An upcoming exhibition, titled Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America, will dive into the fascinating intersections of play and modern design, exploring how the concept of playfulness influenced postwar American design. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, a number of developments, including an obsession with childhood development, a growing middle class, pervasive Cold War anxieties, and new innovations in materials and manufacturing technologies, encouraged designers and architects towards creativity and innovation.
Co-organized by the Denver and Milwaukee Art Museums—and opening on September 28, 2018, in Milwaukee before traveling to Denver to be on view starting May 5, 2019—Serious Play will highlight how various models of play inspired this creative experimentation throughout the mid-century. Over 200 works in various media, ranging from works on paper, models, textiles, furniture and ceramics to films, toys, playground equipment and product design. And including pieces from Charles and Ray Eames, Paul Rand and Eva Zeisel, and from lesser known names such as Henry P. Glass and Estelle and Erwin Laverne.
“While midcentury American design may be familiar to some audiences, this exhibition sheds light on work by many designers from the perspective that play can be a serious form of experimentation,” said co-curator Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th and 21st Century Design, Milwaukee Art Museum. “The spirit of play, and its importance to the cultural production of the period, is evidenced by the playful domesticity of Alexander Girard’s storage walls and table settings, as well as by the inventiveness of architects, such as Anne Tyng, who designed modular building toys to encourage creativity in children.”
Curated by Obniski alongside Darrin Alfred, the Curator of Architecture, Design and Graphics at the Denver Art Museum, the exhibit will be organized around three themes—the American home, child’s play and corporate approaches to design—encouraging visitors to consider how design connects to their daily lives. As Alfred reminds, "today, we take the idea of fun as being a critical part of commerce for granted. An airline’s whimsical identity or a corporation’s belief that creativity should be unrestrained and unburdened—these approaches don’t astonish us in the same way because companies like Alcoa, Braniff and Herman Miller challenged designers to surprise the world through imagination and delight.”
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