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"Streamline - Dawn of Tomorrow: US Desing from 1930 to 1950"
2001-11-17 until 2002-02-24
Stedelijk Museum
Amsterdam, , NL

From the early 1930s through into the 1950s, in the United States a design style flourished that has become known as the Streamline Style. Its most important characteristics are the closed, streamlined forms that strongly suggest speed, symbolic of the dynamism of modern times. This style dangled the promise before consumers, racked by the economic crisis, that they were still on the way to a glorious future with prosperity for everybody, at least if they continued to consume.

With its explicit reference to the new, utopian future, the Streamline Style was the symbol of the American Dream, which seemed to be coming true over those decades.

The Streamline Style stood for mobility, speed, efficiency, luxury and hygiene, all concepts that were identified with modernity. To visualise this, the sharp corners and transitions of objects were rounded off. Knobs, handles and hand grips were recessed, to give the object a closed appearance. Speed lines were created by introducing ribs or gleaming chrome strips. This design was not arrived at on the basis of scientific requirements for optimal air flow, but was a cliched expression of that, like one could also see in the comic strips with space heros such as Flash Gordon. Thus, irrespective of their function or content, objects were made attractive and tempting in a way that everyone understood. An iron was given the shape of a bow wave, the design of a pencil sharpener almost makes it more suitable for a speed trial than simple office work, a seltzer water dispenser is transformed into a space capsule avant la lettre, and plates and bowls appear designed to fly back and forth between the refrigerator and the table. Particularly radios, the new product of the era, are important examples of the high-spirited, emphatically positive Streamline Style in a period in which mass consumption was uncritically embraced.

Many diverse examples of the Streamline Style, varying from pencil sharpeners to vacuum cleaners and from lawn sprinklers to an Air Stream caravan, are to be seen in the Stedelijk'sexhibition, from the hands of well-known and less familiar industrial designers, among them Norman Bell Geddes, Waiter Dorman Teague, Henry Dreyfuss and Raymond Loewy. The designs and products in the exhibition are from collections both in The Netherlands and other countries. Although the Streamline Style never pervaded design in Europe to the degree it did in America, this typically American style certainly made its influence felt, more in some countries than in others. The exhibition also examines this diffusion process.

The exhibition has been assembled by Reyer Kras, who with this show steps down from his post as Curator of Industrial Design at the Museum. Ingeborg de Roode succeeds him. Kras was responsible for exhibitions in the Stedelijk Museum such as Holland in Form, Raymond Loewy- Universal Design, Alfa Romeo - La Bellezza Necessaria and The transparent North. Several years ago he began acquiring examples of Streamline design for the collection.


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