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MMFA exhibition spotlights Barr Jr. and Johnson


MONTREAL —

Presented at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and Philip Johnson spotlights a crucial, though little known, aspect of the development of American modern design: the collaboration between Alfred H. Barr, Jr., (1902‐1981), the first director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and Philip Johnson (1906‐2005), MoMA’s first curator of architecture.

Organized by the Liliane and David M. Stewart Program for Modern Design (Montreal) and the MMFA, this exhibition focuses on the contribution of these two visionaries and friends who spread the ideas of the Bauhaus and acquainted North America with modern design and architecture by means of pioneering exhibitions that they organized at MoMA, such as Modern Architecture: International Exhibition (1932) and Machine Art (1934).

By putting architecture, design, photography and cinema on an equal footing with the fine arts, Barr, Jr. and Johnson transformed the vocation of museums and the teaching of art throughout the continent, which had become home to numerous European artists and architects between the two wars.

Philip Johnson (left) and Alfred Barr, Lake Maggiore, Switzerland, April 1933. © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, New York.

Philip Johnson (left) and Alfred Barr, Lake Maggiore, Switzerland, April 1933. © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, New York.

Curated by David A. Hanks, the exhibition traces the development of modern design from Bauhaus up to the influential MoMA exhibitions of the 1930s. It brings together over 70 archival and design objects (furniture, textiles and industrial design products), including 21 from the Liliane and David M. Stewart collection, held today by the MMFA. In addition, it reveals a new MMFA acquisition: a desk by Marcel Breuer, the first commission from the designer in the United States.

The exhibition also presents some Bauhaus and New Bauhaus pieces, on loan from MoMA, by such people as Marianne Brandt, Josef Hartwig and Wilhelm Wagenfeld. Others, produced by American designers such as Angelo Testa, Ray Eames and Eva Zeisel, are evidence of the new ideas inspired by Barr, Jr., and Johnson in the United States.

“Barr and Johnson followed modernist principles inspired by the Bauhaus. The objects in the exhibition fit that ideal of rational, functional design that was, as Philip Johnson said, ‘characterized by simplicity and governed by utility,’” points out David A. Hanks, Curator of the Stewart Program and the exhibition.

Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and Philip Johnson is on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until August 21, 2016. 

It will then travel to the Davis Museum in Boston from Sept. 14 to Dec. 18, 2016, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Germany in Spring/Summer 2017 and the Grey Art Gallery in New York  from Sept. 7 to Dec. 9, 2017.

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