Designing Home was guest-curated by Donald Albrecht, who has also curated exhibitions at the National Building Museum, Museum of the City of New York, and Cooper Hewitt, and Smithsonian Design Museum, among others. It looks at American-born and émigré Jewish architects and designers’ contributions to the modern, American domestic landscape.
Albrecht’s thesis is that the work and concepts of these architects and designers—regardless of where they were born—can be traced to the Bauhaus, which aimed to develop new designs for the broad public in a new industrial age before the Nazis shut it down in the 1930s. According to Albrecht, the architects and designers were either hired as faculty members by various schools, or had their work showcased in museum exhibitions or publications throughout the United States.
Not surprisingly, the Museum of Modern Art was at the forefront of this movement, with its 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition and 1934 Machine Art exhibition, the1950s Good Design program as well as the demonstration houses in the sculpture garden in 1949 and 1950 by former Bauhausler Marcel Breuer and American Architect Gregory Ain. ... On view to the public for the first time in this exhibition is residential furniture—including a cube frame chair, desk and desk lamp, and dressing table and swivel vanity chair—designed by Bauhaus graduate Harry Rosenthal in the 1930s for the Berlin apartment of Dr. William Schiff and his wife, Ilse, who fled Germany for San Francisco in 1935. They commissioned Neutra—himself an Austrian Jewish immigrant who had settled in Los Angeles—to design a townhouse for them and another doctor in San Francisco’s Marina district; they specifically requested an appropriate setting for the bold, geometric design of Rosenthal’s furniture, later photographed by Shulman, in pictures also on display here.
Although architecture is not the primary focus of Revolution of the Eye, the exhibition’s curator, Maurice Berger, finds the modernist ideals and ambitions of the CBS television network reflected in its architectural commissions, specifically, its 1965, Saarinen-designed, dark-granite clad corporate headquarters in New York, known as “Black Rock,” and its 1952 studio complex in Los Angeles—Television City by Charles Luckman and William Leonard Pereira.
According to Berger, Saarinen’s wife, and TV and print journalist, Aline Bernstein introduced Americans to art and architecture in her writing and as an on-air critic for several NBC shows; she believed, he said, “that the appreciation of art was not limited to insiders and cultural elites [and] rejected the idea that art must be understood in purely aesthetic terms.”