The “Advance” of American Postwar Design in Europe: MoMA and the Design for Use, USA Exhibition 1951–1953

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In March 1951, the Museum of Modern Art’s Design for Use, USA opened at the Landegewerbemuseum in Stuttgart, West Germany. This large exhibition of American design for the domestic setting represents a key episode in the evolving history of MoMA’s offshore activities. Importantly it was the first time that MoMA had profiled the output of American designers for audiences abroad, with the Stuttgart show alone attracting 60,000 visitors over a five-week period. Moreover, the exhibition, selected by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., presented Europeans with the first large-scale survey of some of the most prominent producers of modern design at work in the US at mid-century, among them Charles Eames, Eva Zeisel, Freda Diamond, and Earl Tupper of Tupperware fame. Design for Use, USA is also notable as one of the earliest postwar projects undertaken by MoMA to expand its international profile while simultaneously supporting the US Government during the Cold War. Through the exhibition’s selection and the rhetoric of the catalogue essays for Design for Use, USA, MoMA strove to persuade audiences of the high quality, affordability and seemingly limitless choice of American domestic design available to American consumers. Such issues conveniently dovetailed in broad terms with the US Government’s prevailing efforts to build a positive image of the American way of life abroad and to counter Soviet propaganda in the escalating tensions of the Cold War.
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McDonald, Gay
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