Home | National | Norman Bel Geddes exhibition's designs that shaped modern America

Norman Bel Geddes exhibition's designs that shaped modern America

By
Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

By Olivia Fleming

PUBLISHED: 14:32 EST, 14 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:10 EST, 14 November 2013

0

View
comments

From Apple's sleek iPhone to that minimalist coat hanging in Zara, there is no doubt streamlined silhouettes are en vogue today. But such futuristic visions are certainly not new.

A pioneer of American industrial design and the Streamlined aesthetic, Norman Bel Geddes, who died in 1958, helped to shape the image of modern America with everything from household objects like refrigerators, lamps and vacuum cleaners, to hypothetical mechanized theaters, amphibious cars and floating airports.

Now, for the first time, a major exhibition dedicated to the designer -- dubbed the 'Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th Century' -- is being presented at the Museum of the City of New York.

A pioneer of American industrial design, Norman Bel Geddes, who died in 1958, helped to shape the image of modern America (pictured: Motor Car No. 9 without tail fin, 1933)

A pioneer of American industrial design, Norman Bel Geddes, who died in 1958, helped to shape the image of modern America (pictured: Motor Car No. 9 without tail fin, 1933)

Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future, open until February 10, explores the life and career of Bel Geddes, with more than 200 artifacts -- like drawings, photographs, models, and products -- both realized and not.

Curated by Donald Albrecht, the five-part exhibition begins with Bel Geddes' birth in 1893 and the early stages of his designs, before looking at his prime decades in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, then moving onto his post-war-period works until his death.

Notable features in the exhibition will include footage of visitors attending his most well-known exhibition, 'Futurama,' at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair which projected a basic theme of highway progress and possible trends in motor transportation of the future.

Visitors, in moving sound-chairs, toured a vast miniature of America as Bel Geddes thought it could have appeared in 1960. Is vision for an Interstate Highway System? 'There should be no more reason for a motorist who is passing through a city to slow down than there is for an airplane which is passing over it,' he wrote at the time.

A new exhibition, Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future, explores the life and multi-faceted career of Bel Geddes, with more than 200 artifacts -- like drawings, photographs, models, and products -- both realized and not

A new exhibition, Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future, explores the life and career of Bel Geddes, with more than 200 artifacts -- like drawings, photographs, models, and products -- both realized and not

Some of his unrealized designs includes a1929 nine-deck amphibian airliner that incorporated areas for deck-games, an orchestra, a gymnasium, a solarium, and two airplane hangars

Some of his unrealized designs includes a 1929 nine-deck amphibian airliner that incorporated areas for deck-games, an orchestra, a gymnasium, a solarium, and two airplane hangars

Dubbed the 'Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th Century, Bel Geddes created everything from household objects like refrigerators, lamps and vacuum cleaners, to hypothetical mechanized theaters, amphibious cars and floating airports (pictured: radio, 1941)

Dubbed the 'Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th Century, Bel Geddes created everything from household objects like refrigerators and lamps, to hypothetical floating airports (pictured: a prototype for the Patriot radio, 1941)

Taking inspiration from German architect Erich Mendelsohn, whose commercial buildings featured curved corners, Bel Geddes adapted those features for household objects (pictured: Seltzer Bottles, 1939)

Taking inspiration from German architect Erich Mendelsohn, whose commercial buildings featured curved corners, Bel Geddes adapted those features for household objects (pictured: Soda King seltzer bottles, 1939)

His model Art Deco House of Tomorrow is also on display, showing his visions for America's modern home; as well as his drawing of a proposal for the Brooklyn Dodgers stadium -- the first with a retractable roof.

The exhibition will also be accompanied by the compilation book, Norman Bel Geddes Designs America, featuring 17 scholarly essays on Geddes and American consumer culture, the business of design, and how he popularized the notion of modernism.

After Bel Geddes opened an industrial-design studio in 1927, he designed a wide range of commercial products from the red-white-and-blue Patriot radio for Emerson and the curvaceous Soda King seltzer bottle for Walter Kidde, as well as numerous unrealized designs, like the bullet-shaped train with an aluminum body.

Bel Geddes' other unrealized futuristic concepts include a teardrop-shaped automobile and a 1929-designed Airliner Number 4, a nine-deck amphibian airliner that incorporated areas for deck-games, an orchestra, a gymnasium, a solarium, and two airplane hangars.

After Bel Geddes opened an industrial-design studio in 1927, he designed a wide range of commercial products as well as numerous unrealized designs, like the flying car (pictured)

After Bel Geddes opened an industrial-design studio in 1927, he designed a wide range of commercial products as well as numerous unrealized designs, like the flying car (pictured)

Some of Bel Geddes' automobile designs bear a remarkable similarity to Fuller's Dymaxion, at least superficially, including his vision of a streamlined motor coach

Some of Bel Geddes' automobile designs bear a remarkable similarity to Fuller's Dymaxion, at least superficially, including his vision of a streamlined motor coach

Notable features in the exhibition also include footage of visitors attending his most well-known exhibition, 'Futurama,' at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair which projected a basic possible trends in motor transportation of the future

The exhibition also includes footage of visitors attending his most well-known exhibition, 'Futurama,' at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair which projected a basic possible trends in motor transportation of the future

At Futurama, visitors in moving sound-chairs toured a vast miniature of America, as Bel Geddes conceived in to appear 20 years later, in 1960

At 'Futurama,' visitors in moving sound-chairs toured a vast miniature of America, as Bel Geddes conceived in to appear 20 years later, in 1960

Bel Geddes, who began his career with set designs for Aline Barnsdall's Los Angeles Little Theater in the 1916, before becoming the scene designer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York,  found early success as an innovative theatrical designer.

His dramatically lit, minimalist sets were part of the New Stagecraft movement -- which set in motion his affinity for more grandiose projects like buildings.

However without any formal architectural education, he termed himself an 'architecturalist' and continued his career needing accredited collaborators to certify his building plans.

Taking inspiration from German architect Erich Mendelsohn, whose commercial buildings featured curved corners, wrap-around horizontal bands, and elongated proportions, Bel Geddes adapted these features for household objects like refrigerators, lamps, and vacuum cleaners, to hypothetical plans for mechanized theaters, amphibious cars, and floating airports.

Bel Geddes also designed a streamline one-piece child's school desk and chair

Bel Geddes also designed a streamline one-piece child's school desk and chair

This 1930s Cobra lamp would be highly coveted by a Bel Geddes collector, one was recently listed on eBay for $1,500

This 1930s Cobra lamp is highly coveted by a Bel Geddes collector, one was recently listed on eBay for $1,500

This icon of American design known as the Manhattan cocktail set was designed by Bel Geddes to reflect the skyscrapers of New York

This icon of American design known as the Manhattan cocktail set was designed by Bel Geddes to reflect the skyscrapers of New York

Geddes was also an advocate of planned obsolescence. He believed, correctly, that a constant stream of irresistible new products, even if a previously released model still worked well, would create an endless cycle of consumer spending -- reinvigorating manufacturing and the country's economy.

However, not everyone was fond of his principles.

After Geddes outlined the principles of aerodynamics -- which underpinned his design concepts -- in an 1934 Atlantic Monthly article titled Streamlining, the founding director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr Jr., wrote a condemning response.

'It seems to me that streamlining has been an absurdity in much contemporary design,' Mr Barr wrote to Geddes. 'This blind concern with fashion is one of the things that makes it difficult to take the ordinary industrial designers seriously.

Read more:

MOST WATCHED NEWS VIDEOS

MOST READ NEWS

  1. YouTube Geek Week: Discover your Geek IQ with test of your nerdy knowledge (5.00)

  2. Colorado father's chilling Facebook messages posted moments before killing baby girl in failed murder-suicide (5.00)

  3. A rare moment of calm on Earth: Stunning satellite image reveals strangely clear skies above the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean (4.00)

  4. Brynn Cameron, mother of Matt Leinart's son, has 2nd child with Blake Griffin (4.00)

  5. Wife of New York university professor found dead at home with a kitchen knife sticking out of her chest (2.00)

  6. Baltimore police officer ends up adopting 'vicious' pit bull said to be terrorizing the streets after it licked him and jumped in his cruiser (2.00)

  7. JFK's grandson John 'Jack' Schlossberg steals the limelight at Caroline Kennedy's swearing in ceremony (2.00)

  8. Treated worse than dogs: Twins set to inherit billion dollar Doris Duke fortune tell of their childhood abuse (1.00)

  9. Army Sergeant mom 'devastated' by son's death in hot car after she forgot to drop him at day care and is charged with manslaughter (1.00)

  10. Twerking girl literally sets herself on fire in YouTube video (1.00)

  11. Martin MacNeill trial: Utah doctor accused of killing his wife branded 'total jerk' as trial begins (1.00)

  12. Flash floods remain a 10-year threat (0)

  13. Lawyers for theater shooting suspect say he did it (0)

  14. Alessandra Ambrosio dons skintight workout pants as she joins fellow Angels for a supermodel charity cycle (0)

  15. NeverWet spray-on coating REPELS water, mud and oils from your clothes (0)

  16. How much you pay for Colorado’s state plane (0)

  17. AT&T will soon start selling customers’ information to marketers (0)

  18. Country singer Randy Travis suffers stroke, undergoes surgery (0)

  19. Cote de Pablo leaving 'NCIS' after 8 years as Ziva David (0)

  20. Terry Dewayne Smith Jr: Body of autistic boy, 11, found and family member, 16, arrested (0)

  21. Saudi Arabian princess arrested for 'holding her servant HOSTAGE' and now faces 12 years in prison after bail was set at $5 million (0)

  22. Flood threatens Manitou for 2nd time in 10 days (0)

  23. Hospital opens new intensive care unit for newborns (0)

  24. Company plans to make fuel out of beetle-killed trees in Colorado (0)

  25. Home brewers beware: Ingredient for beer is dangerous for dogs (0)

  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Photo Galleries

PHOTOS: Plastic Surgery Celebrity Awkward family photos 
 
UPDATED: Faces of Meth PHOTOS: Celebrities all a-Twitter

More galleries ››

 

Tagged as:

No tags for this article

Rate this article

0