press release

LOS ANGELES—On December 19, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA, opens the groundbreaking exhibition, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America, 1880–1920: Design for the Modern World, placing the arts and crafts movement in its international context for the first time. Transforming not only how objects looked, the Arts and Crafts movement changed how people looked at objects. The exhibition, organized by LACMA, showcases the movement from the United States and throughout Europe with more than 300 objects—including furniture, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and works on paper—borrowed from 75 institutions and private collections as well as from LACMA’s own superb permanent collection. The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America remains on view through April 3, 2005.

The Arts and Craft Movement in Europe and America showcases two fully integrated rooms, including a dining room by Peter Behrens—a “model” room from Germany’s Wertheim department store—where the design scheme was repeated throughout: on the chairs, carpet, dinnerware, glassware, and lighting fixtures. To truly fulfill the Arts & Crafts Movement goal of incorporating art and life, art must be widely available, not only for the elite. Department stores became central venues for the dissemination of modernist styles to society and were planned to facilitate the movement of large numbers of customers and display the broad diversity of increased available domestic products.

“LACMA is the first museum to present the Arts & Crafts Movement in an in-depth and international context,” states LACMA’s President and Director, Andrea L. Rich. “The exhibition looks at how decorative arts, created during a period of rapid change, reflected regional identity while sharing common ideals and goals of an intercontinental movement. This exhibition would not be possible without the generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the visionary collector Max Palevsky.”

The Exhibition The Arts and Crafts Movement was a response to a century of unprecedented social and economic upheaval. Its name was coined in 1887, when a group of designers met in London to found an organization—the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society—for which applied art would be valued as equal to fine art. Many in the movement championed the moral and spiritual uplift that would come with the revival of making objects by hand. The improvement of working conditions, the integration of art into everyday life, the unity of all arts, and an aesthetic resulting from the use of indigenous materials and native traditions also were central to the movement’s philosophy.

The Arts and Crafts Movement offered a variety of responses to the challenges of modernity, and by 1900 it had spread throughout Europe and North America. “Joy in labor,” “the simple life,” “truth to materials,” “unity in design,” “honesty in construction,” “democratic design,” “fidelity to place”—these ideas became part of the language of the movement.

The Arts and Crafts Movement was an international one: it touched countries as far apart as Russia and Scotland, the United States, and Australia. The exhibition, curated by LACMA’s Curator of Decorative Arts Wendy Kaplan, a foremost authority on the subject, focuses on the 13 most representative countries. By analyzing Arts and Crafts objects made in England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, France, and the United States, the exhibition explores how the movement’s ideals were disseminated and then transformed in response to specific economic, cultural, and political conditions.

The show displays masterworks by the best-known designers of the period, including William Morris, M.H. Baillie Scott, Henry Van de Velde, Peter Behrens, Josef Hoffmann, Eliel Saarinen, Gustav Stickley, Greene and Greene, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Of the numerous masterpieces included in the exhibition, LACMA’s 1903 Bookcase by Koloman Moser (recently donated to the museum by Palevsky) is on view for the first time. On loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Tea Service designed by Josef Hoffmann and the Hungarian Mosaic, Rising Sun comes to Los Angeles from the Róth Museum. All of the objects in the exhibition are explored in three leitmotifs: Art and Industry, Design and National Identity, and Arts and Life.

Art and Industry The Arts and Crafts Movement, in large part, was neither anti-industrial nor anti-modern. While its adherents idealized the pre-industrial past, they did not reject the present. They believed that machines were necessary but should be used only to relieve the tedium of mindless, repetitive tasks. Britain, at the very epicenter of the Industrial Revolution, was the center for designers most opposed to the dehumanizing consequences of factory production. They were convinced that what mattered most was the process of making. Without joy in labor, production would have neither merit nor value. At the same time, they felt that objects should be affordable and useful, and therefore, objects such as the exhibition’s Small Window Bench, made by the Charles P. Limbert Company in 1907, were produced in factories. The conflict between these two beliefs, and the attempts to reconcile them, comprised the focus of design debates during the first two decades of the 20th century.

Design and National Identity The use of design to express a country’s identity is part of a movement now known as Romantic Nationalism (or the National Romantic movement). At the turn of the last century, many politicians, designers, craftspeople, and manufacturers sought to establish or reinforce their country’s identity by idealizing its past. The material culture of Romantic Nationalism drew from the British Arts and Crafts, especially the movement’s advocacy of indigenous design, traditional ways of making objects, and the use of local materials. For example, in Hungary, vernacular embroideries and dress became symbolic referents of national identity. In particular, the szur, a richly decorated, woolen overcoat worn by male peasants and shepherds, was widely discussed as an icon of the new consciousness and is represented in the exhibition by an elegant Hungarian coat designed by Júlia Zsolnay in 1905–10.

Art and Life The concept of completely integrating art and life was fundamental to Arts and Crafts beliefs and was constantly echoed in the movement’s organizations and magazines. In the context of architecture and the decorative arts, the building and its furnishings were intended to form an environmental whole, ideally, one executed by the same person as is apparent in the Behrens “model” room in Germany’s Wertheim Department Store.

The dream of unity was most fully—albeit briefly—realized in the establishment of utopian art colonies. Four of which are explored in this exhibition: C.R. Ashbee’s Guild of the Handicraft in Britain; Darmstadt, Germany; Godollo, Hungary; and the Roycrofters of East Aurora, New York…each providing a paradigm of Arts and Crafts ideals.

Some looked to the Arts and Crafts Movement to provide a small, still center of handmade work; some for a way to revolutionize the production and consumption of manufactured goods; and others to give material form to national aspirations. The legacy of the Arts and Crafts Movement can never be definitive, as people invented the movement that they needed in their particular locale. The Arts and Crafts Movement could claim the adherence of progressives and conservatives, proponents of the handmade and of industrial production, as well as those who believed that “the service of modern art” must include the revival of traditional crafts. The movement had to be both modern and anti-modern. These seeming contradictions were united by the Arts and Crafts Movement’s quest for meaning in a time of radical change by its need to retain a sense of the individual in an increasingly mass society, and by its attempt to make mechanization and urbanization serve people rather than enslave them.

“The movement provided a framework for many essential issues still being debated today,” explains curator Wendy Kaplan, “the conflict between standardization and individuality, the question of whether a one-of-a-kind handcrafted object is superior to a mass-produced one, and the problem of defining what kind of design most benefits society.”


Design for the Modern World
The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America, 1880–1920
Kurator: Wendy Kaplan

mit Peter Behrens, William Morris, M.H. Baillie Scott, Henry Van de Velde, Josef Hoffmann, Eliel Saarinen, Gustav Stickley, Greene and Greene, Frank Lloyd Wright, u.a.