During the first half of the twentieth century, and especially after the conclusion of the First World War, every industrialized society grappled with what it meant to be modern. The speed of modern life, accelerated by the invention of cars, airplanes, electric lighting, telephones, mass-media marketing, and more, led to a fundamental shift in how people lived their lives and what they chose to live with. Modern art and design celebrated elements of this new American lifestyle, including skyscraper living, cocktail parties, speedy transportation, and technological innovation, becoming part of American everyday life in the process. The “modern look” came to represent American hopes, dreams, and fantasies. Modern design retained these optimistic connotations, and even increased in popularity, after the 1929 stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The creative use of technology; novel, less-expensive materials; innovation and adaptation—all hallmarks of American modern design—were heralded as the way to a better, stronger future. 

The exhibition and publication will explore this new American lifestyle through close examination of iconic works of the era. Each of these exceptional objects will offer a window into the social, cultural, technological, political, and economic world in which they were made and used. Drawing heavily, but not exclusively, upon the John Axelrod Collection, America Goes Modern will feature a range of household furnishings including furniture, ceramics, metalwares, textiles, and glass, from the leading designers of the era, including Paul Frankl, Donald Deskey, Kem Weber, and Gilbert Rhode, to name just a few. Key objects include Frankl’s Skyscraper desk-and-bookcase, Deskey’s painted and aluminum-coated screen, and Viktor Schreckengost’s iconic Jazz bowl

A related publication would be available in conjunction with this exhibition.

For more information, please contact mfaontour@mfa.org.