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
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
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