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"Streamline - Dawn of Tomorrow: US Desing from 1930 to 1950"
2001-11-17 until 2002-02-24
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
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
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.