Sunday, August 5, 2018
Modernism: Designing a New World Paperback – October 1, 2008 by Christopher Wilk (Victoria & Albert Museum)
I thought Christopher Wilk, in his excellent introduction, mentions a very interesting point: 'It is difficult to see how Modernism could be understood without investigating the idea of utopia (both as a dream that existed on paper and as an experiment in actual building)'. Bearing this thought in mind it helped me understand how this 'ism' effected so much visual culture for several decades in the twentieth century.
The eleven chapters pull the various strands of Modernism together: The cataclysmic effect of the First World War, the rise of totalitarian authority, rejection of past ornamentation and an increased awareness of the machine and technology. To creative folk in central Europe it looked like a better life might be possible for all though the public's visual awareness of the style was mainly through architecture. They were the ones who initially accepted new social housing estates and high rise apartments designed for maximum light and easy maintenance, who participated in the mass gymnastics and the healthy body ideal. Chapter seven deals with the healthy body concept that was probably the oddest part of Modernism. Central Europe again seems to have provided the lead. Dance, mass gymnastics, fresh air and exercise would create a perfect working body, just like a machine. Architects like Alvar Aalto and Mies van der Rohe designed sanatoria, Richard Neutra designed the Lovell 'Health' house in Los Angeles.
The format of book is the same as the V&A's remarkable Art Deco: 1910-1939: each chapter covers a theme in depth followed by a pictorial section with additional image related text and captions. Because both books are centered round exhibitions I sometimes found it rather annoying attempting to find a particular image because the exhibition ones have been augmented by many more for the book and each are referred to in different ways. The design, paper and printing (in 175dpi) are of the quality one would expect for this type of book.
I think it's worth saying that the title concentrates on creativity in the designed world so it does not include literature or music but I think, rightly, does include movies and chapter eight has an excellent survey by Ian Christie. The four hundred illustrations and photos throughout the book give a wonderful idea of the huge creative energy created by a relatively small group of artists and designers. I think it covers the subject in more depth than Richard Weston's Modernism though his book is useful because he starts his analyses of the style before 1900 and concentrates more on fine art and architecture.
Like the previous V&A 'Art Deco' I expect 'Modernism' will be considered the standard reference book on this fascinating creative style. For a short-lived concept it influenced so much that is still with us today.