IT WOULD SEEM IRONIC THAT MetaModern, an exhibition proclaiming the demise of mid-century modern design, would come to the Palm Springs Art Museum. After all, Palm Springs, California, is a veritable shrine to midcentury modern. Its annual Modernism Week, a yearly event since 2006, promotes the continued exploration of this style. The artists showcased in MetaModern do that in very unexpected ways.
The exhibition, curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of Curatorsquared, originally opened at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in
January 2015 (the Krannert organized the traveling show, which debuted in Palm Springs in October and runs through February 27). The curators found, after extensive studio visits, that many artists were using elements of mid-century style, such as molded plywood and bent aluminum tubing, combining them in unique ways to create sculptures, paintings, furniture, and other works. The result— metamodernism—has become a commentary on the mid-century tenets of form and function. These artists are not working together, nor have they formed a “school.” It just happens that they are challenging the premise—asserted by prominent members of the Bauhaus who had immigrated to the United States and taught here—that the modernist philosophy was the last word in architecture and design.
The exhibition is organized around the four strategies these artists are using: showing worn and broken furniture to prove that it did not stand the test of time; breaking down pieces and using them in different ways so that their original function is denied; creating reproductions in new materials; and taking a fresh look at the icons that have been with us for well over sixty years. Edgar Orlaineta, for instance, used two LCW chairs designed by Ray and Charles Eames for Herman Miller to create his sculpture Narcissus, combining them at the legs and hanging the piece from the ceiling. Jordi Colomer’s video Anarchitekton shows artist Idroj Sanicine running through the streets of Barcelona, Bucharest, Brasilia, and Osaka hoisting architectural models of now-defunct modernist buildings in those cities. Artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset’s Time Out/ Powerless Structures Fig. 248 depicts a clock like Bill Max’s design for Junghans that has been cracked, suggesting that time has stopped for this particular style.
Mid-century modern design is still widely popular with interior designers and homeowners, whether original vintage pieces or reproductions. It may not wield the authority it had in the ’40s and ’50s, but it is still with us, nonetheless. “Whether we are debunking modernism or idolizing it, whether it’s ironic or without affect,” says Hoos Fox, “our interest in modernism continues.” psmuseum.org