Thursday, July 21, 2011

Modern Sculpture, Made Clear

Alexander Calder's entry received first prize.

"The World of Tomorrow, to judge by the displays in the scientific exhibits of the New York World's Fair, 1939, will be plasticized, or at least dominated by plastics. As though by common consent, most companies have featured some variety of the many species of plastics." (Chemical Engineering News, Sept. 1939.)

Three decades before it would be uttered in
The Graduate as the most memorable single word of advice ever given, it was obvious (at least to chemical engineers) that the future would be “plastics.” The 1939 World's Fair featured them in full force. The myriad applications for Bakelite, Lucite, Plexiglas, Nylon and other newly devised synthetics, were showcased in everything from giant resin statues to paint used for murals, and the wands used by fair guides.

Bakelite Plastics Exhibit (NYPL photo)

In addition to the transparent
“Ghost Car” I posted the other day, Rohm & Haas, inventor of the Plexiglas from which it was made, sponsored a sculpture competition with the Museum of Modern Art. Five of the 250 entries were exhibited for the duration of the fair.

I have no idea what ever became of the sculptures themselves, but the photos, by Louis Werner, are from the Katherine Dreier archive at Yale’s
Beinecke Library. I think you might be familiar with some of the winning artists.

The judges were the artist,
Katherin Dreier; curator, James Johnson Sweeney; and sculptor, Robert Laurent. Technical advisor for the competition was industrial designer Gilbert Rohde. At the Beinecke site, paired with each photo, is text by the judges explaining their choice of that sculpture. Alexander Calder won first prize. I’ve included the accompanying text for his sculpture at the end of this post. Each winner's name is linked to the original image and accompanying descriptive text.

Herbert Matter, second prize.

Werner Drewes, third prize.

C.K. Castaing, fourth prize.

Xanti Schawinsky, fifth prize.
(I can hardly wait to do a post on him.)

Click to enlarge.

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