The fresh and provocative artworks presented in MetaModern refer literally and conceptually to modernist design objects of the mid-century. These historic objects have gained the status of icons. It is a testament to their enduring power that they now catalyze a generation of artists too young to have experienced modernism firsthand.
The notion of modernist design and architecture had its genesis in Europe, particularly during an intense decade of experimentation at the Bauhaus beginning in Weimar, Germany, in 1919. Function and utility were the school’s ethos, while the use of modern materials, honesty of form, and an embrace of abstraction were its hallmarks. World War II shifted the activity to this side of the ocean, as European practitioners, including Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Richard Neutra emigrated to the United States and joined the faculties of American architectural schools. Modernism was held as truth by the generations of students they trained: emerging in the 1960s and ’70s, these young designers felt they had arrived at a place beyond style. Modernism was the pure and true mode in which to design everything from typography to furniture to architecture.
When architects, those removed by several generations from the birth of modernism, came to maturity as designers––Frank Gehry, Charles Moore, and Robert Venturi––they challenged all that modernism had embraced. Their vocabulary included fanciful embellishment, applied color, decorative patterning, and references to historical styles.
Now, over 90 years after the revolution at the Bauhaus, modernism continues to spark a passion in designers and collectors. The prices of signature objects of the classic modernist era are soaring, and its buildings are being restored and valued as historical monuments. Although vintage Eames rockers have been integrated into contemporary high-end living rooms, they are quite different in these new eclectic contexts. Similarly, artists who incorporate iconic modernist designs in their work today often produce recombinations and modifications that result in an entirely unique mix––or meta, meaning beyond, changed, self-referential, and abstracted from another concept. Using classic elements in new configurations, these artists are making original works of art that comment on the claims of the past in light of the complexities of the present.
The artists in this exhibition, most of whom were born in the 1960s, adopt the actual vocabulary of the modern movement to question the content of its style and its relationship to history. Their work challenges the tenets of modernism head on. Often ironic and witty, the works in this exhibition offer a thoughtful critique of innumerable issues that extend across the fields of design and history.
Organized by Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
Curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of c2 – curatorsquared
Sponsored in part by Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation
Sponsored locally by Joan Cremin, SmithGroupJJR, Miller-Russell Associates