It’s the 1950s. America is bursting with innovation and industry. And it’s all thanks to a thing called “capitalism.”
It’s also the beginning of a period of geopolitical tension between the U.S. and Russia: The Cold War.
The U.S. State Department wants to promote positive American sentiment across Europe, proving that capitalism was far superior to Communism. And how did they do it? With a little help from the Museum of Modern Art.
During this period, MoMA challenged designers to create accessible designs that were as beautiful as they were functional—chairs, bicycles, coffee makers. These pieces were curated into “Good Design” exhibitions that would tour across Europe, selling American design as proof that the American dream was that ultimate ideal.
And, now, you can see these past exhibits at The Value of Good Design, the new exhibit at MoMA.
If the Soviet design of the time was nationalistic and austere, American industrial design was focused on the intersection of functionality, beauty, and sheer creativity–which in some ways symbolized the American ideal. “Governments on both sides of the Cold War divide… woke up to the seductive power of contemporary design as a political tool,” reads one of The Value of Good Design‘s wall texts.
During this era, MoMA hosted competitions that challenged designers to come up with design that was accessible to everyone, and curated “Good Design” exhibitions that showcased notable, inexpensive, household design, including the classic Chemex coffee maker, the Slinky, and Tupperware–designs that have become such a core part of American culture that they’re still sold today.
These were also the types of objects that were featured in a MoMA exhibition that toured Europe from 1950 to 1952 promoting American design. But this was no innocuous design fair. It was funded by the State Department and curated by MoMA to broadcast beautifully designed American products as evidence of the country’s dominance–and as proof that capitalism was superior to Communism.
From kitsch to classics, we can’t wait to see it for ourselves. The Value of Good Design is on now through June 15, 2019, at the Museum of Modern Art.
Read the entire story about the exhibit here.