The Museum of Modern Art is in New York City, but the museum of
modernity is in Miami Beach, Fla.
Located in the justly famous Art Deco district of the city, the
recently opened Wolfsonian focuses on the ways in which the
decorative arts reflect European and American efforts to understand
the modern experience. More than 70,000 objects, including posters,
furniture, ceramics, glass, and works on paper, as well as
paintings and sculpture, run the gamut from fine art to articles
used in everyday life.
The name Wolfsonian comes from a playful combination: the name
of its founder, Mitchell Wolfson Jr., and the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington. To heighten the resemblance, "museum" is
not used in the official name.
Indeed, museum may not be the best term for this establishment.
In the fine arts, various avant-garde groups, like the
Expressionists and the Cubists, invented new visual approaches to
painting and sculpture. Their work forms the basis of our
understanding of modern art and the core of modern-art collections.
Nevertheless, the full range of visual responses to the modern
experience has been neglected. What holds the Wolfsonian collection
together is not an aesthetic viewpoint. Instead, the collection
centers on the diverse attempts of designers to interpret and even
direct the vast social, political, and industrial changes that took
place in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th
Design responses to mass production, communications, and
transportation are central at the Wolfsonian. Posters and
advertising for new inventions like the telephone and the
automobile form the backdrop for furniture, games, and dinner ware.
Intriguing as these individual artifacts are, the Wolfsonian's
mission is not simply to display objects. The museum's goal is to
educate the public about the ways in which objects of design may be
steeped with ideas - and ideologies.
Because the Wolfsonian emphasizes material culture, not high
culture, its educational purpose is doubly broad. While instructing
the general public about the strategies ideas take when they are
incorporated into objects of design, the Wolfsonian must also
educate educators on the importance of material culture.
True to the institution's global scope, the powerful opening
show, "The Arts of Reform and Persuasion, 1885-1945," is now
traveling the United States, with future bookings in Australia, New
Zealand, and Japan. The exhibition clusters design objects in three
chronological sections. The first portion, "Confronting Modernity,"
encompasses the period from 1885 to World War I. …