20th- and 21st-Century Design: New Acquisitions Now On View

Spring cleaning isn’t just for attics—the Museum’s Design Galleries were recently refreshed with a new coat of paint and numerous recent acquisitions. From turn-of-the-century silver to twenty-first-century furniture, these objects demonstrate the wide range of what we mean by “design” at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Josef Hoffmann (Austrian, 1870–1956), produced by Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna, Austria, 1903–1932), Basket, 1905. Silver and ivory. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.56. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Josef Hoffmann (Austrian, 1870–1956), produced by Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna, Austria, 1903–1932), Basket, 1905. Silver and ivory. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.56. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Among the newly-installed acquisitions, the earliest is a silver basket from 1905. This piece was designed by Josef Hoffmann at the Wiener Werkstätte, a workshop in Vienna that Hoffmann co-founded with fellow designer Koloman Moser in 1903.  The workshop sought to eliminate boundaries between art and design; it brought together artists, designers, and architects, who produced textiles, ceramics, metalwork, and more. This basket’s elegant gridwork is an excellent example of how Hoffmann created visual interest through an object’s structure, rather than by adding additional ornamentation.

A different set of design priorities are demonstrated by Erich Dieckmann’s armchair (model 8219). Dieckmann was educated at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany during the 1920s; his interest in rational and affordable design solutions reflects Bauhaus teachings. In the period that he was working, many notable designers were experimenting with tubular-steel, and in this case Dieckmann used the material to create a low-slung, comfortable seat with a simple—yet striking—profile.

Erich Dieckmann (German, 1896–1944), produced by Cebaso Stahlrohrmöbel (Ohrdruf, Thüringen, Germany, 1882–1934), Armchair (model 8219), 1931. Nickel-plated tubular steel, painted wood, fabric, and original Eisengarn. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.15. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Erich Dieckmann (German, 1896–1944), produced by Cebaso Stahlrohrmöbel (Ohrdruf, Thüringen, Germany, 1882–1934), Armchair (model 8219), 1931. Nickel-plated tubular steel, painted wood, fabric, and original Eisengarn. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.15. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Finding creative and compelling ways to use cost-efficient materials is a common theme in design history, and Eva Zeisel’s Cloverleaf bowl continues this narrative. Zeisel worked primarily as an industrial ceramics designer, but in 1947 she was hired by a Plexiglas manufacturer to produce a series of bowls, trays, and serving utensils from the firm’s acrylic plastic (which had been developed for military applications during World War II). By employing rich colors and biomorphic forms, Zeisel transformed the material into servingware worthy of a modern dinner table.

Eva Zeisel (American, b. Hungary, 1906–2011), manufactured by Clover Box and Manufacturing Company (Bronx, New York, active mid-20th century), Cloverleaf Bowl, from the Cloverware series, 1947. Plexiglas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.54. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Eva Zeisel (American, b. Hungary, 1906–2011), manufactured by Clover Box and Manufacturing Company (Bronx, New York, active mid-20th century), Cloverleaf Bowl, from the Cloverware series, 1947. Plexiglas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.54. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Jonathan Muecke’s Bench, designed in 2011, serves as a contemporary example of material and formal experimentation. Throughout his practice, Muecke aims for a careful balance between color, material, texture, and scale—often leading to objects that are at once familiar and peculiar. Made from a composite of carbon fiber and epoxy resin, this spindly bench is both light-weight and surprisingly sturdy.

Jonathan Muecke (American, b. 1983), Bench, 2011. Carbon fiber and epoxy resin. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Stern Fund, M2017.58. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Jonathan Muecke (American, b. 1983), Bench, 2011. Carbon fiber and epoxy resin. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Stern Fund, M2017.58. Photo by John R. Glembin.

These exciting new acquisitions can now be seen in the Museum’s 20th- and 21st-Century Design Galleries. We are also thrilled to have recently installed Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Exhibition House Chair (previously featured on the Blog here), two new posters by John Rieben, and many other works of textile, metalwork, and industrial design.

Hannah Pivo is Curatorial Assistant for Design. She works on acquisitions, gallery rotations, and exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century ceramics, glass, textile, graphics, industrial design, and more.

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