NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Modern Art
presents Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 19002000, an ambitious survey of 20th-century design for children and the first large-scale overview of the modernist preoccupation with children and childhood as a paradigm for progressive design thinking, from July 29 to November 5, 2012. The exhibition brings together over 500 items, over half of which are on loan from institutions and individuals in the U.S. and abroad, and many of which are on view for the first time in the U.S. Ranging from urban-planning projects to small design objects by celebrated designers and lesser-known figures, Century of the Child brings together a number of areas underrepresented in design history: school architecture, playgrounds, toys and games, animation, clothing, safety equipment and therapeutic products, nurseries, furniture, and books. The exhibition additionally extends MoMAs commitment to highlighting the contributions of women as architects, designers, teachers, critics, and social activists, a commitment which was also foregrounded in MoMAs recent Modern Womens Project, a series of exhibitions, events, and a publication that focused on the contributions of women throughout the Museums history. Century of the Child is organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan OConnor, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.
In 1900, Swedish design reformer and social theorist Ellen Key published Century of the Child, a manifesto for changesocial, political, aesthetic, and psychologicalthat presented the universal rights and well-being of children as the defining mission of the century to come. Taking inspiration from Keyand looking back through the 20th century 100 years laterthis exhibition examines individual and collective visions for the material world of children, from utopian dreams for the citizens of the future to the dark realities of political conflict and exploitation. In this period children have been central to the concerns, ambitions, and activities of modern architects and designers, and working specifically for children has often provided unique freedom and creativity to the avant-garde.
Century of the Child is organized in seven roughly chronological sections in MoMAs sixth-floor exhibition gallery, exploring different themes through a mix of design type, material, scale, and geographical representation.
New Century, New Child, New Art
The first section covers the period from 1900 through World War I. For many designers, writers, and reformers at the turn of the 20th century, children were the living symbol of the sweeping changes that ushered in the birth of the modern. Leading designers and intellectuals, many of them women, in emergent artistic centers in Europe and the United Statesfrom Chicago to Glasgow, Rome, Vienna, and Budapesttook up the cause of childrens rights, welfare, and education.
New visual languages informed by the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveautogether known as the New Arthelped break down distinctions between design, architecture, and art, catalyzing a reformed and integrated approach to all areas of childrens experience. These aesthetic roots coalesced with the kindergarten movement, in which a new emphasis was placed on the childs enjoyment of the creative process and an intuitive investigation of materials and abstract form.
Anchoring this introductory section is the first showing of MoMAs recently acquired collection of materials representing Friedrich Froebels development of kindergarten, with its gifts and occupations forming a spiritualized system of abstract design activities developed to teach appreciation of natural harmony and foster creativity in developing young minds. Other highlights include designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Glasgow), Magda Mautner Von Markhofs Kalenderbilderbuch (Calendar Picture Book) (Vienna), designs by Laura Kriesch and Mariska Undi (Budapest), stools painted by children at Francesco Randones School for Art (Rome), and Lyonel Feiningers comics (Chicago).
The second section locates children and childlike perspectives in relation to well known avantgarde groups and movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Two tendencies in particular can be seen to connect concepts of childhood and the modern: one represented an attempt to recapture a childlike, untutored attitude toward the world, while the other sought to strip away extraneous elements to get back to the purest forms of human experience and language. The interplay of these two tendencies resulted in a variety of formal vocabularies and approaches to creative experimentation. Adults refreshed their creativity by opening themselves up to childrens perceptual worlds, but they could also design for children in ways that might release youthful energy and imagination, and thereby help shape the society of the future.
The works in this section represent how childrens innocently subversive mode of questioning the world around them offered artists a means of challenging visual and social conventions. Among the nearly 50 works on view are Alma Siedhoff-Buschers Bauhaus nursery furniture, puppets by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, toys designed by Ladislav Sutnar, a high chair by Gerrit Rietveld, and a childs wardrobe by Giacomo Balla.
Light, Air, Health
The third section looks at how modernism revealed its greatest idealism in design for children between the two world wars, when a concern for the health and safety of the young was united with a determination to transform society. Medical, educational, and design reformers believed that light, air, and hygiene should permeate all aspects of a childs early environments. Designers developed new modern schools, nurseries, clothing, and furniture that were simple, light, and flexible. Physical education, delivered through schools and clubs, encouraged children to participate in modern forms of dance, gymnastics, and sport, whether as a means of inculcating collective values or of promoting health and self-expression. Simultaneously the mental environment of the child also required attention; interactive picture books and toys led children on spatial, temporal, and imaginative journeys into the wider world of things and ideas.
Among the works on view in this section are John Rideout and Harold Van Dorens SkippyRacer scooter from 1933; a glass desk designed by Gio Ponti; Margarete Schütte-Lihotzkys designs for a girls school in Turkey; El Lissitzkys Tale of 2 Squares, a childrens picture book; and childrens chairs by Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, and Kit Nicholson.
Children and the Body Politic
The fourth section reveals the involvement of children as both icons and intended audiences of designed propaganda in major political movements and conflicts from the 1920s through World War II. Many politically engaged modernists were more than willing to use their skills to raise consciousness about the perceived benefits of radical social change, and about the collateral damage to children in wartime. As symbols of domestic life, national identity, and the future, children were one of the key motifs in all forms of visual propaganda. Modern designers were also recruited for the causes of various state-run and political youth movements, to design uniforms, magazines, and custom-built environments for everything from clubs in the Soviet Union to childrens colonies in Fascist Italy. There was also a growing demand for modern products that would inculcate appropriate political beliefs, and for books, clothing, and toys that transposed adult politics into fictional worlds.
On view are Aleksandr Rodchenkos photograph, Pioneer Girl; Roald Dahls The Gremlins; childrens drawings of the Spanish Civil War; Hermína Tırlovás animated film Vzpoura hraček (Revolt of the Toys); a Graf Zeppelin toy dirigible from 1930; and a Kozybac vest, which was designed under the British governments Utility scheme in World War II to keep children warm.
The fifth section focuses on visions for constructing better, more egalitarian worlds during the baby boom years following World War II, and the exuberant reappearance of children in public urban spaces and modern, less formal school environments after the wartime experience of confinement or evacuation.
At this time debates were triggered about toy design, a field some saw as riddled with militarism, pernicious nationalism, and negative racial or gender stereotyping. International groups of concerned child psychologists, manufacturers, educators, and designers joined forces to promote good toys that were well designed, safe, and nonviolent. In the ruins of many European cities, similarly interdisciplinary groups of professionals worked with children to reclaim bombedout areas through therapeutic play. In the aftermath of brutality and devastation, many designers sought to recover a lost innocence embodied in the spontaneity and directness of childrens art, and to emulate the constructive impulse of childrens play.
Charles and Ray Eames in California, Aldo van Eyck and CoBrA artists in Amsterdam, and members of the Independent Group in London all epitomized this preoccupation with the child and childrens worldview. In addition to works by these designers, works on view in this section include Jean Prouves School Desk; LEGO building blocks and the Slinky; a Swingline Toy Chest; recreated elements of a playroom designed by György and Juliet Kepes; and wooden toys by Brio, Antonio Vitali, Kurt Naef, and Kay Bojesen.
The sixth section explores different ways in which children and consumer culture have exerted power over each other from the 1960s through the end of the 20th century, a broad span of time held together by the prevailing concept of the child as an autonomous consumer.
After World War II innovation and mass production fueled a proliferation of goods for children and contributed to intensified market research and advertising aimed at children all over the world, as well as to concerns about exploitation. Design for children in this period encompassed tangible advances in materials and techniques as well as the influence of external factors such as the Cold War. In the digital realms of gaming and communication, children surpassed adults command of innovative design. They have also processed the images and text of material culture and mass media in their own ways, sometimes in active subversion of intended meanings and purposes, as in contemporary Japan, where a deep fascination with youth is manifested by young girls shaping their identities through fashion, accessories, and creative products.
Among the nearly 100 objects in the section is a selection of original pieces from the television program Pee-wees Playhouse, which aired on CBS from 1986 to 1991, including a section of the Playhouse wall and various characters (Conky, Globey, and Clocky). Other works on view include Soviet Bloc space toys such as the Hungarian Holdrakèta rocket, Marc Berthiers polyester-and-fiberglass Ozoo 700 desk, Peter Ellenshaws 1954 plan of Disneyland; H. Noatas Black Goth Lolita Ensemble; a set of Chica Demountable Childs Chairs; and plastic and inflatable toys by the Czechoslovakian designer Libue Niklová.
Designing Better Worlds
The final section looks at the complex and often contradictory ideas about the place of children in the modern world that have emerged in the last half century through passionate public discourse among educators, parents, and politicians, and through design. The works presented herald a pronounced progressive or idealistic philosophy; they attempt to communicate to children that they deserve a better world, and that this world might be possible.
Works on view include toys designed and handcrafted by children in a South African village, via the Sharing to Learn program; Jukka Veistolas UNICEF poster from 1969; the XO laptop from the One Laptop per Child program; Renate Müllers therapeutic Modular Indoor Play Area and Marimekko clothing and do-it-yourself toys; and Isamu Noguchi designs for play equipment and Riverside Park Playground.