Daily Features

Ladies to Love: Highlights from Designing Modern Women at MoMA

The museum’s current exhibition shows the far-reaching influence of modern female designers

By Stela Razzaque, Superscript October 16, 2013

In a refreshing and progressive exhibition, Designing Modern Women 1890-1990, MoMA is spotlighting the significant contributions and influence of female designers to the field of modern design. On display until October 1, 2014, the exhibition features pieces gathered from MoMA’s permanent collection. As its title indicates, the exhibition's works span decades—here’s a glimpse at some highlights:


Bonnie MacLean

Bonnie Maclean (American, born 1949). The Yardbirds, The Doors. 1967. Offset lithograph, 21 ¼ x 14″ (54 x 35.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

With her groundbreaking, psychedelic concert posters, Bonnie MacLean not only broke into the male-dominated world of rock-poster art, but she became a driving force behind the rise of the rock music scene in the late 1960s. Her posters followed in the spirit of rock-art pioneer Wes Wilson, but had their own unique additions; for example, the use of culturally diverse images like Native American totems. The most captivating aspect of her art is undoubtedly the depiction of faces cast with trance-like, meditative expressions. Even today, they evoke a certain detached spirituality synonymous with the 1960s outlook. "What's significant," explains Ms. MacLean, "is that these posters were created with an intensity that was lived."

Charlotte Perriand

Charlotte Perriand (French, 1903–1999), with Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret; French, born Switzerland. 1887–1965), and ATBAT. Kitchen from the Unité d’Habitation, Marseille, France. c. 1952. Various materials, 88 x 105 1/2 x 72″ (223.5 x 268 x 182.9 cm). Mfr.: Charles Barberis, Menuiseries modernes, Corsica. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Andrea Woodner, 2011.


The Books

Women in Graphic Design 1890–2012 Gerda Breuer
Julia Meer
Ellen Lupton
Paula Scher
Véronique Vienne
Alissa Walker

No stranger to the societal constraints posed by her gender, a young, 24-year-old Charlotte Perriand strode into architect Le Corbusier’s Paris studio one day in 1927, asking for a job as a furniture designer. She was met with ridicule and the reply, “We do not embroider cushions here.” Perriand went on to design a cutting-edge rooftop bar made from glass, steel and aluminium for a prestigious exhibition in Paris. The project soon captured the attention of Le Corbusier, who consequently apologized to the young designer, and invited her to join his studio. She is now regarded as one of the most influential designers of the early modernist movement. Her postwar kitchen from Le Corbusier’s famous apartment building Unité d’Habitation is on display at the MoMA. Perriand is a testament to the monumental success of women designers, and the evolving nature of the design industry.

Mariana Brandt

Marianne Brandt (German, 1893–1983). Teapot. 1924. Nickel silver and ebony, dimensions variable, height 7″ (17.8 cm). Mfr.: Bauhaus Metal Workshop, Germany. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Phyllis B. Lambert Fund.

During a time when women were marginalized and forced to study ceramics or weaving, Marianna Brandt became the first female to join the legendary Bauhaus German design school and go on to become the School’s director in 1928. The silver-plated teapot she created in 1924 sold for a whopping $361,000 at a New York auction. That is not only record-breaking for a twentieth-century teapot, but for anything made in the Bauhaus workshops. The piece is functional and elegant, without unnecessary ornamentation, thus reflecting the core principles of Bauhaus design. While Mariane Brandt’s success as a female designer of her time was the exception rather than the rule, her achievements continue to inspire designers all over the world.

More from the show:


Eva Zeisel (American, born Hungary. 1906–2011). Folding Chair. 1948-1949. Chrome-plated tubular steel and cotton, 28 1/2 x 26 x 26 1/2″ (72.4 x 66 x 67.3 cm). Mfr.: Hudson Fixtures, USA. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer.
Eileen Gray (British, born Ireland. 1879–1976). Screen. 1922. Lacquered wood and metal rods, 74 1/2 x 53 1/2 x 3/4″ (189.2 x 135.9 x 1.9 cm). Mfr.: Eileen Gray Workshop, Paris. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Hector Guimard Fund.
Robert Venturi (American, born 1925) with Denise Scott Brown (American, born Zambia, 1931). Queen Anne Side Chair, 1983. Maple plywood and plastic laminate, 38 1/2 x 26 5/8 x 23 3/4 x 18 5/8″ (97.8 x 67.6 x 60.3 x 47.3 cm). Mfr.: Knoll International, Inc., New York, NY. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the manufacturer.


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