Man Ray enjoyed chess, relishing that the game, by design, requires both strategy and spontaneity to play. Though Man Ray remained “a third-rate player,” as he put it, his interest in the game “was directed towards designing new forms for chess pieces.” Manufactured in 1926 and based on his design for an earlier turned-wood set, the artist’s Chess Set (made from silver-plated and oxidized silver-plated brass) converts the familiar form of every chess piece into a more stylized shape that relies on associations — such as the connection between a king and an Egyptian pyramid — to reveal each piece’s identity. The sets tallest piece measures 4-inches high.
Stuart Davis typically painted local modern subjects in rhythmic compositions with bold colors. Among his sources of inspiration were “skyscraper architecture; the brilliant colors on gasoline stations; chain store fronts and taxi cabs“ and jazz music. Long before postwar artists mined the world of trademark brands, Davis incorporated imagery from logos, commercial signage, and packaging into his paintings, such as the branded bag of tobacco in Lucky Strike (1921). Championed by the visionary dealer Edith Halpert at her downtown Gallery, Davis’s work was met with both enthusiasm and confusion despite being engaged with the stuff and forms of modern life in New York in the 1920s.
Photographed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The Susan Lawrence Dana House (1902 – 1904), one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s earliest projects, afforded him the opportunity to experiment with design and construction techniques that would become emblematic of his Prairie Style architecture.
Cast of The Frieze
Though many European modernists shunned exterior ornament, American practitioners like Wright used it liberally to accentuate structure, with a proclivity toward geometric abstractions of nature. Applied on the upper portions of the exterior, the decorative frieze wraps around the house, forming a richly-patterned skin derived from the shape of sumac leaves — a motif applied throughout the house on windows, lamps, and decorative objects. This project is also known and the Dana-Thomas House.
An iconic and dramatic lounge chair created by Hans Wegner in 1950, the Flag Halyard Armchair has a sculptural and engineered stainless steel frame with a seat and back made of plaited flag halyard. Comfort is added with a longhaired sheepskin throw and an adjustable leather headrest.
The story goes that Wegner conceived this design while on the beach towards the end of the 1940s. He supposedly modeled the grid-like seat in a sand dune, presumably with some old rope that lay close by (a halyard is a line that hoists or covers a sail). The chair went into production in the 1950s and its unlikely combination of rope, painted and chrome-plated steel, sheepskin and linen are still unprecedented in furniture manufacture. Wegner’s motivation in using such contrasting materials was apparently not to exploit their textural interplay but more simply to demonstrate his ability to design innovative, practical and comfortable furniture – in any material.
As Hans Wegner conceived the idea for this chair while at the beach, the wide-set and low frame is naturally perfect for an afternoon rest, especially when matched with the cozy comfort of a sheepskin throw and down feather filled headrest. Reproductions of this chair, perfectly balanced and built with a solid stainless steel frame and 240 meters of textured flag line, create a modern industrial beauty that upholds the iconic style of the original Danish design, and can be found for as little as $1,650. An original will set you back about $14,000.
On his second stay in New York, Jose Clemente Orozco (1883 – 1959) made many works reflecting the city’s urban expansion and social dimension. The Subway (1928) presents several commuters on New York’s emblematic public transportation system, which first opened in 1904. The shadowy, stone-faced passengers impart a sense of melancholy to the scene, contrasting with the shiny train poles. A highly regarded artist in Mexico, Orozco struggled to find recognition in New York despite showing at several local galleries and completing a five-panel mural cycle at the New School in 1931.
Hermann Finsterlin (German, 1887 – 1973) a painter, toy designer and architectural theorist, is associated with German Expressionist architecture of the 1920s. Molded or cast models such as Study For a House of Sociability (c. 1920) played an important part in Finsterlin’s design process.
When this exhuberantly colorful model was acquired in 1968, MoMA curator Arthur Drexler observed that Finsterlin proposed an architecture that would essentially be hollow sculpture, free of functional considerations.
Finsterlin had a habit of retroactively dating his postwar pieces to the 1920s; the indefinite completion date here reflect this ambiguity.
Cubist Landscape (1912) was inspired by a trip that Diego Rivera made to Spain on 1911, where he encountered the olive trees of Catalonia. The serrated blue ridge in the painting evokes Montserrat, a mountain in the region. The work exemplifies the idiosyncratic approach to Cubism that Rivera developed in the 1910s, when he lived in Paris. He saw these early works, which combine a sun-drenched palette with kaleidoscopic planes and abstract patterning, as a way of beginning to forge a specifically Mexican modernism. “My Cubist paintings,” he said, “are my most Mexican.”
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.