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Review: MOMA as tastemaker in High’s “Modern by Design”

Dealers and canny collectors hold the taste-making reins in the art world, but once upon a time, back even before critics like Clement Greenberg held sway, the Museum of Modern Art played a singular role in shaping culture. Talk about a mission-driven institution: while museums, which as repositories of culture can shape art history by what and how they collect and exhibit, MOMA actively proselytized for modernism.

The High Museum of Art‘s exhibition “Modern by Design,” part of its collaboration with MOMA, recounts how the New York museum used its bully pulpit to promote modernist values in furniture, housewares and other functional objects through competitions, exhibitions and cross-marketing with manufacturers. By dint of its efforts, which included the championing of affordability, many baby boomers’ parents equated good taste with good modern design, a feat of aesthetic democratization not achieved again until Target began selling teapots designed by architect Michael Graves in the 1980s. (Above: Greta Von Nessen’s “Anywhere Lamp,” from 1951.)

The objects in the lobby and Skyway, drawn from the High’s growing collection of contemporary design, seem a different exhibition altogether. (Above: the Japanese firm nendo’s “cabbage chairs.”) Both, however, reveal the history of design as the dynamic interplay of art, function, technological advances and zeitgeist. Click here for the complete AJC review.

About that propeller on our home page: MOMA’S 1934 exhibition “Machine Art” presented objects of industrial design as if they were fine art. The exhibition boosted sales of these American-made products. Acquisitions from the show inaugurated MOMA’s design collection.

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