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Biomorphicism & Organic Abstraction in Twentieth-Century Decorative Arts

DATES December 11, 1991 through December 13, 1992
COLLECTIONS Decorative Arts
  • September 1, 1991 Biomorphicism and Organic Abstraction in Twentieth-Century Decorative Arts, an exhibition featuring approximately forty decorative objects from the Museum’s permanent collection that share an inspiration from organic forms, will open at The Brooklyn Museum December 11, 1991. The exhibition, which will include furniture, glass, ceramic, metal, plastic, and stone, will be on view in the Museum’s Changing Exhibition Gallery of the Department of Decorative Arts, located on the fourth floor, through December 13, 1992.

    The exhibition will explore an alternative design style to the hard-edged geometric forms used by progressive European and American designers in the 1920s and 1930s. It will illustrate how the soft organic shapes that appeared in the Surrealist paintings and sculptures of artists such as Jean Arp and Joan Miró inspired a design vocabulary that was solidified in the 1930s and continues to the present.

    The exhibition will explore various modes of design abstracted from organic forms including biomorphicism and anthropomorphism. Biomorphicism, a style based on organic forms, fully emerged in furniture and other decorative arts in the 1930s although some earlier examples are known. The pure, fluid forms typical of this style can be seen in Russel Wright’s American Modern Dinnerware (1937) and Charles Eames’s and Eero Saarinen’s prize winning furnishings for The Museum of Modern Art’s 1940 exhibition Organic Design in Home Furnishings, among others.

    Anthropomorphism, a style based specifically on human and animal forms, emerged out of biomorphicism. For example, the shape of a woman’s head wearing a nurse’s cap was abstracted by Isamu Noguchi in his Radio Nurse (1938). Similarly, Eva Zeisel interpreted the shape of a rabbit for the design of a softly contoured ceramic Baby Oil Pitcher (circa 1940).

    Abstracted organic shapes also began to appear as decorative motifs applied to more conventional forms, as in Enrico Prampolini’s hardstone Tabletop (1950) and Edwin Scheier’s large Platter (1952), in which he integrates the rounded forms of a man, woman, and child.

    The exhibition follows this mode of organic design into the present with objects such as Laurinda Spear’s Miami Beach Plate (1985) produced by Swid Powell and Kevin Cannon’s wood and leather Box (1983).

    The exhibition was organized by Marianne Lamonaca Loggia, Assistant Curator, Department of Decorative Arts.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 07-12/1991, 179-180.
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