“Machines are, visually speaking, a practical application of geometry,” wrote MoMA’s founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., in the catalogue for the 1934 exhibition Machine Art, which explored the beauty of industrial products. The elegant shape of this ball bearing, one of more than four hundred objects on view in that landmark show, belies its simple yet essential function: ensuring that engine shafts remain aligned as machine parts move up and down. Composed of a front and back layer of steel spheres contained in a grooved outer ring called a race, the ball bearing is illustrative of Barr’s overarching idea: even machines could be appreciated for their beauty, which comes from the purity of their geometric forms.
An emblem of the 1920s and ’30s machine age, when industrial designers as well as consumers took a new interest in the look and style of commercial products, Wingquist’s innovative design was a significant step in improving the reliability of industrial production at the dawn of the twentieth century. The basic principles of his design are still employed in machinery today. In recognition of its important value as an object of everyday use and of unparalleled beauty, the ball bearing, in 1934, became one of the first works to enter the Museum’s design collection.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)