Phil Patton

Critic; Curator; Writer / United States /

Phil Patton’s Notable Books of 2012

2 books
Donald Albrecht Editor
The Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin
The Museum of the City of New York

Norman Bel Geddes Designs America accompanies the first major exhibition about Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958), at the Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas in Austin.

Bel Geddes began in theater. He became the quintessential industrial designer of the founding generation—the pop apotheosis of the profession—but Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Henry Dreyfuss ended up better known and more highly respected. At the height of his career Bel Geddes was already the object of joking New Yorker cartoons and covers.

Curator Donald Albrecht traces Bel Geddes’s career in this first full volume about him. Running through the story is the theme of theater: dramatic effects were the stuff of Bel Geddes’s earliest work, in costumes and sets for stage, and the keynote to his work in products and presentations. His designs for hardware participated in the same melodrama as his dramaturgy. His buildings and technology were more Amazing Stories magazine cover than serious proposals. There were the pod-like cars, thousands of which were deployed in the Magic Motorways of the Futurama display for the General Motors Highways and Horizons exhibit at the New York World’s Fair of 1939–40. There were amazing visionary multi-engine airliners and ocean liners. It turned out that there was a mundane reality behind all of these: the freeway traffic jams and the crowded aisles of Boeing jumbo jets or Carnival cruise lines. But dramatized and futurized, it was technological opera. Bel Geddes’s approach is seen in miniature in the cover of his book Magic Motorways, where the type is shadowed and stretched like figures in a film noir set.

The present book looks behind the wizard’s screen, with never-before-seen drawings, photos, films, and models from the Ransom Center collection. Essays by 20 scholars accompany the images. The exhibition called “I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America” opened in Austin in September and will travel to the Museum of the City of New York in 2013.

Lynda Klich
Benjamin Weiss
Preface by Leonard A. Lauder

Leonard Lauder, like so many postcard collectors, fell in love in childhood with the distant times and places the cards evoke. But unlike most collectors, he had the wherewithal to assemble a great collection of them. In the process, he helped raise awareness of the cards above the dusty dingy hobbyist sales world. Today, we can see the cards as the Twitter or better Pinterest feed of their time and therefore an invaluable inexpensive time capsule of the world of the early 20th century.

The notes on the back of the cards are revealing, too: many are mundane appointment reminders or greetings—the e-mail of great cities with twice- or thrice-daily mail delivery in the years before universal telephony.

Leonard Lauder donated a selection of his cards, a group produced by the Wiener Werkstätte, to his brother Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie in New York, devoted to Germanic art and design. The Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Collection is likely the world’s best, and samples architecture, art, commerce, and the incidental surrealism of the medium.

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