Designing a New World 19141939
The designed world in which we live was largely created by Modernism, which is best identified as a loose collection of ideas that developed simultaneously in different countries rather than as a single movement. The unadorned, geometric forms, abstracted shapes, and bold colors of Modernist art and design are unmistakable, seen in everything from teacups to skyscrapers, from paintings to living room fixtures and furniture. But behind the look and forms of Modernism lay a set of radical ideas and conditions. This exhibition explores how the movement developed, what principles defined it, and some of the themes that characterized it, including Utopia, the machine and mass production, nature and the healthy body, and national identities.
The author H.G. Wells, writing in 1933, knew that he was witnessing a time of unprecedented transformation. People were living in a new era, and given the extraordinary powers science had delivered, Wells saw that humanity might either perfect the world or use its new capabilities to bring about total annihilation. This was a nervous and frenetic time that fell between the grim bookends of two World Wars. Technologically, it was not an especially innovative period. The electric light bulb, the automobile, the airplane, the skyscraper, the radio, and the telephone all predate World War I. It was, however, a time of development and dispersal rather than invention, giving rise to widespread use of modern technologies.
During the interwar years of 1914 to 1939, many architects, designers, and artists passionately committed themselves to the ideas which we now call Modernism. Reacting to the unprecedented violence and destruction of World War I, they searched for ways to create a better world through art and design.
The Mechanic, 1920
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
© 2007 Arists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Tea infuser, model MT 49, 1924
Copper, silver, and ebony, British Museum, London (1979, 11-2, 1) © The Trustees of the