Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America presents the concept of playfulness in postwar American design as a catalyst for creativity and innovation. This exhibition will explore how employing playfulness allowed designers to bring fresh ideas to the American home, children’s toys and play spaces, and corporate identities.
During the 1950s and ’60s, a number of factors came together to make this bold design innovation possible. Diverse materials and manufacturing techniques opened up possibilities for new approaches to design and larger-scale production. Larger disposable income and leisure time of a growing middle class offered more possibilities for designers to help Americans discover a new way of living at home through thoughtfully designed objects. An emerging focus on child development prompted an interest in children’s furniture and placed a fresh emphasis on the importance of smart toy design. Pervasive Cold War anxiety created a desire to bring positivity and escapism into everyday spaces. Architects and designers that took advantage of all these new opportunities thrived.
Co-organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum, the exhibition includes over 200 works in various media, ranging from works on paper, models, textiles, furniture and ceramics to films, toys, playground equipment and product design. Organized around three themes—the American home, child’s play, and corporate approaches to design—the exhibition encourages visitors to consider how design connects to their daily lives.
A full-color, hardcover exhibition catalog will be published by the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum and in association with Yale University Press. Essays will give voice to the exhibition’s thematic threads and will reveal new scholarship on the topic of play in postwar American design.
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