On the cover of MoMA’s new book, Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000, two boys decked out in astronaut suits hold onto their Space Hoppers. At first glance, it’s a typical scene—two pals looking off toward their next afternoon adventure. A closer look reveals, however, a more somber environment: a sooty, rundown building, overflowing trash bins, a litter-strewn asphalt yard. For Juliet Kinchin, curator in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design and the curator of the Century of the Child exhibition, this moving photograph, taken in Glasgow in 1970, captures “the power of design to insulate children from the often adverse circumstances in which they find themselves—to literally beam them up into an imaginative universe of their own making.”
In 1900, Swedish design reformer and social theorist Ellen Key published Century of the Child, a manifesto that identified the universal rights and well-being of children as the defining mission of the era to come. More than 100 years later, MoMA is presenting the first large-scale overview of design for children. Kinchin and curatorial assistant Aidan O’Connor have assembled more than 500 objects that tell the story of modernism’s preoccupation with children and childhood as a paradigm for progressive design thinking. “In this exhibition we are embracing everything from visions of children in cities of the future and designs for playgrounds and schools to therapeutic products, toys, books, and children’s clothing,” explains Kinchin. “One of the things I love about working in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA is dealing with objects that come in all shapes and sizes and finding ways of making them ‘speak’ to each other.”
The Century of the Child exhibition is on view at MoMA through November 5, 2012. The accompanying print publication features some 65 essays and over 400 photographs, offering a remarkable sampling of design for children in the 20th century. Over the course of the exhibition, MoMA Publications will be offering free PDFs of long excerpts of the book. You can download the first free 60-page PDF sample here, and be sure to visit MoMAstore.org regularly for more samples of the Century of the Child book and other MoMA publications.
The Century of the Child catalogue is also available as The Museum of Modern Art’s first book on the Apple iBookstore. This digital edition offers interactive reading experiences featuring superb, high-resolution images, additional video and audio content, fully searchable text that readers can highlight, annotate, and share.