Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Celebrating the Jewish Designers of Mid-Century American Modernism

The iconic mid-century aesthetic was shaped extensively by Jewish artists. (Fans of the Mad Men-look, rejoice!)

By: Emma Mazerall

Published: June 8th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

A new exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism, showcases Jewish contributions to the sleek and minimalist design that defined mid-century architecture, furniture, and art in America.

Jewish designers such as Saul Bass, George Nelson, Alvin Lustig, Anni Albers, Leo Lionni, Paul Rand, and Richard Neutra championed the modernist aesthetic movement that shaped the ‘new American home’ of the 1950’s.

Beyond the impact of the artists themselves, the exhibit also focuses on the patrons that supported Jewish modernist designers. Designing Home’s curator, Donald Albrecht, describes “an informal network of six non-sectarian organizations” which helped these Jewish artists gain mainstream success. For example, many prestigious institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York hired Jewish architects and designers, and California-based Arts & Architecture magazine promoted the work of Jewish artists.

“One of the reasons I wanted to discuss the networks was to tell a story of Jewish assimilation into the mainstream of design via collaboration,” Albrecht says.

These Jewish designers were uniquely positioned to shape the distinctly modern American aesthetic in the postwar period, as part of an emerging and prosperous middle class. Albrecht states that recent European immigrants or first generation Jewish-Americans “worked to make a good home in the U.S. and, for some, that good home meant good modern design, especially in new suburbs.”

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism is open now and runs until October 2014 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
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