Mid-Century Modernism and the American Body: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Power in Design

Princeton Univ Apr. 2021. 264p. ISBN 9780691208190. $39.95. DEC ARTS
Wilson’s (art history, Clark Univ.) deep knowledge of and scholarship in modern design are evident in this book’s precisely articulated argument, that in the late 1940s to 1950s mid-century modernism was constructed differently in Black and in white markets for decorative arts. In four chapters, using compelling visual evidence from books, catalogues, and advertising, Wilson analyzes the advice provided in domestic manuals of the postwar period, compares representations of modernism in popular magazines (e.g., Life versus Ebony), and dissects the home furnishings produced by Herman Miller, as well as the decorative accessories designed to accent those pieces in modernist homes. Scholars of the history of modern design have largely ignored race until now. Wilson’s archival research and careful interrogation of relevant texts and images compels readers to see the powerful messages embedded in marketing materials in a fresh way.
VERDICT With its scholarly style and specialized focus, this text is suitable for an academic audience. Wilson meticulously applies the critical method to the marketing of an influential and persistent style, making this book essential reading for students of sociology as well as design.
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