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In a Midcentury Mood

6 artworks from 6 artists across 5 galleries
The tour will begin from the Michigan Avenue entrance, if you enter from the Modern Wing, begin your tour in reverse order.

From furniture to home accessories, this tour is serving up midcentury modern style.

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  • A37: California Hallway, c. 1940

    Narcissa Niblack Thorne

    One of 68 miniature rooms imagined by Narcissa Thorne to evoke historic interiors across the centuries, this room explores the elegant restraint of contemporary design from the 1930s. Thorne took the extraordinary step of commissioning original, tiny paintings for this space from renowned Cubist artists Fernand Léger and Amadée Ozenfant, as well as a studio pottery piece from Gertrud Natzler.

    "While many of the rooms Thorne designed were historical, this is one of the few that captured the modern designs popular in her own time. The commissioned miniature artworks enhance the contemporary feel of the space."

  • Chess Table

    Isamu Noguchi

    Noguchi first designed this sculptural chess table for the 1944 Surrealist exhibition The Imagery of Chess. He drew from the gestural profiles of Chinese calligraphy for the tabletop form and Japanese joinery techniques for the base’s interlocking legs. The designer George Nelson bought the original table and a few years later connected Noguchi with the manufacturer Herman Miller, who briefly put the table into commercial production.

    "While the table's irregular biomorphic shape epitomize Noguchi's exploration of Surrealism, the form also demonstrates his synthesis of Eastern and Western influences."

  • Cocktail Set, Model 26

    Russel Wright

    In 1930 Russel Wright began producing informal serving accessories, including this cocktail service. His design reveals the great allure that streamlined forms had during the 1930s: one reviewer commented that “cylindrical and spherical forms are indicative of the speed of our age.” Despite Wright’s goal of reaching a wide audience through mass production, this set was always completely handmade, and great variations exist between known examples.

    "Wright marketed these accessories as 'featherweight,' so that 'even the frailest hostess finds no difficulty in handling' them. The cork feet of the glasses provide built-in coasters, while the shaker’s cork-covered neck doubles as an insulated handle."

  • Desk

    Frank Lloyd Wright

    When businessman H. F. Johnson Jr. set out to build new offices for the S. C. Johnson company in Racine, Wisconsin, he wanted “the greatest architect in the world.” That meant Frank Lloyd Wright, who was renowned for his designs based on natural principles. Wright also designed the building's furniture, like this desk, whose curved forms and earth tones echo the project's architectural designs.

    "This desk and the accompanying armchair (also in this gallery) echo Wright’s architectural designs for the S. C. Johnson project, which included rounded brick buildings filled with columns that widened as they reached the ceiling."

  • Table Lamp

    Walter Von Nessen

    Meant to accompany a series of tables that Walter von Nessen created around 1930, this lamp illustrates America’s shift to a streamlined modern aesthetic during the 1930s. Von Nessen championed the use of metal as an appropriate material to capture the look and spirit of the modern age.

    "This lamp's sleek lines convey standardized manufacturing, and its exposed hardware is characteristic of industrial fabrication. The lamp’s silver finish and added vertical strip of ebony give it a sumptuous quality."

  • Skyscraper Cabinet

    Paul Theodore Frankl

    Trained as an architect in Vienna and Berlin, Paul T. Frankl immigrated to New York in 1914 and began designing interiors and championing the skyscraper as a source of a uniquely American modernist vision. The geometric form of this cabinet rests on a sharply molded base; the bottom cabinet is topped with compartments and shelves, whose unadorned surfaces exemplify modernist design.

    "Frankl experimented with spare, geometric furniture that mimicked New York skyscrapers. By 1926 these pieces were touted in Good Furniture magazine as the 'skyscraper type of furniture, which is as American and as New Yorkish as Fifth Avenue itself.'"


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