From retail furnishings to international auction houses, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in midcentury modernism, an influential design aesthetic that flourished between the mid-1930s and the mid-1960s. During the 2008-09 academic year the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis will host two major exhibitions exploring both the breadth and the cultural impact of midcentury modernism, through such mediums as painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, film, music and the graphic arts.
From Sept. 19, 2008, to Jan. 5, 2009, the museum will present Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury. Organized by the Orange County Museum of Art, the exhibition explores the broad cultural zeitgeist of “cool” that emerged in Southern California in the 1950s and early 1960s. The multimedia installation includes a jazz lounge; a media bar with film, animation and television programming; a period art gallery of hard-edged abstract paintings; selections of art, architectural and documentary photography; and an interactive timeline. The exhibition features more than 200 objects representing Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, Richard Neutra, Helen Lundeberg and other significant figures.
From Jan. 30 to April 27, 2009, the museum will present Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, the first retrospective to explore the complete career of the acclaimed Finnish architect, one of the 20th century’s most prolific, unorthodox and controversial practitioners. Drawn largely from the archives of Saarinen’s office, this exhibition surveys more than 50 built and proposed projects — including St. Louis’ monumental Gateway Arch (1947-1965) — emphasizing both the stylistic plurality of his output and the collaborative nature of his practice. Included are full-scale building mock-ups, never-before-seen drawings, models, photographs, films and other documentary materials.
According to Sabine Eckmann, the Kemper Art Museum’s director and chief curator, “these exhibitions present a number of exciting opportunities and have the potential to instigate real conversation within the St. Louis visual arts community. Birth of the Cool overlaps with Action/Abstraction at the Saint Louis Art Museum, a pairing that highlights the interplay of ‘cool’ and ‘hot,’ West Coast and East Coast, as key forces shaping midcentury art and design. We’re also proud to bring the Eero Saarinen exhibition to St. Louis, home of the Gateway Arch. The cross-disciplinary nature of both shows makes them widely accessible and helps us to engage new audiences — an engagement that speaks to the wider aims of the Sam Fox School.”
In conjunction with Birth of the Cool the Kemper Art Museum will sponsor free Saturday afternoon jazz concerts throughout the fall as well as talks by Elizabeth Armstrong, chief curator for the Orange County Museum of Art (Sept. 20); Terry Smith, professor of contemporary art history and theory and the University of Pittsburgh (Oct. 13); and Thomas Crow, professor of modern art at New York University (Nov. 6). Eric Mumford, associate professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and author of Modern Architecture in St. Louis, will lead a tour of area landmarks Oct. 5. The museum also will sponsor Some Like it Cool, a film series that will include screenings of Rebel Without a Cause (Dec. 9), Anatomy of a Murder (Dec. 10) and North by Northwest (Dec. 11).
Attendant programming for Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future will include an international symposium and a variety of lectures and gallery talks. For updates and additional information visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu.
Major support for Birth of the Cool is provided by Brent R. Harris, The Segerstrom Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Significant support is provided by Bente and Gerald Buck; Twyla and Chuck Martin; Jayne and Mark Murrel; Pam and Jim Muzzy; Barbara and Victor Klein; and Victoria and Gilbert E. LeVasseur Jr. Additional support is provided by Toni and Steven Berlinger; and by Patricia and Max Ellis. Corporate sponsorship is provided by Gucci and Design Within Reach. Local supporters include the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; James M. Kemper, Jr.; the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; and individual contributors to the Kemper Art Museum.
Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future is organized by the Finnish Cultural Institute, New York; the Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki; and the National Building Museum, Washington D.C.; with support from the Yale University School of Architecture. The exhibition is curated by Donald Albrecht in conjunction with an international consortium of Finnish and American scholars. The global sponsor for the exhibition is ASSA ABLOY. Local supporters include the United States Steel Corporation and Knoll.
* Editor’s Note: High-resolution images available upon request.