|U.S. DESIGN: 1975-2000|
an interview with NewsHour Arts Correspondent Jeffrey Brown, U.S. Design Curator
Craig Miller discusses the American historical factors that contributed to the
development of modernist American design. |
: Craig Miller reflects on how design appeals to the average consumer, and how
a certain garbage can has become a cultural icon.
| JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think that Americans
are generally aware that everything around them is design?|
CRAIG MILLER: I think some are, but perhaps the majority aren't, they go through life looking at them as objects and that's one of the important roles of museums. You know we, we don't just explain the past to the public. We have to explain what's happening now. Museums can really play a very active role in our society and that's you know a very important role for us.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now what's the idea of this exhibition, what's the story you're trying to tell?
CRAIG MILLER: Well, I think, you know it's, it's a part of a series of shows that we're doing on contemporary design and the United States right now, is an incredible global super power. And everybody really thinks of us in terms of our economic and military power. But one of the reasons the United States is a great country is our culture and the real reason for this show is to look at what we achieved in the last quarter century in the design arts.
JEFFREY BROWN: Something happened around the 70s, there was a break. Give us a little historical context.
CRAIG MILLER: Well, there was a big schism, you know and the immediate post-war period, there was a sort of wonderful, modernist movement with people like Charles Eames and Florence Knoll and George Nelson, all of those people. America was really this sort of predominant power.
JEFFREY BROWN: Economic prosperity, after the war.
CRAIG MILLER: Yes, and then, you know, we forget the 60s and 70s. You know, we ushered in the decade with the Kennedys and the great sense of elegance and style, but then there were the assassinations, there was Vietnam, there were the race riots. All of these things rendered our society and design reflects all of that.
So we went through a period of crisis in the 60s and
70s and so this show picks up around 1975 when it regroups again and designers
tried to find a new direction for American design. They were reacting to that
sort of elegant, minimal modernism of the 60s and they wanted to bring back a
new richness to design.
|The modernist style|
JEFFREY BROWN: So, in the post-war era, you have American prosperity, you have the notion of progress, you have people moving to the suburbs, the growth of the suburbs, what was happening in design?
CRAIG MILLER: Well, America really sort of
took the modernist style from Europe and made it happen, you know for the, the
mass public. So you have great designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Florence
Knoll, George Nelson, America was really a superpower in that period of sort of
carrying for that, that modernism. Um, but in the 60s, all of that began to change.
You know we forget that you know the decade came in with the elegance and the
style of the Kennedys, but it very quickly dissipated with the assassinations,
Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the whole political cultural change in
our society, so design really reflected that.
And then the other side of the coin, were designers who looked at American
popular culture and they were looking at the vernacular and the ordinary, and
they wanted to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. So that was a completely
different side of the coin. Robert Venturi, you know used to say and I'm sort
of paraphrasing him, "If you want to go forward, you have to look backward.
And if you want to go upward, you have to look down." So it represents those
two aspects of high and low.
After a period of time, they run out of steam. There's, there's no way to sort of reinvent it. So you almost have to go to the opposite extreme, which is precisely what someone like Robert Venturi was advocating when he wrote books like "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture", or "Learning from Las Vegas". These were treatises that tried to find a new sort of philosophical basis for architecture graphics and design.
Part II : Craig Miller reflects on how design appeals to the average consumer, and how a certain garbage can has become a cultural icon.