Happy Birthday, William Morris!

CRANBROOK SIGHTINGS: INSIDE THE VAULT
William Morris
A Collection of Seventy-Two Wallpaper Samples
Designed 1864–1890, printed 1932, or earlier
Printer: A. Sanderson and Sons, Ltd., London, England
Hand-printed wood block prints in distemper colors on wove paper
Gift of Mrs. William H. Hansen
CAM 1991.17

You may remember this past spring when my colleague, Shoshana Resnikoff, wrote a blog post about May Morris’s Bed Hangings in celebration of her birthday. Well today is the birthday of her father, William Morris (1834–1896), designer, poet, novelist, socialist, translator of Icelandic sagas(!), and all-around creative visionary who shaped the Arts and Crafts movement in England and its many iterations throughout Europe and the United States.

Pimpernel, designed 1876; Lily and Pomegranate, designed 1886.

Pimpernel, designed 1876; Lily and Pomegranate, designed 1886.

Morris despised the cheap, mass-manufactured goods and deteriorating social and labor conditions that characterized England after the Industrial Revolution, and reverted back to medieval visual language and production techniques in his art and design work as a nostalgic memorial to simpler times. Perhaps best known for his wallpaper designs of the late-nineteenth century, each roll was made by hand in a long and painstaking woodblock printing process (imagine lining up each carved woodblock to match the edge of each stamp that preceded it, not to mention using a different block for every color on the paper!). Each piece is inspired by–but an abstraction of–natural flora, and Morris described this impulse as such:

“Is it not better to be reminded however simply of the close vine trellises which keep out the sun … or of the many-flowered meadows of Picardy … than having to count day after day a few sham-real houghs and flowers, casting sham-real shadows on your walls, with little hint of any-thing beyond Covent Garden in them?’
–William Morris, “The Lesser Arts,” in Hopes and Fears About Art, 1882.

Willow Boughs, designed 1876 ; The Rose, designed 1877

Cranbrook Art Museum holds seventy-two wallpaper samples in its collection, which were donated by Mrs. Olive Hansen in 1991. Peter Heinrich Hansen, Mrs. Hansen’s father-in-law, was a German immigrant who in 1904 was hired as a designer-draftsman by none other than Gustav Stickley, one of the American Craftsman style’s greatest furniture makers (and like Morris, an ardent socialist). When Hansen and his wife Ruth, who herself worked for Stickley as an architectural draftsman, were redecorating their home in upstate New York, they ordered wallpaper samples of every pattern made by Morris & Company–the design firm founded by William Morris–and never threw them away.

You can read more about the design, implementation, and social context of William Morris’s wallpapers on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. And for more on Morris’s influence on George Booth and the foundation of Cranbrook, you can check out this great gallery guide written by a former Art Museum fellow, which I’ve scanned and uploaded here.

Shelley Selim
2013–2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Happy Birthday Eliel and Eero Saarinen!

CRANBROOK SIGHTING: SAARINEN HOUSE, CRANBROOK ACADEMY OF ART CAMPUS
Dining Room, completed circa 1930; restored 1992 – 1994
Interior and furniture design by Eliel Saarinen
Placemat designs by Eero Saarinen
Textile designs by Loja Saarinen and Greta Skogster

Eliel and Eero Saarinen, 1941. Photo by Betty Truxell, courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

August 20th is a big occasion here at Cranbrook–the day both our campus architect Eliel Saarinen (Finnish, 1873 – 1950) and his architect son Eero (Finnish-American, 1910 – 1961) entered this world! In honor of two great men from one of the design community’s most accomplished families (read blog posts about matriarch Loja Saarinen here and Eero’s big sister Pipsan here), today on the blog we’ll visit the Saarinen House dining room, where father-and-son birthdays were most certainly celebrated on many an August 20th throughout the 1930s.

Saarinen House Dining Room, designed 1928; restored 1994. Photo by Balthazar Korab, (c) Cranbrook Art Museum.

Eliel Saarinen designed Saarinen House as his personal family residence on Cranbrook’s Art Academy campus, and it was conceived as a total work of art: from the architectural footprint down to the silverware, everything harmonized perfectly as an artistic whole. If you look at the photograph above (taking into account a slightly skewed perspective due to the camera lens), you can see how he’s created a circular table to sit precisely at the heart of the square rug beneath it, both of which were centered under a gilded, domed ceiling with a brass lamp suspended below. You could draw a straight line from the middle of that dome down to the floor and each side of the room would be perfectly symmetrical–an ideal environment for lively conversation during a birthday fête!

Eero Saarinen, Placemat, block-printed linen, circa 1920, CAM 1988.55. Photo by Balthazar Korab, (c) Cranbrook Art Museum.

When the house was restored to its original splendor in the early 1990s (it was renovated many times by subsequent tenants after Eliel died in 1950), Pipsan Saarinen’s son Ronald donated six placemats designed by Eero to Cranbrook Art Museum. They were made around 1920–when Eero would have been just ten years old–and with figures of kings, toiling laborers, and slowly aging vagabonds punctuated by a Finnish flag, I’m inclined to speculate that he was depicting Finland’s struggle for independence from the Russian Empire (and the Swedes before that), which it had only gained in 1917. And if perhaps these placemats were created after Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tuthankhamun’s tomb in 1922, the fad for all things Egyptian–including hieroglyphic forms–may have had an influence on young Eero as well.

Saarinen House dining room, with Gefle dinnerware, Orrefors glassware, and Eero Saarinen placemats. Wall Hanging: Landscape with Tree and Birds designed and woven by Greta Skogster between 1935 and 1939. Photo by Balthazar Korab, (c) Cranbrook Art Museum.

Can’t you just imagine the family gathered at the dining room table, under the glow of that golden ceiling, with Eero’s placemats supporting fine occasional dinnerware as he and Eliel blow out the candles on their birthday cake? Especially if it was this one?

And for those of you that don’t know, Cranbrook Art Museum holds tours of Saarinen House every week, Thursday through Sunday from May to October. Click here to view our tour schedules and rates, and learn more about the home and it’s history!

Posted by Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

From the Files: The Viewpoint ’81 Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum

One of the perks of my job is the opportunity to sift through our old files when scholars email us with research questions. One such request led me to our records for Viewpoint ’81, an exhibition of works by six artists created for and painted directly on the gallery walls at Cranbrook Art Museum. Daniel Buren, Gene Davis, Sol LeWitt, Patrick Ireland, Rick Paul, and Dorothea Rockburne each contributed to the installation, which was up from January 20 to March 1, 1981.

Cranbrook Art Museum Viewpoint '81 brochure, 1981

I could kiss whoever documented the development of this exhibition. When I got to the old metal file cabinets in storage, I found folders filled with hundreds of slides showing the installation process, along with photographs and mail correspondence between artists and museum employees. Above is the cover of the brochure produced for the show. You can view it in its entirety by clicking this link: Viewpoint ’81 Brochure.

Before the age of desktop publishing, printed materials like this brochure were often created by manually assembling a paste up of each page layout and photomechanically reproducing it. Speaking on behalf of Generation Y, this is mindblowing. But sure enough, in our exhibition files I also found the photographs reproduced in the brochure, encased in paper frames with measurements for the paste up!

Installation of Sol LeWitt's Six Geometric Figures on Red, Yellow, Blue and Black Walls, with measurements for paste up layout.

And some gems from the color slides, most of which were likely photographed by Roy Slade, 1977-1994 Director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and organizer of the exhibition:

Installation of Sol LeWitt's Six Geometric Figures on Red, Yellow, Blue and Black Walls in Cranbrook Art Museum's North Gallery

Rick Paul's Black and White Series #3 in progress

A CAA student

Cranbrook Academy of Art Director Roy Slade overseeing the installation of Patrick Ireland's (a.k.a. Brian O'Doherty) Wall Painting #6 (without rope) for Joe and Sadie, 1981

Installation of Gene Davis's Black Yo-Yo

Gene Davis's Black Yo-Yo took up the entire available wall space in Cranbrook's Main Gallery

Sol LeWitt was notorious for sending postcards in abundance throughout his life, even for business purposes. This occasion was no different:

Postcard from Sol LeWitt to Roy Slade, December 1980

And finally, the true impetus behind the blog post: a wonderful interview with Gene Davis about the exhibition and his artistic practice, conducted by CAM’s Curator of Collections John Gerard. As far as I can tell, no one has published a monograph on Davis since the paste up days, so perhaps this interview will prove useful for future researchers. Here is a link to the transcript:  Interview with Gene Davis.

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Saarinen Heaven at the Dam Site Inn

Cranbrook Sighting # 12
Sighter: Shelley Selim
Sighted: Saarinen Tulip Furniture Galore!
Location: The Dam Site Inn, Pellston, Michigan
Date: June 28, 2014

At the end of June my beau and I embarked on a Michigan road trip, driving up north to Mackinac and down the western coast of the state. The Island, Tunnel of Trees, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and plenty of breweries made the list, and when Cranbrook Art Museum director Gregory Wittkopp mentioned to me a restaurant and cocktail bar in Pellston filled with Eero Saarinen furniture, I knew we had to take a special detour.

Cocktail Bar at the Dam Site Inn, Pellston, Michigan

Behold, the Dam Site Inn! A staple on the Maple River since 1953, it seems little has changed about the decor since it opened, and how wonderfully so! It is quite a feeling to sip a Manhattan in this Saarinen tulip garden, and the wood paneling and whimsical brass light fixtures supplement the nostalgic ambiance. Aside from the furniture, my favorite decorative features of the bar were the textile wall panels, visible in the above photo and shown in detail below.

Wall covering at the Dam Site Inn

Biomorphic and boomerang patterns in glistening, silky gold–did a Ruth Adler Schnee textile get caught in a disco inferno? Incredible. A must-see if you ever find yourself in Pellston!

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Summer Exhibitions are Now Open!

After many weeks of install, Cranbrook Art Museum was thrilled to unveil six new summer exhibitions over the weekend! Our team of preparators at the museum is truly outstanding, and it was a joy to watch all of the shows slowly come to life through all of their hard work. When I’ve had spare moments these past few weeks, I’ve taken the opportunity to walk through the galleries and photograph some of the installation for our Instagram page. Here are a few more highlights of the design and construction process:

Beginnings of the purple rhombus didactic panel for Modern/Moderna

Modern/Moderna Screening Room

Cranbrook Goes to the Movies, ready for object placement

Bust of a Chippewa Man and a stuffed Red Head Duck

Curator Shoshana Resnikoff tests the lighting for the Kingswood School Cranbrook Tennis Championship Bowl in Cranbrook Goes to the Movies

With objects inside their vitrines, the Movies installation evokes a moody specimen shelf!

 

South Gallery, prepped for Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism

A couch and a coffee table from Evans's Directional Furniture Line

This Paul Evans Cityscape cabinet makes beautiful shadows on the walls

The lower galleries get painted for Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949-1987+

Enter the Vitrines!

Records and wall text after placement in Warhol on Vinyl

 

The Meditator, pre-paint and pholage, for Culture Breakers: The Living Structures of Ken Isaacs. All three Living Structures were built by 2010 CAA 3D Design graduate Reed Wilson.

The long pholaging process

Preparators John, Mario, Michael (hi!), and Mark assemble the Meditator

Shoshana takes the Meditator for a test run

Beginnings of the Title Wall, designed by Detroit's Unsold Studios

Midway through...

The final product!

Our brand new program of exhibitions is now open for the summer and into the fall. Check out some photos from Friday’s Member’s Opening on our Facebook page and come visit in person to enjoy all the fruits of our labor–Cranbrook Art Museum is open every Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 5pm!!

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

 

Farewell Massimo Vignelli

Wow, has it been a month since the last post? Apologies for the radio silence over here–we are closing in on the final weeks before the opening of our summer exhibitions (June 20th for members, June 21 for the public!) and all of the troops have been rallying to perfect install and content before our guests arrive!

I had to return to the blog today to pay tribute to Massimo Vignelli, who passed away in New York yesterday at the age of 83. Vignelli was a design visionary, executing some of the most iconic graphic programs of the 1960s and 1970s, and renowned especially for promulgating the International Typographic Style through his many designs for advertising, corporate identity, and packaging. With his company Unimark, and later Vignelli Associates, he launched graphic identity systems for Knoll (1967), American Airlines (1967), and the New York City Transit Authority (1970), as well as the iconic “Big Brown Bag” logotype for Bloomingdales (1972).

Massimo Vignelli, New York City Subway Map, 1970

Cranbrook Art Museum holds in its collection the 1970 subway map Vignelli designed for the New York City Transity Authority, which was inspired by the rational graphic forms of Harry Beck’s 1931 London Underground Diagram. “A different color for each line, a dot for every station. No dot, no station. Very simple,” Vignelli recalled in his monograph From A to Z. Although no longer in use–it was employed by the NYCTA from 1972 to 1979 before being replaced by Michael Hertz’s more topographic rendering–the map remains an icon of the designer’s office. It was featured in the 2007 documentary Helvetica, and here you can view a segment of the film in which Vignelli discusses the work.

Dot Zero Magazine, 1966-1968. Image via designarchives.aiga.org.

While recently conducting curatorial research for the upcoming exhibition, Culture Breakers: The Living Structures of Ken Isaacs, I came across Dot Zero magazine, a lesser-known Vignelli gem for which Isaacs penned an article in 1968. Edited by Robert Malone, the periodical was a promotional venture with Finch paper company intended for quarterly release, although ultimately only five issues were produced over a period of two years. Vignelli served as designer and creative director of the publication, and worked with an editorial board comprised of Malone and a team of stars from the design community: Herbert Bayer, Jay Doblin, Ralph Eckerstrom, and MoMA curator Mildred Constantine. As Malone wrote in the introduction to the inaugural issue, the periodical aimed to “deal with the theory and practice of visual communication from varied points of reference, breaking down constantly what used to be thought of as barriers and are now seen to be points of contact.”

Comprehensibly sober in its approach, the magazine was a vehicle for showcasing the visual allure of the rigid grid layout, black-and-white color scheme, and Helvetica typeface. The editorial content emphasized a highly intellectualized examination of design, featuring essays authored by Marshall McLuhan, Umberto Eco, and John Kenneth Galbraith. As is often the case with artistic publications of its kind, the print run was quite limited, so back issues are hard to come by–but that’s why we have the internet: samplings of the spreads can be viewed here and here.

The design community has truly lost one of its most beloved and influential champions, and he will be sorely missed. Fondest of farewells, Massimo.

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Warhol on Vinyl (It’s Record Store Day Tomorrow!)

We’re big vinyl connoisseurs here at the Art Museum. One of us collects albums with covers featuring mid-century furniture (like this one!). Another spent a weekend scouring every record store in Stockholm for a Swedish pressing of Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden, to no avail. So it’s no surprise that we are pretty pumped for Record Store Day tomorrow, an annual nationwide event–held on the third Saturday of April–for which record stores feature limited edition pressings and exclusive releases from hundreds of musicians, new and old.

Record collecting has experienced a surge in recent years, particularly for my generation. If we want to get diagnostic, it all could be chalked up to a cultural response to the immateriality of music (and more broadly, our lives in general); a longing for the days past when music–in its vinyl manifestation–was tangible, permanent, and thus held more personal value. But there’s also that big, beautiful album cover to consider. It’s just not the same in its 72-pixel form on the screen of a smartphone. How is one to appreciate the true graphic genius of an Alex Steinweiss at that scale?!

Warhol Album Art

This summer, Cranbrook Art Museum will celebrate one artist’s mastery of the album cover with Warhol On Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949-1987+, opening June 21st. Andy Warhol designed over fifty album covers in the duration of his career, and in the first exhibition of its kind, the world’s preeminent collection of these works–generously donated to the museum by Frank M. Edwards and Ann Williams–will be on display in its entirety. Viewers are invited to examine the interplay between Warhol’s mass-produced graphic designs and the fine artworks that brought him his greatest notoriety–and with the additional display of record covers appropriating the artist’s imagery after his death, we can also examine the impact of the art world’s greatest “borrower” on future generations of creatives. More details about the exhibition are on our museum website.

But this isn’t Cranbrook Art Museum’s first foray into the motley realm of album art. In January of 1979, the museum mounted Record Album Art and the Recording/Artist, a touring exhibition from Syracuse University’s Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery, curated by Nancy Alder. The show featured a melange of album covers spanning the twentieth century, and considered the historical progression of the design process, visual trends, and the interplay of fine and commercial art.

Zephyr, Sunset Ride, 1972

The cover illustration for Zephyr’s Sunset Ride (1972) by David Willardson was highlighted for its allusions to the Art Deco travel poster–like this one or this Villemot.

Erich Leinsdorf and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Wagner: Prelude and Love Death and Strauss: Death and Transfiguration, 1962. Cover art by Ben Shahn. Image via shugarecords.com.

The Social Realist painter Ben Shahn is celebrated for his contributions to graphic design–perhaps the most recognizable being his incredible posters created for the Office of War Administration during World War II, all but two of which went unpublished. He designed many original album covers (one amazing Pinterest user has assembled most of them here), but was also known to simply reuse works from his painting repertory. The above Leinsdorf-conducted recording of Wagner and Strauss, which was also displayed in the exhibition, features Shahn’s The Phoenix on its cover, a gouache and ink work he executed a decade earlier.

Fortuitously, a review of Record Album Art and the Recording/Artist in Art Journal noted, “[A]lthough the show’s emphasis seems to have settled on the historical evolution of record packaging as an art form…the direct hand of “fine” pop artists has also been visible. Some seven years ago I was belatedly introduced to the Rolling Stones via Andy Warhol’s witty album for Sticky Fingers: a screen print of jeans incorporating a real zipper opening to an inner print of hirsute nudity. The time didn’t seem ripe to donate  it to our favorite stuffy museum’s graphics department, but it should surface again in a Warhol retrospective–and the Syracuse show paves the way.”

We look forward to seeing fellow vinylphiles at the Warhol exhibition this summer, and feel free to share your favorite album artwork in the comments. I’m pretty partial to Nick Price’s illustration for Never For Ever myself.

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

References:

“College Museum News: Exhibitions,” Art Journal 37, no. 3 (1978): 256.

Pipsan: The Lesser-Known (But No Less Impressive!) Saarinen Sibling

CRANBROOK SIGHTING: INSIDE THE VAULT
Sol-Air Canvas Chaise Lounge, c. 1950
Pipsan Saarinen Swanson and J. Robert F. Swanson for Swanson and Associates
Iron, rope, and canvas
34 x 23 x 24 in. (86.4 x 58.4 x 61 cm)
Transfered from the Cranbrook Academy of Art

If it were up to me, every month would be Women’s History Month, but alas for the foreseeable future it is *officially* delegated to March in the United States, and today is our last chance to celebrate! How auspicious that March 31 also happens to be the birthday of Pipsan (born Eva Lisa) Saarinen Swanson, designer of furniture, interiors, fashion, and textiles, and younger sister of one of the most recognizable names in modern architecture, Eero Saarinen. Pipsan’s father Eliel was of course the architect of the Cranbrook Campus and President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932-1946, but before being lured to Bloomfield Hills by Cranbrook founder George Gough Booth, he was a visiting professor of architecture at the University of Michigan. One of his star students was Grand Rapids native J. Robert F. Swanson, who upon graduation founded the Swanson and Booth architectural firm at Cranbrook with his University of Michigan classmate Henry Scripps Booth, George’s son. It was here that Swanson was introduced to Pipsan, and immediately Cupid wielded his mighty arrow–they were married in 1926. After Swanson broke away to establish his own firm, Swanson and Associates, Pipsan was enlisted as an interior designer for the company, and the husband and wife team would continue their working and romantic partnership for the rest of their lives.

Pipsan Saarinen Swanson and J. Robert F. Swanson, undated. Photograph courtesy Cranbrook Archives, J. Robert F. Swanson and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson Papers.

Cranbrook Art Museum holds in its collection a wonderful array of objects designed by the Swansons, as well as many costume, glass, and textile designs executed solely by Pipsan. Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow for the Center for Collections and Research (and frequent guest blogger on Cranbrook Sightings) has written a beautiful account of one such costume design on our sister blog, Cranbrook Kitchen Sink.

Sol-Air Canvas Chaise Lounge, c. 1950. Swanson and Associates. Photo (c) Cranbrook Art Museum.

In addition to their architectural and interior designs, Swanson and Associates often designed furniture and textiles for regional manufacturers. In 1949, the firm was hired by Cincinatti furniture company Ficks Reed to develop a line of casual pieces for the home that could transition from indoor to outdoor use. The Swansons ultimately created a suite of twelve chairs, tables, and benches, as well as a chaise lounge and a daybed, for a line they titled “Sol-Air”–likely a play on the word “solar,” as other titles considered were “Sunair” and “Solunair.”

Promotional photograph for the Sol-Air furniture series. Photograph courtesy Cranbrook Archives, J. Robert F. Swanson and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson Papers.

Sol-Air advertisement, June 1950. Photograph courtesy Cranbrook Archives, J. Robert F. Swanson and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson Papers.

The furniture series was a hit with the design community, ultimately being selected for the 1950 inaugural (and now notorious) “Good Design” exhibition at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, co-sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This October 1950 press release from the MoMA outlines the reception of the exhibited works based on polls from different categories of the public, and Pipsan’s Sol-Air Canvas Chaise Lounge came in second place among buyers–quite a propitious sign for the Ficks Reed wholesalers!

Sol-Air furniture featured in interior design editorial, photographed by Herbert Matter for House and Garden, July 1950. Photograph courtesy Cranbrook Archives, J. Robert F. Swanson and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson Papers.

The weatherproof, bright persimmon chaise lounge radiated casual, youthful relaxation, and throughout the suite’s five years in production was consistently one of its best sellers. With spring finally (FINALLY) upon us, I’ll take reclining in one of these nautically-inspired stunners over curling up in a womb chair any day. Well done, Pipsan!

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Music-Mushrooms-Manuscripts: John Cage at Cranbrook

John Cage Listens to John Cage, 1974. Offset lithograph poster designed by Michael McCoy, with photography by Frances Greenberg. Printed at Cranbrook Press. (c) Michael McCoy. Photo courtesy Stephen Milanowski.

In early April of 1974, artist-composer John Cage traveled to Cranbrook to celebrate the opening of Music–Mushrooms–Manuscripts at the Art Museum, an exhibition of his drawings, photographs, books, poems, prints, and sound recordings. Featured works included his 1969 series of Plexigrams, Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, and the Mushroom Book, both printed by Irwin Hollander (1973-1975 head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art Printmaking department). On the evening of April 12, Cage attended a concert of his own music—aptly titled “John Cage Listens to John Cage”—performed by local musicians as well as students from the Cranbrook Upper School and neighboring Andover and Seaholm high schools. The program featured a 35-piece ensemble of brass, string, woodwind, and non-pitched percussion instruments for the performance of Atlas Eclipticalis, executed in unison with the multi-piano composition Winter Music. Other works included Variations IV, 4’33″, 0’00″, and Prelude for Meditation, the latter representing his earlier compositions exploring ambient noise and prepared piano. The entire evening was conducted by a seventeen-year-old Steve Tennent, who had just graduated from high school four months earlier, and a promotional poster was designed by co-head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art Design department, Michael McCoy.

Steve Tennent conducts the orchestra from the back of Cranbrook Upper School's Little Gym. Photo courtesy Steve Tennent.

During his week-long visit to the Academy, Cage also performed a 2 ½ hour long excerpt from Empty Words, a text composition he would not complete until the following year. What one reviewer deemed a “metaphysical ode to extemporania,” the work comprised of drawings as well as phrases, words, and sounds randomly culled from the Journal of Henry David Thoreau.

Empty Words folio. Photos courtesy Stephen Milanowski.

Cage spent much of his time at Cranbrook with Irwin Hollander’s Printmaking students, playing chess and conversing but holding no formal critiques. At some point, the “Cage Bag” project materialized, spearheaded by Printmaking students Chuck Baughman and Doug Huston. A suite of droll and imaginative prints–including a program for the concert performance and limited edition postcards–were tucked into white paper bags silk-screened with Cage’s face.

The Cage Bag and its contents. Photo by Doug Huston.

Students assembling the Cage Bag. Kim Rendleman (MFA Printmaking '74) is sitting at the end of the table on the left, with Doug Huston (MFA Printmaking '75) to her right and Stephen Milanowski (BFA Photography '78) standing behind her. John Cage can be seen at the left edge of the photograph, engrossed in a game of chess with a student (or possibly Irwin Hollander). Photo courtesy Doug Huston.

Twelve limited-edition postcards were created, all featuring CAA student Jim Poole wearing the Cage Bag as a mask in various settings around campus. Photo courtesy Stephen Milanowski.

Back of Cage postcard. Photo courtesy Stephen Milanowski.

"John Cage Listens to John Cage" concert program. Photo courtesy Stephen Milanowski.

"John Cage Listens to John Cage" concert program. Photo courtesy Stephen Milanowski.

The Cage Bags were distributed to the audience on the evening of the “John Cage Listens to John Cage” performance, with the goal to have everyone in attendance wear the bags over their heads, creating a sea of John Cages staring back at the stage. Convincing listeners to participate proved a fruitless venture, but the night was capped off by two streakers masked in Cage Bags running through the gym and improvising a keyboard piece for Variations IV.

Doug Huston chases runaway Cage Bags on Academy Way. Check out those silver shoes! Photo by Stephen Milanowski.

At 4pm on Sunday, March 23, I’ll be lecturing more on John Cage’s visit to Cranbrook, as well as discussing Mushroom Book and Sounds of Venice, two Cage works currently on display in the Cranbrook Art Museum exhibition My Brain Is in My Inkstand: Drawing as Thinking and Process. Immediately following will be a performance of Sounds of Venice by Detroit musician and composer Joel Peterson (check out his amazing gallery/restaurant/performance space Trinosophes, across from Eastern Market). Special thanks go out to Steve Tennent, Stephen Milanowski and Doug Huston, who provided so many incredible photographs and memories from that week. And if you haven’t yet seen My Brain Is in My Inkstand, be sure to catch it soon–the exhibition closes on March 30!

Shelley Selim
2013-2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum

Cranbrook and the American Look

Cranbrook Sighting # 11
Sighter: Shelley Selim
Sighted: Cranbrook Art Museum and Library
Location: the Internet
Date: March 10, 2014

The Internet Archive continues to be a hardy source of endearment for Shoshana and me, and this weekend I found myself traipsing through a favorite district of its offerings–Prelinger’s backlog of mid-century Populuxe videos. The term “Populuxe” was coined by cultural and design historian Thomas Hine for his 1986 book of the same name, which analyzed the hyper-consumerism that swept the United States in the 1950s and ’60s. Product styling–an extension of a collective fervor for material abundance and variety–became a wellspring of national pride during the Cold War, particularly as a means of counter-defining American capitalist prosperity against the Soviet Union’s Communist economy.

Many “Populuxe” promotional films were produced in the mid-century, and American Look, sponsored by General Motors’ Chevrolet Division, is a champion of its genre. It has it all: bright colors (in the ’50s, practically everything was offered in an array of colors, from home appliances to toilet paper), all the trappings of the new cult of domesticity  (housewives, home ownership, picnics, pools, backyard barbeques), and of course plenty of furniture and home goods created by Americans and our allies (particularly the Scandinavians).

See how many designs by Cranbrook graduates and former faculty members you can spot in this film, which is part one in a series of three. Spoiler: There are a bunch, including several chairs by Harry Bertoia, whose 99th birthday just happens to be today!

Posted by Shelley Selim
2013–2015 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Cranbrook Art Museum