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The tapered spire of the Empire State Building in New York City was initially conceived as a mooring mast for dirigibles.


Modernism made its screen debut in the 1924 French film, Inhumaine, with sets by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and the artist Fernand Léger, furnishings by Pierre Chareau, decorative objects by the designers René Lalique and Jean Puiforcat, and costumes by the couturier Paul Poiret.


Syrie Maugham, the wife of the author Somerset Maugham, created one of the century's first all-white rooms for her own London house in the early 1930s.


The architect William Van Alen decorated the Chrysler Building in New York City (completed in 1930) with motifs inspired by automobile design, including metal hubcaps, hood ornaments and brick mud guards.



The organizers of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris judged Le Corbusier's cubist pavilion so radical that they gave it the worst site and initially hid the building behind a high fence. Incidentally, it is from this exposition and its formal title that Art Deco derives its name.


Near the end of World War II, the industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss created a flying automobile with a detachable wing and engine apparatus. It flew, but never went into production.



In the early 1930s, the Herman Miller Furniture Company shifted its focus from historical revival to modern after the designer Gilbert Rohde convinced the firm's president, Dirk Jan De Pree, that copying the past was dishonest. Miller's post-conversion designers included the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, Charles and Ray Eames and Verner Panton, who developed the first one-piece molded-fiberglass stacking chair.



Did you know Norwest's collection of Modernism was the only corporate program worldwide (out of a current estimate of some 1,200) that focused exclusively on modernist design, dating from 1880 to 1940?



Did you know Norwest Bank Owatonna (the National Farmers' Bank) designed by Louis H. Sullivan and completed in 1908 was commemorated on a United States postage stamp issued in 1981 (and is still available)?



The three uniquely American contributions to modern culture are: Mobile (created by Alexander Calder). Skyscraper. Jazz.




David Ryan
Adjunct Curator of Design
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Illustrations by Katherine Slade