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: The Shape of Things to Come


Jennifer Komar Olivarez



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
To celebrate the recent acquisition of the magnificent French Art Deco silver coffee and tea service designed by Jean Puiforcat, the foremost French Art Deco silversmith, the department of Decorative Arts, Sculpture, and Architecture has organized a small exhibition focusing on the service and related materials. Made in 1925, the bold streamlined forms and shining surfaces of the tea and coffee pots, hot water kettle, sugar bowl, and creamer epitomize the Art Deco style and Puiforcat's prominence in silver. Although painstakingly made by hand, the pure silver and optical glass forms embody the machine aesthetic emulated by Art Deco designers. Puiforcat and other designers of the 1920s looked to the aerodynamic shapes used in modern industry as sources, concentrating on form, rather than ornament, in their construction.Puiforcat's work was introduced to the world at the Paris 1925 International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Art. Although this particular coffee and tea service was not included in the exhibition, several other important works by the silversmith were. This international exhibition brought together the most modern designs by European craftsmen and manufacturers. The United States was invited to participate but declined, with President Herbert Hoover citing a lack of modern art in the country. However, a commission was formed to visit the exhibition and report back to American manufacturers on the newest styles, techniques, and designs. This extremely important and influential exhibition raised interest and appreciation for functional, yet well-designed, modern decorative arts to new levels throughout Europe and the Untied States.Importantly, the sleek geometric style of Puiforcat and other Art Deco designers was very attractive to American industry, as it not only signified progress but also movement. "Streamlined modern," as the style came to be called in the United States, was successfully applied in the transportation industry, especially to trains and automobiles, which captivated Americans in the 1930s. Contracted by large commercial manufacturers such as Sears, and the Revere Copper and Brass Company, designers including Raymond Loewy and Peter Müller-Munk brought "streamlined modern" inside the home. They gave sleek profiles and curving lines to such inanimate household objects as refrigerators and tablewares. Although they were censured by their European counterparts for letting fashion, not function, determine the forms of everyday objects, Müller-Munk's Normandie pitcher, manufactured first in 1935, is a classic example of a design meant to be efficiently produced by machine. Riding high on the popularity of their creations, American designers ensured that streamlining dominated the market for household goods through World War II.The Institute has had a long history of interest in the Art Deco movement beginning with objects selected from the Paris 1925 Exposition that were displayed at the museum in the fall of 1926. This smaller exhibition was organized by the American Association of Museums and toured the country, promoting European examples as an inspiration to American designers. In 1928, the Friends of the Institute organized a similar exhibition of modern decorative arts, even including displays from local Twin Cities retailers. And in 1971, the Institute held what is still considered the most complete exhibition of Art Deco material. The present exhibition, focusing on one of the ultimate representations of the Art Deco style, the silver Puiforcat coffee and tea service, continues the interest in modern design established by the Institute in the 1920s.Jennifer Komar is the Curatorial Assistant and Catherine Futter is the Patrick Butler Intern in the department of Decorative Arts, Sculpture, and Architecture."Jean Puiforcat and the Art Deco Style" will be on view in the Third Floor East Wing galleries from March 15 to August 4, 1996.Related ImageJean Puiforcat, designer
French, 1897-1945
Coffee and tea service, 1925
Silver and optical glass
Decorative Arts Department Deaccession fund, the Putnam Dana McMillan Fund, and gift of the Decorative Arts Council in honor of Dr. Michael Conforti, Chief Curator and Bell Memorial Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture
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Source: Jennifer Komar and Catherine Futter, "The Shape of Things to Come: A new exhibition features Jean Puiforcat's 'Coffee and Tea Service,' and highlights the Institute's long-standing interest in the Art Deco style," <i>Arts</i> 19, no. 3 (March 1996): 8.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009