The Wolfsonian (museum) — affiliated with Florida International University — is located at 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach (in the South Beach District), Florida, USA. Formerly a storage facility, it was designed by Robertson and Patterson in 1927, with two stories added in 1936 by Robert Little. It was converted to a museum between 1987 and 1993 by Mark Hampton. Although the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum of Decorative and Propaganda Arts is housed in a Mediterranean-style storage facility, its period (1885-1945) encompasses and illustrates the emergence of Modernity. The notes on the artifacts in the collection, below, are from the museum’s wall panels and other explanatory materials.
The collection is epitomized by the 1929 Art Deco movie theater marquee from Norristown, Pennsylvania, at the rear of the entry hall. Produced as part of a larger site-specific installation for Art Basel — Miami Beach 2006, this piece, like much of Weiner’s oeuvre, is grounded in language and a mix of common signs. The result is a simple structure put before The Wolfsonian public to elicit the response (Lo & Behold) (Mira & Ve). Its presentation in both English and Spanish is in recognition of Miami’s diverse culture and its large Hispanic community.
The sculpture, “Wrestler”, was shown at the Tenth Olympic Games, Los Angeles, California, 1932. Made out of aluminum, it was part of the Mitchel Wolfson, Jr. Collection.
The museum’s collection of Art Deco art and artifacts is presented on the second floor. The introduction notes: “Profound social and technological changes resonated throughout the modern age — from the height of the Industrial evolution to the end of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. Industrialization, urbanization, mass production, and new transportation and communication systems revolutionized he human environment. The works on display in these galleries reveal how people living in this tumultous period viewed the world and their place in it.
“Culled from our collection are approximately three hundred American and European artifacts from the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries in a variety of formats, ranging from books, posters, and postcards to decorative arts, architectural models, paintings, and sculptures. By presenting these works within their historical contexts, we aim to elaborate the many conditions — technological, aesthetic, social, political, and economic — that impacted and, in turn, were impacted by their production.”
Regarding the Panels, “La Chasse [The Hunt]” (see the above photograph), the curator notes: “When launched in 1935, the SS Normandie was considered the world’s largest, fastest, and most luxurious ocean liner. The ship featured the works of some of the most respected French artists and designers of this period. The first-class smoking room included Jean Dunand’s mural Man’s Games and Pleasures, showing assorted scenes of masculine recreation such as the hunt depicted in these panels. Dunand’s unique choice of materials and techniques — carved, lacquered, and gilded plaster — was inspired by Japanese lacquer work and Egyptian gold-leaf bas-relief (particularly as found in King Tutankhamen’s recently excavated tomb). After the Normandie commission, Dunand sold limited editions of his maquettes as well as larger versions like these two produced for Madame Chadwick.” [Note: only one of The Wolfsonian’s two panels on display is shown, above.]
“All the World’s a Fair” — World’s fairs and other national and international expositions offer a view into the cultural, political, and economic interests of the modern age. Participating organizations constructed pavilions and exhibition halls devoted to agriculture, horticulture, transportation, manufacturing, and the liberal arts. Governments and corporations alike used the occasion to present the richness of their achievements in art, architecture, and industry. Displays at these enormously popular events provided visitors their first contact with major technological innovations, including automobiles, typewriters, airships, telephones, electricity, and synthetic materials. Tourism and merchandising advanced the scope of a growing commercial culture, as did the sale of the manufactured goods on display.
New ideas and attitudes about health, hygiene, and efficiency in the home emerged in the first half of the twentieth century. The knowledge that micro-organisms cause infectious diseases led to reforms in public health policies at the end of the nineteenth century as well as growing concerns about domestic cleanliness. Several world events also contributed to a demand for cleaner and more efficient environments and products: the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed over 20 million people; the commitment to reconstruct major areas of Europe following the destruction wrought by the First World War; and later, the economic depresisson of the 1930s.
Designers responded to these conditions by creating labor saving and easily maintained interiors, furniture, and appliances. Advertisers promoted new products with images and slogans that held out the promise of a healthier home and pledged to make the drudgery of household chores a thing of the past — guarantees made increasingly possible by the growth of electrical power networks.
Joining modern design principles with historical awareness, designer Carl Malmsten advocated for the creation of furniture marked by quality craftsmanship and materials, both of which are evident in the exotic wood inlays of the chest (pictured below). The form itself is highly functional, while the intricat pattern pays deference to 18th century Swedish decorative traditions.
The prosperous 1920s witnessed a huge building boom that changed the face of many American cities. For the architectural firm Schultze and Weaver this boom provided commissions to design all sorts of buildings, especially hotels. Schultze and Weave’rs chief designer, Lloyd Morgan, painted an imaginary skyline featuring all the firm’s buildings completed between 1921 and 1936. Dominating the scene are three New York City hotels, the Pierre, the Waldorf-Astoria, and the Sherry-Netherland (from left to right). Also featured are such South Florida landmarks as the Miami Biltmore, the Breakers, and the Miami Daily News and Metropolis Building (now the Freedom Tower), as well as two Miami Beach hotels, since demolished, the Roney Plaza and the Nautilus. [Note: only the central portion of the very large painting is shown in the photograph below.]