One of the current exhibits at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, The Jazz Age, American Style in the 1920s, is a must see for any lover of Art Deco. The Cooper Hewitt, a division of the Smithsonian is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historical and contemporary design. The Cooper Hewitt’s home is in the former Andrew Carnegie mansion at 5th Avenue and 91st Street, New York City. Completed in 1903 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, the Cooper Hewitt opened there in 1976.
The Jazz Age is an exhibition in collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art. Encompassing all aspects of mid-1920’s through mid-1930’s modern design from furniture, to clothing to jewelry to art the exhibit is so large that it takes up two floors of the Cooper Hewitt. Going up the main staircase to the exhibit there are two large panels of wall covering from the Ziegfeld Theatre (1927-1966).
The panels are oil on canvas and are on loan from the collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Period photographs do not justice to the mural, it comes to life when seen in color. When entering the exhibit proper there is a remarkable mirror, lamp and console table.
Throughout the exhibit one can see many of the finest examples of glass produced in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Here are some examples that caught our eye.
The Gazelle Bowl (Steuben Glass, Inc., 1935) designed by Sidney Waugh is prominently displayed on the second floor of the exhibit. This is one of the most iconic pieces of glass to come out of the era between the World Wars.
The 1926 vase Tourbillons (Whirlwinds) designed by Suzanne Lalique went into production by René Lalique. Created through mass production pressing and hand-carving and accented with black enamel, it was a new look and technique in decorative glass. It was one of the French objects in Lord and Taylor’s 1928 Exposition of Modern French Decorative Art. One of the earliest shows in the United States of the new decorative style.
Another classic Lalique vase on display is the Beauvais Vase of 1931. Designed by Suzanne Lalique, like Tourbillons. It is part of the Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts department.
Two Walter Dorwin Teague designs for Steuben Glass made it into the exhibit. Teague hired on a one year contract to Steuben to make it the finest glass company in America. Using the then current Scandinavian trend of pale or colorless glass, one his designs was a spherical bowl. The bowl dates from 1932.
Teague derived his inspiration for the lens bowl from the glass lenses the Corning Glass Works produced from railroad signals and locomotive lights. Most of the glass Teague designed for Steuben ended production in 1933 when his contract with the company expired.
In an enclosed case there are several pieces of this very rare glass. Designed by Reuben Haley for the Consolidated Glass Company, his inspiration came from items he had seen at the 1925 Paris Exposition. When debuted at the 1928 Pittsburgh Glass Fair one trade journal wrote:
“it is the craziest thing ever brought out in glassware . . . The first reaction is all but shock, yet the more pieces are studied, the more they appeal and there comes a realization that with all their distorted appearance they have a balance that is perfect and are true specimens of cubist art.”
Ruba Rombic was only in production for a few years. Due to the depression, Consolidated closed its doors in 1932. When they reopened in 1936 Ruba Rombic would no longer be part of their line. The cubism of the glassware, so avant-garde in the late 1920’s would have looked very dated by 1936 as streamlining became the popular new design form.
So many iconic pieces of furniture were on display that it is hard to pick just a few for this post. But here are a few of our favorites –
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
This chair is often thought of as a Mid-Century Modern design. In actuality, van der Rohe created it in 1929 for the German Pavilion at the International Exposition, Barcelona, Spain. The chair so forward in its design that it is still in production to this day.
Marcel Breuer’s B3 (Wassily) Chair
Designed by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Periand &
Corner Cabinet, ca. 1923
A corner cabinet designed by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann in 1923 for the residence of A. Weitz of Lyon, France. Two years later Ruhlmann was one of the principal designers exhibiting at the 1925 Paris Exposition. His designs were a great influence at the start of the Art Deco era.
Skyscraper Bookcase Desk
Paul T. Frankl, ca. 1928
Frankl’s “Skyscraper” line of furniture captured the optimism and exuberance of the United States in the late 1920’s. The bookcase desk is quintessential of this line and how it mimics the setback look of then current construction trends.
Table, ca. 1928
This table is a good example of Donald Deskey’s use of mixed media combining chrome with wood and a painted abstract detail.
Sideboard and Chair, 1928-29
Los Angeles based industrial designer, architect and artist created this set in the late 1920’s. Pieces from this group can be seen in several films such as King of Jazz (Universal, 1930) and Trouble in Paradise (Paramount, 1932).
Airline Chair, 1934
One of the first assemble yourself pieces of furniture, K.E.M. Weber’s Airline Chair of 1934 is an iconic piece of streamline style furniture from the mid-1930’s. For more on Weber and this chair, check out this article by Ben Marks and Lisa Hix from Collector’s Weekly.
These are only a very few of the iconic Art Deco items in this amazing exhibit. If you like 20th Century design this is a don’t miss show. The exhibit runs through August 20th at the Cooper Hewitt Museum before moving to The Cleveland Museum of Art. In Cleveland land it will run from September 20, 2017 through January 14, 2018.
Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)
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