Norman Bel Geddes exhibition's designs that shaped modern America
By Olivia Fleming
PUBLISHED: 14:32 EST, 14 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:10 EST, 14 November 2013
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)
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 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 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 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: 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)
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
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
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
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
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.
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