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Art Curatorial

20th-Century Tools for Measuring Time and Bodies

Isamu Noguchi for Measured Time, Inc., Clock and Kitchen Timer, ca. 1932. Bakelite, metal, glass, and painted metal. Gift from the George R. Kravis II Collection M2018.246. Photo: Sotheby’s, © Sotheby’s, Inc. 2016, © 2017 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Isamu Noguchi for Measured Time, Inc., Clock and Kitchen Timer, ca. 1932. Bakelite, metal, glass, and painted metal. Gift from the George R. Kravis II Collection M2018.246. Photo: Sotheby’s, © Sotheby’s, Inc. 2016, © 2017 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Clocks, calculators, measuring tapes, and scales—tools for measurement and calculation have long been important for people to accomplish tasks at work, school, and home. A new display in the 20th- and 21st-Century Design Galleries considers the role designers played in shaping such devices in the twentieth century, with examples from the 1920s-1980s. On one hand, these objects demonstrate how many designers aimed to make tools that are simple to use and easy to read, such as the streamlined kitchen clock and timer that Isamu Noguchi designed for Measured Time, Inc. in the early 1930s. At the same time, these designs bring to light how measurement and calculation have been closely linked to the human body in the twentieth century, as this post explores.

Though the practice of timekeeping extends back thousands of years, new strategies of labor management emerged in the early twentieth century that placed particular emphasis on keeping track of time and bodies in tandem. In the United States, labor theorists Frederick Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth introduced and popularized methods of scientific management. In particular, they used time and motion studies to first evaluate workers’ behavior, and then modify it for maximum efficiency. [1] The Gilbreths developed the chronocyclograph, which used small electric lights attached to workers’ bodies to produce images of tasks being accomplished over time. The idea was that through such studies, inefficient ways of working could be identified and replaced with standard practices that would increase productivity at work and at home. [2]

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Art

Modern Lamps in Midcentury America

Zahara Schatz, manufactured by Heifetz Manufacturing Company, Table Lamp, 1951. Aluminum, enameled brass. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift from the George R. Kravis II Collection. Photo courtesy of Wright.
Zahara Schatz and Heifetz Manufacturing Company, Table Lamp, 1951. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift from the George R. Kravis II Collection. Photo courtesy of Wright.

In 1950, the Museum of Modern Art and New York-based Heifetz Manufacturing Company announced a design competition for floor and table lamps, offering cash prizes and the tantalizing promise that Heifetz would put at least three-quarters of the winning designs into production. [1] Ultimately, eight table lamps and two floor lamps were chosen for manufacture from over 600 entries. [2] These lamps were exhibited at MoMA from March 27–June 3, 1951 (alongside drawings, diagrams, photographs of the designs), published in Arts & Architecture magazine, and offered for sale across the United States at numerous stores, including Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. in Chicago and Macy’s in New York and San Francisco. [3] Now, two of these lamps are on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum as part of Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America (Sept 28, 2018-Jan 6, 2019).

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Education Events Exhibitions

The House of Cards Project

spiral
UWM-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts students (left to right) Anna Emerson, Paul Manley, and Jessica Schubkegel installing the House of Cards spiral. Photo: Ray Chi.

In the early 1950s, designers Charles and Ray Eames painstakingly arranged penny cars, pencils, pills, and papers to photograph for their House of Cards construction set. They probably never imagined that decades later, thousands of children and adults in the Milwaukee region would meticulously decorate their own House of Cards, let alone that these cards would be installed together in a towering spiral at the Milwaukee Art Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America.

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Art

“My Adopted State”: Arthur Carrara in Wisconsin

Arthur Carrara in his studio, Kettle Moraine, Wisconsin, ca. 1964. Published in Recent Works: 1960-1965 (1965). Photo by John Cornwall/Arthur Carrara.

Architect and designer Arthur A. Carrara (American, 1914–1995) was born in Chicago and worked in locations across the world, from Buffalo, New York to the Philippines. But for Carrara, Wisconsin felt like home; in his 1964 retrospective catalog he fondly described Wisconsin as “my adopted state.”[1] Over the course of his multifaceted career, Carrara worked repeatedly in Wisconsin—creating homes for private clients, designing exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Center, and eventually building a studio for himself in the state’s Kettle Moraine region.

Categories
Art

Playful Design, Serious Message: Learning & Play in the 1970s

A selection of educational products from the 1970s, recently installed in MAM’s 20th- and 21st- Century Design Galleries, tells the story of two pressing issues in the United States during the period through the lens of design for children.

Kent Dickinson (American, active 1970s), manufactured by Odlot Game Company (United States, active 1970s), Metradoms: a Game of Metric Dominos, 1976. Plastic and paper. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Daniel Ostroff M2017.28. Photo by John R. Glembin.
Kent Dickinson (American, active 1970s), manufactured by Odlot Game Company (United States, active 1970s), Metradoms: a Game of Metric Dominos, 1976. Plastic and paper. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Daniel Ostroff M2017.28. Photo by John R. Glembin.

First, the issue of metric conversion is represented by the record album Songs of Metric Man and the game Metradoms: A Games of Metric Dominos (a recent addition to MAM’s Design Collection). Both aimed to teach children how to use the metric system in anticipation of “metrification,” or the adoption of metrics as the standard system of measurement in the United States. From our twenty-first-century perspective, this may not seem like a particularly divisive political issue, but in the 1970s, American were divided between those who perceived the shift from feet to meters as step towards greater economic and scientific cooperation with the rest of the world, and those who viewed the system as an unwelcome invasion of foreign customs.