Growing by Design, 1900-2000. The exhibition brings together over 500 items, over half of which are on loan from institutions and individuals in the U.S. and abroad, and many of which are on view for the first time in the U.S.: school architecture, playgrounds, toys and games, animation, clothing, safety equipment and therapeutic products, nurseries, furniture, and books.
The Museum of Modern Art presents Century of the Child:
Growing by Design, 1900–2000, an ambitious survey of 20th-century design for children and
the first large-scale overview of the modernist preoccupation with children and childhood as a
paradigm for progressive design thinking, from July 29 to November 5, 2012. The exhibition
brings together over 500 items, over half of which are on loan from institutions and individuals in
the U.S. and abroad, and many of which are on view for the first time in the U.S. Ranging from
urban-planning projects to small design objects by celebrated designers and lesser-known figures,
Century of the Child brings together a number of areas underrepresented in design history: school
architecture, playgrounds, toys and games, animation, clothing, safety equipment and therapeutic
products, nurseries, furniture, and books. The exhibition additionally extends MoMA’s commitment
to highlighting the contributions of women as architects, designers, teachers, critics, and social
activists, a commitment which was also foregrounded in MoMA’s recent Modern Women’s Project,
a series of exhibitions, events, and a publication that focused on the contributions of women
throughout the Museum’s history.
Century of the Child is organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan O’Connor, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.
In 1900, Swedish design reformer and social theorist Ellen Key published Century of the Child, a manifesto for change—social, political, aesthetic, and psychological—that presented the universal rights and well-being of children as the defining mission of the century to come. Taking inspiration from Key—and looking back through the 20th century 100 years later—this exhibition examines individual and collective visions for the material world of children, from utopian dreams for the “citizens of the future” to the dark realities of political conflict and exploitation. In this period children have been central to the concerns, ambitions, and activities of modern architects and designers, and working specifically for children has often provided unique freedom and creativity to the avant-garde.
Century of the Child is organized in seven roughly chronological sections in MoMA’s sixth- floor exhibition gallery, exploring different themes through a mix of design type, material, scale, and geographical representation.
New Century, New Child, New Art
The first section covers the period from 1900 through World War I. For many designers, writers, and reformers at the turn of the 20th century, children were the living symbol of the sweeping changes that ushered in the birth of the modern. Leading designers and intellectuals, many of them women, in emergent artistic centers in Europe and the United States—from Chicago to Glasgow, Rome, Vienna, and Budapest—took up the cause of children’s rights, welfare, and education.
New visual languages informed by the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau— together known as the New Art—helped break down distinctions between design, architecture, and art, catalyzing a reformed and integrated approach to all areas of children’s experience. These aesthetic roots coalesced with the kindergarten movement, in which a new emphasis was placed on the child’s enjoyment of the creative process and an intuitive investigation of materials and abstract form.
Anchoring this introductory section is the first showing of MoMA’s recently acquired collection of materials representing Friedrich Froebel’s development of kindergarten, with its “gifts” and “occupations” forming a spiritualized system of abstract design activities developed to teach appreciation of natural harmony and foster creativity in developing young minds. Other highlights include designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Glasgow), Magda Mautner Von Markhof’s Kalenderbilderbuch (Calendar Picture Book) (Vienna), designs by Laura Kriesch and Mariska Undi (Budapest), stools painted by children at Francesco Randone’s School for Art (Rome), and Lyonel Feininger’s comics (Chicago).
The second section locates children and childlike perspectives in relation to well-known avant- garde groups and movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Two tendencies in particular can be seen to connect concepts of childhood and the modern: one represented an attempt to recapture a childlike, untutored attitude toward the world, while the other sought to strip away extraneous elements to get back to the purest forms of human experience and language. The interplay of these two tendencies resulted in a variety of formal vocabularies and approaches to creative experimentation. Adults refreshed their creativity by opening themselves up to children’s perceptual worlds, but they could also design for children in ways that might release youthful energy and imagination, and thereby help shape the society of the future.
The works in this section represent how children’s innocently subversive mode of questioning the world around them offered artists a means of challenging visual and social conventions. Among the nearly 50 works on view are Alma Siedhoff-Buscher’s Bauhaus nursery furniture, puppets by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, toys designed by Ladislav Sutnar, a high chair by Gerrit Rietveld, and a child’s wardrobe by Giacomo Balla.
Light, Air, Health
The third section looks at how modernism revealed its greatest idealism in design for children between the two world wars, when a concern for the health and safety of the young was united with a determination to transform society. Medical, educational, and design reformers believed that light, air, and hygiene should permeate all aspects of a child’s early environments. Designers developed new modern schools, nurseries, clothing, and furniture that were simple, light, and flexible. Physical education, delivered through schools and clubs, encouraged children to participate in modern forms of dance, gymnastics, and sport, whether as a means of inculcating collective values or of promoting health and self-expression. Simultaneously the mental environment of the child also required attention; interactive picture books and toys led children on spatial, temporal, and imaginative journeys into the wider world of things and ideas.
Among the works on view in this section are John Rideout and Harold Van Doren’s Skippy- Racer scooter from 1933; a glass desk designed by Gio Ponti; Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s designs for a girl’s school in Turkey; El Lissitzky’s Tale of 2 Squares, a children’s picture book; and children’s chairs by Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, and Kit Nicholson.
Children and the Body Politic
The fourth section reveals the involvement of children as both icons and intended audiences of designed propaganda in major political movements and conflicts from the 1920s through World War II. Many politically engaged modernists were more than willing to use their skills to raise consciousness about the perceived benefits of radical social change, and about the collateral damage to children in wartime. As symbols of domestic life, national identity, and the future, children were one of the key motifs in all forms of visual propaganda. Modern designers were also recruited for the causes of various state-run and political youth movements, to design uniforms, magazines, and custom-built environments for everything from clubs in the Soviet Union to children’s colonies in Fascist Italy. There was also a growing demand for modern products that would inculcate appropriate political beliefs, and for books, clothing, and toys that transposed adult politics into fictional worlds.
On view are Aleksandr Rodchenko’s photograph, Pioneer Girl; Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins; children’s drawings of the Spanish Civil War; Hermína Týrlová’s animated film Vzpoura hraček (Revolt of the Toys); a Graf Zeppelin toy dirigible from 1930; and a Kozybac vest, which was designed under the British government’s Utility scheme in World War II to keep children warm.
The fifth section focuses on visions for constructing better, more egalitarian worlds during the baby boom years following World War II, and the exuberant reappearance of children in public urban spaces and modern, less formal school environments after the wartime experience of confinement or evacuation.
At this time debates were triggered about toy design, a field some saw as riddled with militarism, pernicious nationalism, and negative racial or gender stereotyping. International groups of concerned child psychologists, manufacturers, educators, and designers joined forces to promote “good toys” that were well designed, safe, and nonviolent. In the ruins of many European cities, similarly interdisciplinary groups of professionals worked with children to reclaim bombed- out areas through therapeutic play. In the aftermath of brutality and devastation, many designers sought to recover a lost innocence embodied in the spontaneity and directness of children’s art, and to emulate the constructive impulse of children’s play.
Charles and Ray Eames in California, Aldo van Eyck and CoBrA artists in Amsterdam, and members of the Independent Group in London all epitomized this preoccupation with the child and children’s worldview. In addition to works by these designers, works on view in this section include Jean Prouve’s School Desk; LEGO building blocks and the Slinky; a Swingline Toy Chest; recreated elements of a playroom designed by György and Juliet Kepes; and wooden toys by Brio, Antonio Vitali, Kurt Naef, and Kay Bojesen.
The sixth section explores different ways in which children and consumer culture have exerted power over each other from the 1960s through the end of the 20th century, a broad span of time held together by the prevailing concept of the child as an autonomous consumer.
After World War II innovation and mass production fueled a proliferation of goods for children and contributed to intensified market research and advertising aimed at children all over the world, as well as to concerns about exploitation. Design for children in this period encompassed tangible advances in materials and techniques as well as the influence of external factors such as the Cold War. In the digital realms of gaming and communication, children surpassed adults’ command of innovative design. They have also processed the images and text of material culture and mass media in their own ways, sometimes in active subversion of intended meanings and purposes, as in contemporary Japan, where a deep fascination with youth is manifested by young girls shaping their identities through fashion, accessories, and creative products.
Among the nearly 100 objects in the section is a selection of original pieces from the television program Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which aired on CBS from 1986 to 1991, including a section of the Playhouse wall and various characters (“Conky,” “Globey,” and “Clocky”). Other works on view include Soviet Bloc space toys such as the Hungarian Holdrakèta rocket, Marc Berthier’s polyester-and-fiberglass Ozoo 700 desk, Peter Ellenshaw’s 1954 plan of Disneyland; H. Noata’s Black Goth Lolita Ensemble; a set of Chica Demountable Child’s Chairs; and plastic and inflatable toys by the Czechoslovakian designer Libuše Niklová.
Designing Better Worlds
The final section looks at the complex and often contradictory ideas about the place of children in the modern world that have emerged in the last half century through passionate public discourse among educators, parents, and politicians, and through design. The works presented herald a pronounced progressive or idealistic philosophy; they attempt to communicate to children that they deserve a better world, and that this world might be possible.
Works on view include toys designed and handcrafted by children in a South African village, via the Sharing to Learn program; Jukka Veistola’s UNICEF poster from 1969; the XO laptop from the One Laptop per Child program; Renate Müller’s therapeutic Modular Indoor Play Area and Marimekko clothing and do-it-yourself toys; and Isamu Noguchi designs for play equipment and Riverside Park Playground.
Major support for the exhibition is provided by Lawrence B. Benenson and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.
Additional funding is provided by the Nordic Culture Fund, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., The Modern Women’s Fund, the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, and Marimekko.
Support for the publication is provided by The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art and the Jo Carole Lauder Publications Fund of The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art.
A related publication, Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000, includes an introductory essay by curator Juliet Kinchin, giving historical context to the kaleidoscopic narrative of ideas, practitioners, and artifacts featured in the book. The publication also features richly illustrated thematic essays by a range of international curators and scholars, organized in loosely chronological order. 9 1⁄2 x 12", 264 pages, 425 illustrations. Hardcover, $60. Published by The Museum of Modern Art and available at the MoMA stores and online at MoMAStore.org. Available to the trade in the United States and Canada through ARTBOOK | D.A.P., and outside the United States and Canada through Thames & Hudson.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum is also publishing a facsimile edition of the Russian children’s picture book Baggage, by poet and children’s author Samuil Marshak and artist and illustrator Vladimir Lebedev. The original publication, published in 1926, is part of the Museum’s collection and is currently on view in Century of the Child. This volume reproduces the size, shape, and design of the original book, with new English translations in place of the Russian and an afterword by Sarah Suzuki, Associate Curator in Department of Prints and Illustrated Books at MoMA. 6 x 7 1⁄2", 12 pages, illustrated throughout. Hardcover, $12.95. Published by The Museum of Modern Art and available at the MoMA stores and online at MoMAStore.org. Available to the trade in the United States and Canada through ARTBOOK | D.A.P., in the United Kingdom through Tate Publishing, and outside these territories through Thames & Hudson.
Unaccompanied Minors: Views of Youth in Films from the Collection
July 22–August 14, 2012
From the colorful, often Dickensian image of unaccompanied, soot-smudged children (aka ragamuffins, gamins, guttersnipes, street rats, or lil’ imps) roaming the streets of 19th-century industrial cities to contemporary reports of meninos de rua (street children) in Rio de Janeiro, throwaway kids in American urban centers, and youth displaced by civil war in Sierra Leone, prematurely emancipated children remain a distressing sociological phenomenon—and a compelling cinematic subject. The moving picture also developed as a product of industrial innovation in the late 19th century, and the medium used daily life as inspiration for the earliest actualités and narrative films. Not only did the motion picture capture the derelict sociological status of youth emancipated by choice or fate, the camera also recorded children at play, at school, pursuing physical education, and creating youth-centric cultures. In the cinema, children are often positioned as taciturn witnesses to trauma and domestic events; sometimes they emerge with their psyches intact and sometimes they don’t. The works selected for this exhibition—drawn primarily from MoMA’s collection—trace the image of the emancipated child, as central subject, as witness, and sometimes as catalyst for change. This series is presented in conjunction with the gallery exhibition Century of the Child. Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film.
Pop-Up Play @ MoMA
Friday, August 10, 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. Free with Museum admission.
For kids ages four and up, a chance to come inside MoMA and play. Explore, build, and create with everyday and recycled materials to create a pop-up play space at MoMA. Pop-Up Play @ MoMA is held in conjunction with Century of the Child, where visitors can learn about innovative play methods and spaces of the past. Educators will be on hand to facilitate child-directed play, but parents must accompany their children. Pop-Up Play @ MoMA is organized in collaboration with Pop-Up Adventure Play, an international non-profit working to catalyze child-directed play both in homes and communities through their pop-up adventure playground model.
MoMA Studio: Common Senses
September 24–November 19, 2012
Open daily, Weds–Mon, 11:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Mezzanine Level, The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building
Organized in conjunction with the exhibition Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000, MoMA Studio: Common Senses is a multisensory environment at the intersection of education, design, and art which aims to foster our evolving relationships with nature, technology, and our everyday surroundings through community interactions and creative play. A series of drop-in activities, workshops, and ongoing projects for audiences of all ages integrate components such as light, nature and food, textiles, games and technology. Artists, designers, and educators including Fritz Haeg, J. Morgan Puett, Karen Hewitt, Reggio Children, and others engage visitors in generative and sensory experiences from harvesting an edible garden and hand-weaving rugs to creating light-based scapes and playing familiar and new games. Visit MoMA.org/learn for more information.
MoMA Studio: Common Senses is made possible by a partnership with Volkswagen of America.
Symposium: The Child in the City of Play
October 19, 1:00–5:00 p.m., T3
In conjunction with the exhibition Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000, this half- day symposium explores the impact of play in urban environments on childhood development. Three sessions feature play theorists, architects and designers, developmental psychologists, educators, and others as they discuss topics such as the importance of childhood play and the design of playful cities. Participants include Jane Chermayeff, Juliet Kinchin, and others.
The exhibition is accompanied by a website that features hundreds of works from the exhibition and related historical media. The site will include text about the works in each of the seven sections. The exhibition will also have a related daily image feed at centuryofthechild.tumblr.com and blog posts on the MoMA Inside/Out blog featuring complementary video and slideshows of the designers featured in the exhibition. The site launches on July 29, 2012.
Image: Paul (Geert Paul Hendrikus) Schuitema (Dutch, 1897-1973). Nutricia, le lait en poudre (Nutricia, powdered milk). 1927-28. Letterpress, 14 1/2 x 11 13/16″ (36.8 x 30.0 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Jan Tschichold Collection, Gift of Philip Johnson
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Press Preview: Tuesday, July 24, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
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