The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

Visitors to Machine Art were startled to find three floors of utilitarian, machine-made objects, such as springs, pots and pans, and scientific instruments, displayed on pedestals, elevating them to the level of sculpture. This reverential display revealed the considerable aesthetic allure of these industrial objects, which the Museum capitalized on with a beauty contest judged by celebrities such as Amelia Earhart and the philosopher John Dewey. Dewey had argued that a person’s experience of things is shaped by the context in which they are viewed, a concept that curator Philip Johnson employed in his groundbreaking design for the exhibition. Johnson took unusual steps to show the objects to their greatest effect: he screened the walls and ceilings of the Museum’s second location in a 19th-century brownstone in order to hide its decorative molding, creating a sleek, clean atmosphere that set a new standard for the display of design objects.

Installation views

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