Exhibition: Chicago – A Designed Life

Design Museum of Chicago

A Designed Life: Contemporary American Textiles, Wallpapers, and Containers & Packaging, 1951โ€“1954

Coming in 2021

The Design Museum of Chicago is pleased to bring the travelling show from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Center for Architecture, Design and Visual Culture (CADVC) to Chicago, A Designed Life: Contemporary American Textiles, Wallpapers, and Containers & Packaging, 1951โ€“1954. The installation is hosted in two parts: Contemporary American Textiles and Contemporary American Wallpapers at Chicago Expo 72 Gallery (72 E. Randolph) and Containers and Packaging at Merchandise Mart (222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza).

A Designed Life is an exhibition focused on three historically significant travelling exhibits of modern, mass-produced, American-designed consumer products commissioned by the United States. Department of State in the early 1950s. It recreates those early Cold War exhibits, featuring American textiles, wallpapers, containers, and packaging, restating and interpreting part of each display as it would have appeared in the early 1950s.

The United States and the Soviet Union were participating in the Cold War at the time. Extensive campaigns of propaganda were part of the policy of both countries to expand their spheres of influence. The United States Department of State developed a series of elaborate travelling exhibits as part of this strategy that created an enticing portrait of contemporary America. The three exhibits that are recreated in A Designed Life arranged in 1951 by the Traveling Exhibition Service include:

  • American Contemporary Textiles, designed by Florence Knoll;
  • New American Wallpapers, designed by Tom Lee;
  • Containers, designed by Will Burtin, and packaging.

These exhibitions have been shown in West German schools, museums, trade fairs, and a system of US-sponsored information centres through the America House programme. In particular, the show combined consumer preferences with political preferences and was aimed at persuading Europeans of America’s superiority over the Soviet Union. Public agencies and private citizens who created the exhibition believed that utility and efficiency were crucial components of post-war improvement and were directly linked to democracy. The exhibitions were popular and mainly aimed at women who were critical in the post-war reconstruction of Germany. Due to the federal legislation of 1948, these exhibits have never been shown in the United States, and have been mostly unknown to the Americans. Join us at A Designed Life and explore these historical exhibitions with a contemporary lens.

A Designed Life – Contemporary American Textiles, Wallpapers, and Containers & Packaging, 1951-1954 – Design Museum of Chicago

The Design Museum is thrilled to bring the traveling exhibition, A Designed Life: Contemporary American Textiles, Wallpapers, and Containers & Packaging, 1951-1954, from University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (CADVC) to Chicago. The installation is hosted in two parts, Contemporary American Textiles and Contemporary American Wallpapers in the City of Chicago Expo 72 Gallery (72 E.

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