Designing Home: Jews and Mid-Century Modernism


The new exhibition Designing Home: Jews and Mid-Century Modernism at the Contemporary Jewish Museum looks at the subtle and enduring contributions of Jews across the spectrum of Mid-Century Modern design in America, identifying individuals who sometimes get lost in the chatter about the big names– like furniture designer Muriel Coleman, at top– and integrates them with important modernists who we don’t necessarily “identify” as Jewish designers, like Rudoph Schindler, George Nelson, and Richard Neutra, and stretches to include postwar housing developer Joe Eichler.

Credit: George Nelson & Associates, Irving Harper, Vitra, Marshmallow Sofa, 1956

Credit: Eichler model home advertisement, c. 1960. Photographic print of original color postcard image, Courtesy of the Local History Collection, Orange Public Library, Orange, CA

Some of the designers emigrated before the Nazi rise to power, like Rudolph Schindler, who came to Los Angeles in the 1920s to work for Frank Lloyd Wright. Others, like textile designer Anni Albers and architect Marcel Breuer worked at the Bauhaus until the late ’30s. With a broad net, the show covers architecture and furniture design, textiles and pottery, as well as printed matter and graphic design– a video montage of Otto Preminger films with titles by Saul Bass is riveting– plus Judaica in precious metals and everyday objects like Henry Dreyfus’ iconic Princess phone.

Credit: Henry Dreyfuss, Princess Phone, 1959. Photograph: Johnna Arnold

Below, designed by Richard Neutra, the Edgar J. Kauffman House in Palm Springs was captured on film by Julius Schulman– the photographer whose widely published images brought Mid-Century architecture to the masses. Kauffman, heir to a Midwestern department store fortune, was also instrumental in supporting modern design exhibitions at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Also below, a chair by Harry Rosenthal for Neutra’s Schiff House in San Francisco’s Marina District.

Credit: Julius Shulman, Kaufmann House designed by Richard Neutra (Palm Springs, CA), 1947. Gelatin silver print. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute. Copyright © J. Paul Getty Trust

Credit: Harry Rosenthal, Cube Frame chair, ca. 1930. Wood and upholstery; 27 1/2 in. x 30 5/8 in. x 32 1/4 in. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. William Schiff

Must Have: An exhibition that’s both thought-provoking and a treat for the eyes, but the exhibition catalogue by guest curator Donald Albrecht is a revelation for anyone serious about Mid-Century Modern design. It’s available at the Museum’s shop or online, and at $45.00, worth every shekel.
Details: Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism is on view until October 6, 2014 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission Street, San Francisco

Credit: Ernest Sohn, made by Hall China Company for Ernest Sohn Creations, “Esquire” coffee pot set and casserole dishes, 1963, stoneware, courtesy Earl Marin, Photograph: John Halpern


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