Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Design

Midcentury Modern: Pleasing All Of The People All Of The Time

Are these people experiencing an objectively higher-quality life? Vintage image from X-Ray Delta One, via Flickr.

Why do we love Midcentury design?

Is it because there’s some kind of absolute standard of Quality, which MCM furniture objectively meets? Is it because it’s trendy?

The Wirecutter’s Allison Gibson asks these questions and decides that midcentury furniture is inherently good design.

I’m not sure I agree with Allison.

Anyone trying to convince you that Midcentury design is objectively better is selling you something. It’s worth remembering that.

Don’t get me wrong. I love almost anything that evokes the early 60’s. I’m wearing a pair of Laura Petrie style cigarette pants right now. My resume is laid out in Futura. And, yes, I have a total hard on for Danish teak credenzas and Eames chairs. They’re gorgeous. Duh.

But that’s the thing. I like them in an individual way, because of my personal taste. I like Midcentury design the same way I love Bob Dylan and think tattoos are rad as fuck. These things are matters of opinion. Sure, MCM is a little more timeless than, say, Gangnam Style, but that doesn’t mean it’s objectively good.

I know for a fact that there are people who don’t like Midcentury Modern furniture. This blog’s namesake, my grandmother, is one of them. I’m sure she has no problem with it (we’ve never discussed it in detail), but when she and my grandfather built their house in the 60’s, the furniture they bought was NOT modern at all. They passed their traditional taste down to my parents. Our dining room table was lacquered cherry with curved legs that hinted at a vaguely Hepplewhite-ish Chippendaley influence. Our kitchen chairs were a copy of a style commonly seen in Living History museums. Dressers had brass pulls dripping with rococo detail. There wasn’t a stitch of bent plywood in any house I spent time in as a child.

Growing up, the taste I inherited from family told me that modernist furniture was ugly. When I saw Eames designs in antique shops when I first moved to New York, my first thought was, “People pay money for that?” I’d always liked it a little, in a rebellious way. But it didn’t seem to be of Objective Quality, to me.

In 1987, every bank in my hometown looked like this. It was hideous and dated. Image via X-Ray Delta One, via Flickr.

Which brings me to my theory on why people like MCM furniture so much. For a lot of people of my generation, it’s what they grew up with. Midcentury to them says home, family, and oddly enough, tradition. For people of a slightly older generation, it still looks toward an optimistic future, like a little piece of Tomorrowland you can sit on to watch TV. Midcentury furniture is both nostalgic and forward-looking. It has something for everyone. It’s iconic and unique, timeless and contemporary.

Then again, maybe The Wirecutter is right. Maybe good design means something that can be all things to all people. Maybe form follows function not just physically but emotionally.

Either way, you bet your ass I’m getting a bunch of fabulous modern furniture for my new apartment. Family tradition be damned. Stay tuned for the epic flea market posts!

Innocence and Experience

Lug Von Siga F/W collection. Photo by Ayten Alpun, via Cool Hunting.

In 2008, Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk published a novel called The Museum of Innocence, about a man who creates a shrine to a doomed love affair with a much younger woman who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings.

On April 28, Pamuk will open an actual museum called The Museum of Innocence, a physical tribute to the shrine and the novel.  I don’t think anything like this exists in any other city, and in fact I had a hard time both conceiving of what the museum actually is and writing the sentence that precedes this one. I’m really sad that I missed this while I was there, just for the chance to wrap my brain around the idea of a museum centered around the characters in a work of fiction.

Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence, under construction. Photo via The End Of Collection

Meanwhile, the look book for Turkish fashion designer Gül Agiș‘ Fall/Winter 2013 collection centers around some of the same themes, exploring forced marriages between young women and much older men in rural Turkey.

”My tears are my witness.” from fabrika.photography on Vimeo.

How to learn another alphabet

Communist graffiti in Kolkata, India. Photo by Sara Clarke.

People say I’m good with languages. On a family trip to Italy when I was in college, I somehow became the de facto group translator even though I do not speak Italian. I was vice-president of the Spanish club in high school despite a total lack of passion for the language of burritos. I have this uncanny ability to say two or three words just well enough to be mistaken for fluent in any language. Me and talking just click, I guess.

I'm so gifted with languages that I managed to decipher this sign after spending all night on an Indian train. Photo by Sara Clarke.

Similarly, I’ve always been big into the written word. I taught myself to read by the time I was four. I have amazing handwriting. The books in my apartment multiply like roaches. I spend an inordinate amount of time working on this here blog.

And yet.

I have never been able to learn to read any alphabet other than the Latin one. I sort get how Greek is supposed to work, and I can grok Cyrillic if it’s a word I already know, like Starbucks or Moscow. That’s the limit of my ability to comprehend other writing systems. This is really embarrassing. In fact, I consider it one of my great failings as a human being. There are people in India who use 4 or 5 different writing systems on a daily basis, and yet here I am with my puny repertoire of one.

The work of a genius, I tell you. Photo/illustration by Ryan Estrada.

Because of this, I’m wildly impressed with the work of illustrator Ryan Estrada. Estrada managed to explain the Korean alphabet in the form of a web comic. An entire writing system in eight panels. And one of those panels is just a big header that says LEARN TO READ KOREAN IN FIFTEEN MINUTES. This guy. I just don’t even. I think I want to marry this dude.

Fridays On Etsy

I sort of hate Etsy. Ninety percent of it is garbage, and the other ten percent is usually riddled with typos, poorly photographed, or over-optimistically described (“Upcycled?” Seriously?). And so I’ve decided to dedicate my Fridays to highlighting the few diamonds in the rough I manage to find. Everything is related to travel, place, and the arts, of course.

Vintage photo album, via Etsy seller ScottishArt.

I love this little photo album, and $19 is probably what you’d spend on a brand new equivalent. You could use it to showcase your Instagram and Hipstamatic photos in vintage style. It’s also the perfect size for the “Polaroids” made by those new Instax cameras that have started popping up here and there.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is really from the 50’s, unless the seller retrofitted it with those plastic photo sleeves.

Travel Backgammon set, via Etsy seller MidMod.

Backgammon has always seemed so cool, probably because it’s wicked confusing. This little travel set is adorable, perfect for getting your game up to snuff on the plane before you challenge the locals in a country where Backgammon is crazy popular, such as Turkey or Greece. A great inspiration to learn Backgammon? This little minx only costs $12.

Bulova travel alarm clock, via Etsy seller Pascalene.

There are lots of travel alarm clocks on Etsy, but I picked this one because it’s gorgeous, it apparently works (which I believe because it comes in its original box), and it has a calendar feature. Frankly, I’m a sucker for the slim black line detail that bisects the clock face and traces the date of the calendar. Also, I just noticed that the hours are marked by the palest seafoam green dots. The red/gold/black/seafoam color combo makes this worth every penny of that $38 price tag. It’s the little things, I guess.

The past is a Yakov Smirnov joke.

1961 USSR postage stamp celebrating Yuri Gagarin's space flight. via Flickr.

I have a fascination with Soviet Russia, especially the aesthetics of the USSR from the 60’s through the fall of the Iron Curtain. Call it ostalgia if you want. I’ve always wanted to visit Russia, even nowadays when obviously most reminders of the Soviet days are long gone.

I think it comes from the mystique of the Soviet Union as “other” when I was little. I remember taking a theater workshop when I was like seven years old (yes I was always a dork) where we were given the improv prompt “what if a Russian kid moved to your town?”

The teacher was really mad when I said I would ask him what it was like in Russia and try to become his friend.

Via Coolhunting.

Of course, now ostalgia is trendy. A museum of Soviet arcade games recently opened in Moscow.

There are also two recent books on design behind the Iron Curtain. Iron Curtain Graphics is a book of Romanian communist poster and propaganda design, while Made In Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design is an exploration Russian product design.

A Krugozor cover from 1964. Via krugozor-kolobok.ru

My favorite Soviet product, though is Krugozor, a music magazine published from 1964 through 1991. It came with a flexible record, though I’m having trouble finding out exactly what was on the records. A 99% Invisible podcast episode dedicated to Krugozor claims that the records included sound effects and music, and that somehow the editors were allowed to include rock music. Which sounds weird to me because rock was apparently censored or at least stifled in the Soviet Union at the time. Then again, I’m not up on my Soviet policies on Rock n Roll through the ages — maybe it was only later issues of Krugozor that included that sort of thing, during Perestroika.

It’s really difficult to find out exactly what Krugozor was or what it included, because virtually everything I can find written about it is in Russian. This definitely adds to my fascination with it. If I could read Russian, I would probably discover that Krugozor was the Soviet equivalent of Readers’ Digest, and it would cease to be interesting.

Another Krugozor cover, this time from 1971. Same source.

Sidenote/pointless quasi-proustian reminiscence: For years, there was a Taaka Vodka billboard featuring Yakov Smirnov on Veterans’ Memorial Boulevard (AKA “Vets”, to the extent that I just had to look up the actual name of the street) in New Orleans on the way to the airport. My mother’s parents spent most of the 80’s living in Cameroon, so Driving To The Airport was always a momentous occasion. I will always ever so vaguely associate world travel, the Cold War, AIDS, terrorism, apartheid, Ronald Reagan, and Duty Free, with Taaka Vodka. For no reason other than that this billboard happened to exist and perfectly symbolize everything my five year old brain didn’t understand about the world. (I still totally don’t understand Duty Free.)

Wednesday Round Up.

Screenshot diptych from Pollock. Via Design*Sponge.

Design*Sponge did a Living In post on Pollock. I remember disliking this movie when I first saw it, but damn, it really gets the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic right. I think the main reason I wish I were an artist is the idea of having a ramshackle old studio-slash-house out somewhere nobody else wants to live. In the 50’s that was eastern Long Island. Which is funny because now the Hamptons is the land of spray-tan and appletinis, a place the least imaginative people in the world want to be. I think now you’d have to be in Detroit or a ghost town in the rust belt. Will those places be the hot vacation spots of 2062?

Image courtesy Huffington Post.

The Film On The Rocks Yao Noi Festival — curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton —  created a floating island cinema for screenings.

La Guardia Airport, 1961. Via Retronaut.

Just in time for the new season of Mad Men, Retronaut has a photo series on flying into La Guardia airport in 1961.

This picture of Clarissa Darling wearing a Keith Haring t-shirt brought to you by the fact that I can't get any good MTV Art Break video clips to embed properly. Image blatantly stolen from Flavorwire.

Remember how yesterday I mentioned that Keith Haring did stuff for MTV in the 80’s? Well it turns out MTV is bringing back the Art Break. Too bad nobody cool watches MTV anymore. Also, too bad I suck at embedding video. Click the link, I guess.

The Fruited Plain

Airship Brand Oranges. All images in this post courtesy of the Smithsonian.

This is a label for a crate of oranges But it doesn’t just say FRESH ORANGES, or BEAUTIFUL ORANGES, or even CALIFORNIA ORANGES.

It says “Airship”.

This was no mere box of citrus fruit, it was a dream of a better life. In the future, the label seems to say, you’ll go wherever you want, and on the way, you can eat an orange. And in the first half of the twentieth century, in Orange County, CA, the future was now.

Airship wasn’t the only brand to use wanderlust-inducing images to sell citrus fruit. Every citrus growing concern, from Sunkist to the Ventura County Citrus Association, had its own mouthwateringly illustrated crate label extolling the promise of California, the new American paradise. Making lemonade or peeling an orange wasn’t just a way to get your daily vitamin C. It was a destination. Buy this fruit and be transported to a warmer and sunnier place, where there’s fruit on the trees year round, and everything is fresh.

All Year Lemons, Fillmore Lemon Association. Dig how, when fruit is depicted, it's usually drawn individually wrapped. Like a present. A citrus present.

 

Sunkist California Dream. Check out the proto-Disneyland in the background!

 

Passport Lemons. It's rare that a lemon makes me want to forget blogging and go play around on Kayak Explore instead.

 

Ramona Memories. Remember that time you took a bite of lemon meringue pie and were instantly transported to a hacienda, where this girl did unmentionable things to you? Yeah, that was great.

 

Then there’s this gem, which has nothing to do with wanderlust but is trippy as all hell. Seriously, this vies with the Sunmaid Raisin maiden for mind blowing illustration in marketing.

No, you have one! OMIGOD IM HAVING A BAD TRIP (studies show citrus fruits are unlikely to be hallucinogenic)

 

By the way, apparently the Smithsonian has blogs. This post was inspired by a six-part series on their new design blog all about the use of design to market citrus fruit to Americans. I mean, that’s what the series was about. There are hopefully going to be all sorts of other neat things on the blog, very soon. There are also blogs about history, archaeology, film, science, dinosaurs, and a million other cool subjects you’re probably interested in. Who knew?

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