20th and 21st Century Design Art Curatorial Exhibitions

John J. Reiss: Artist, Designer, and Collector

John J. Reiss, photographed for Wisconsin Architect, January 1968
John J. Reiss, photographed for Wisconsin Architect, January 1968

Milwaukee has been home to many talented designers over the years, but they often fly under the radar. A designer’s main concern is to convey a message or idea on behalf of a client; one’s identity is secondary, but a talented designer finds a way to stand out.

John J. Reiss is one such designer. He was born in Milwaukee in 1922, and while he spent some time in New York, Milwaukee was ultimately where he made his home and his mark. As a design associate for the Milwaukee Art Center (now the Milwaukee Art Museum), he created many of the exhibition catalogues, invitations, and advertisements in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. However, he won recognition on a national and international level as well.

20th and 21st Century Design Art Curatorial

And All That Jazz!

What did socialites in Milwaukee read during the jazz age of the late 1920s?

Well, naturally, everyone was reading The Modern Milwaukeean!

The magazine circulated from September of 1928 through the spring of 1930 and billed itself as the key publication for keeping up with the latest technological trends and everything modern. It proposed modernity as a way of life, but what really set The Modern Milwaukeean apart was its modern graphic design.

Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Kem Weber’s Airline Chair

"Airline" Armchair

This chair is one of my favorite designs of the 20th century. Period.

So sleek, yet soft! So comfortable, yet efficient!

When contemplating a move to Milwaukee to accept my current position, I made a short list of things I loved: “Lake Michigan. Calatrava-designed building. Beer culture. Kem Weber’s Airline chair.”

And now here I am, lucky enough to work every day in a building with “Airline” chair, the perfect type of museum object that looks stunning and can tell stories about its time and place. The Milwaukee Art Museum purchased the chair in 2001, and it is currently on view in the 20th-century Design Gallery (Gallery #30) on the Museum’s main level.