and Czechoslovakia enjoyed what have been called design renaissances. Czechoslovakian artistic glass, which drew on the craft skills of the Bohemian glass industry, became famous worldwide. The high quality of Czechoslovakian design in general was reflected in the many prizes won at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair including: reliefs in cut-glass by Stanislav Libenský (1921–2002) and Jaroslava Brychtová (b. 1924), which were inspired by the seeming modernity of ancient cave paintings; the Elka coffee service by Jaroslav Ježek (1923–2002); and the design for “best pavilion” by František Cubr (1911–1976), Josef Hrubý (1906–1998), and Zdeněk Pokorný (1909–1984).
Fig. 23.85. F. H. K. Henrion. Stop Nuclear Suicide poster, for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, England, 1963. Offset lithograph; 29⁷⁄₈ x 19⁷⁄₈ in. (75.8 x 50.4 cm). FHK Henrion Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives. © Henrion Estate. Appears by kind permission of the Henrion Estate.
Mid-1950s pleas by the Polish architect-designer Jerzy Hryniewiecki (1908–1988) for modern expression and the banishment of ugliness from everyday life were echoed in Polish “New Look” objects, ranging from Danuta Duszniak’s (b. 1926) boldly colored and equally boldly patterned Columbus tea service (1956) to Alicja Wyszogrodzka’s (b. 1928) silkscreen–printed textile, Maidens (1958), featuring stylized women set against a vivid background of green and white stripes (fig. 23.86). By contrast, the main impact of a coffee service by Lubomir Tomaszewski (b. 1922) comes from its sensu-ous shapes (influenced by the Organic Modernism of Zeisel and Wright), elegantly swirling lines of graffiti decoration, and tensions resulting from the interactions between the two.
Eastern European magazines, books, and films of the 1950s and 1960s reveal considerable interest in forging overtly modern lifestyles, from clothing and hairstyles to furniture and textiles. Many of the products emanating from the DDR, including furniture and toys, were coveted elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc for their design and high quality of manufacture. The magazine Die Neue Mode (New Fashion) promoted fashionable dress, and fashion-show films were screened in factories and community centers in several Eastern Bloc countries. The stylish garments shown were usually only available to a small minority, including prominent Communist Party officials, but many women sewed or knitted items using patterns. Clothing bought in the West by those allowed to travel, or smuggled in, also influenced domestic design, and second-hand and black (and gray) markets thrived. Furthermore, as elsewhere during times of scarcity, a headscarf worn differently or a hemline shortened or lengthened could be used to signal modernity.
Despite the massive U.S. investment in military and space programs, in 1959 during the so-called Kitchen Debate between United States Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev about the merits of capitalism and communism, Nixon chose not to focus on technology. Only two years earlier, the launch of Sputnik 1, the first unmanned satellite, into space had confirmed the perception of Soviet scientific and technological preeminence. Instead, Nixon emphasized capitalism’s ability to create an abundance of consumer goods, an area where the United States far outstripped any other nation in terms of per capita owner- ship. The ideological power of goods was nowhere more evident than in the yellow model kitchen by General Electric at the American National Exhibition in Moscow (1959, design directed by George Nelson for the United States Information Agency), which gave the “Kitchen Debate” its name because much of the discussion took place there. His bluster at the time notwithstanding, Khrushchev thereafter paid greater attention to consumer desires, as did other Eastern Bloc leaders, if only as a means of controlling dissent.
Fig. 23.86. Alicja Wyszogrodzka. Maidens skirt fabric (detail), Industrial Design Institute Silkscreen Workshop, Warsaw, 1958. Silkscreened cotton; overall, 31 x 108¼ in. (79 x 275 cm). Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (Wzr.t.850 MNW). From Anna Demska, Anna Frackiewicz, and Anna Maga, We Want to Be Modern: Polish Design, 1955–1968, from the Collection of the National Museum in Warsaw, 2011.
Most Westerners welcomed access to an abundance of consumer goods, but some people felt that displays of materialism, such as the exhibition in Moscow, reflected badly on the United States as a nation. Wider concerns about excessive consumption, waste, industrial and environmental pollution, and the relentless pressure on consumers from manufacturers via the advertising industry were voiced by critics, including Vance Packard (1914–1996), whose The Hidden Persuaders (1957), The Status Seekers (1959), and The Waste Makers (1960) critiqued planned obsolescence, manipulative advertising, and status anxiety or “keeping up with the Joneses.”