A new artistic survey of 20th century design for children at MoMA is among the first major overviews of the continual modernist preoccupation with children as well as childhood, serving as an apt paradigm for palpable progressive design thinking. What is so unique about this exhibition?
- It brings together areas underrepresented in design history and often considered separately, including school architecture, clothing, playgrounds, toys and games, children’s hospitals and safety equipment, nurseries, furniture, and books.
- In 1900, Swedish design reformer and social theorist Ellen Key’s book ‘Century of the Child’ presaged the 20th century as a period of intensified focus and progressive thinking regarding the rights, development, and well-being of children as interests of utmost importance to all society.
- Taking inspiration from Key and looking back through the 20th century 100 years after her forecast, this exhibition looks to examine both 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 both famous and unsung, and working specifically for children has often provided unique freedom and creativity to the avant-garde.
- Juliet Kinchin, a curator in the museum’s architecture & design department that has organized the show along with a curatorial assistant, Aidan O’Connor, observes in a catalog introduction that perhaps no period in recorded human history was as deeply invested in concern towards children as the 20th century. Still contradictions abound: ‘Elastic and powerful’, she notes.
- Ms. Kinchin writes in a catalog introduction, ‘the symbolic figure of the child has masked paradoxical aspects of the human predicament in the modern world.’ And exactly how much freedom to be allowed and how much control to be imposed are issues not only about children but also about people like us everywhere in an era of fast declining traditional values and rapidly expanding possibilities for newer ways of being and doing.