American Architectural Metalwork, 1890–1930
The use of metal for architectural embellishment, which can be traced back to ancient times, enjoyed a great flowering in the United States between about 1890 and 1930, when it was often an important component of all sorts of buildings. Exhibited here are a few examples of this golden age of American architectural metalwork, which, because they were meant to blend with the buildings for which they were designed, also serve to illustrate some of the major styles of the period.
The three pieces made in Chicago, for example, represent the Prairie School, an indigenous American style that originated in the Midwest as a conscious reaction to the perceived exuberant floridity of the European Art Nouveau and the staid neoclassicism of Beaux Arts. The grille by Samuel Yellin reflects his personal synthesis of the Renaissance Revival and Arts and Crafts styles, while Thomas Lamb’s ventilation cover, from a famous 1930s movie palace, is rendered in the Art Moderne (or Art Deco) style, which originated in France in the 1920s. Two of the Chicago-made pieces are from elaborate elevators made for early skyscrapers, a building form invented by the Chicago architects Louis H. Sullivan, Denkmar Adler, and William Le Baron Jenney. Unlike contemporary skyscrapers, in which the mechanical elements of elevators are hidden and elevator doors blend seamlessly with the building’s interior, the first tall buildings featured elevators with an exposed mechanical structure and ornate metal doors and cages designed to celebrate the skyscraper’s novelty.
By 1940 the use of elaborate metal architectural decoration in America had declined sharply. Both the austerity of the Great Depression and government restrictions on the use of all types of metal due to the military demands of World War II sounded the final death knell.
NEW YORK, May 25, 1994—Twentieth-Century Design From The Brooklyn Museum Collection, an exhibition of a wide selection of objects, spanning almost the entire century, opens at the Museum on May 25 where it will be on long term view. Among the 144 objects, created between 1909 and 1990, more than 50% have never before been on public view, including several recent acquisitions, or have not been displayed in more than a decade.
The exhibition of objects, which more than doubles the amount on view of twentieth-century material from the permanent collection, presents both the handcrafted and machine-made created from traditional and synthetic materials. They range from exquisitely crafted glass to a 1930s electrolux vacuum cleaner.
The works, arranged chronologically, and by style, reflect the dominant and sometimes overlapping design trends of the twentieth-century. The installation includes examples of turn-of-the-century European High Style, the machine age, studio pottery, and biomorphic design, as well as a wide variety of late twentieth-century pieces. Some of the objects were selected for their innovations in form, material, or manufacturing technique, others were chosen for their distinct place in the history of design.
Among the works on display that were created in the first half of the century are a René Lalique vase, a German electric kettle, Russel Wright’s pancake and corn set; Fostoria glassware; Polaroid’s Cambridge study lamp; a Kodak box camera; and an electric pencil sharpener. The pieces representing the 1950s through the 1970s include a plate, cup, and saucer designed by Roy Lichtenstein; an Arne Jacobson coffeepot; and a metal and plastic calendar created by Italian designer, Enzo Man. Among the contemporary pieces are Terence Long’s Radiant Egg Throne Egg Holder and Philippe Starck’s Italian-made Juicy Salif Juicer.
Molly Seiler, assistant curator of decorative arts, has organized the installation.