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Modernism: Designing a New World 1914 - 1939

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

A MAJOR exhibition entitled Modernism: Designing a New World 1914 – 1939 will run from June 11 to July 23, 2006 at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

It will be the first exhibition of its kind to explore Modernism in the designed world from a truly international perspective, in terms of all the arts, and will offer a fundamental reassessment of the idea of Modernism. In so doing, it will offer a definition of this widely used but rarely defined term.

Modernism was the key point of reference for 20th-century architecture, design and art, as classicism and realism had been in previous centuries.

Modernism was not a style but a loose collection of ideas. It was a term which covered a range of movements and styles which largely rejected history and applied ornament, and which embraced abstraction.

Modernists had a utopian desire to create a better world, frequently combined with social and political beliefs that design and art could transform society. Modernists generally believed in technology as the key means to achieve social improvement and in the machine as a symbol of that aspiration.

This will be the first exhibition which explores the concept of Modernism in depth, rather than restricting itself, as previous exhibitions have, to particular geographical centres or to individual decades.

Many forms of art and design will be represented in Modernism, but as befits a period when the debates surrounding how people should live took centre stage, the exhibition will focus on architecture and design.

The range of objects – including architectural, interior, furniture, product, graphic and fashion design as well as painting, sculpture, film, photography, prints, collage – will reflect the period’s emphasis on the unity of the arts and the key role of the fine arts in shaping contemporary visual culture.

The exhibition will concentrate on the years 1914-39 but will include some earlier objects. Europe and, to a lesser extent, America will be the focus but the reach of Modernism will be demonstrated by selected exhibits or projects from around the world, including Brazil, Israel and Japan.

The exhibition will reveal the fundamental ways in which our own world and its visual culture have been shaped by Modernism and allow visitors to reflect on its impact in a more informed way than has hitherto been possible.

Exhibits will include, among others:

Paintings by Francis Picabia, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Giacomo Balla, Kasimir Malevich, El Lissitzky and Amédé Ozenfant.

Architecture by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn, Konstantin Melnikov, Theo van Doesburg, Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra and Jiří Kroha.

Furniture and Furnishings for the interior by Gerrit Rietveld, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, Charlotte Perriand, Marianne Brandt, Gunta Stölzl, Nikolai Suetin, Anni Albers and Wilhelm Wagenfeld.

Photography and Film by László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, Paul Strand, John Heartfield, Alexander Rodchenko, Dziga Vertov, Jaroslav Rössler, Man Ray, Hans Richter and Jaromír Funke.

Graphic design, Collage and Prints by Piet Zwart, Jan Tschichold, Ladislav Sutnar, Herbert Bayer, Karel Teige, Hannah Höch, Gustav Klucsis and Valentina Kulagina.

Dress and Costume design by Sonia Delaunay, Lyubov Popova, Alexandra Exter, Oskar Schlemmer, Ernesto Thayaht, Giacomo Balla and Varvara Stepanova.

Sculpture by Marcel Duchamp, Morton Schamberg, Raoul Hausmann, Naum Gabo, László Moholy-Nagy and Hans Arp.

Modernism: Designing a New World 1914 – 1939 will be sponsored by Habitat.

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