In the January 1933 issue of Advertising Arts, a journal dedicated to the promotion of modern art in advertising, a glassware critic asserts a designer's ability to manipulate machines rather than allow industrial mechanisms to govern product designs. In applauding machine-made items that capture the "mood of the time," the writer casts a vase as a piece of high art (22). Two months later, the same magazine published an article by industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, who sought to explain the complex situation of the consumer, the manufacturer, and the artist:
The discussion of this symbiotic relationship reflects a growing realization of the 1920s and 1930s that designers could influence the aesthetic quality of machine-made products to the extent that consumers, through their purchases, could convince manufacturers that such goods would, indeed, sell. How did this fusion of interests, this coming together of conventional art and everyday household goods come about?
In 1927, retailers and museum directors displayed fine art together with consumables at an R.H. Macy's-sponsored exhibition. By 1934, the manufactured products--from airplane propellers to bathroom sinks to billiard balls to laboratory microscopes--could stand alone at a hugely successful Museum of Modern Art show simply titled Machine Art. In The Romance of Commerce and Culture, James Sloan Allen explores the early nineteenth-century alliance between these two seemingly disparate institutions as a class struggle. He discusses an ambivalence toward money, modernism, and the middle-class and describes the commonality between art and advertising as a point where intellectuals and the bourgeoisie could both comfortably confront this irresolution and degentrify culture. "[B]usiness art," he writes, "signals the assimilation of artistic modernism, with its abstract, experimental aesthetics and earnestly contemporary spirit (if not its metaphysical and moral vision) into the common tastes and temper of the twentieth century" (4). Equally important, however, through the low-brow, commercial medium of print advertising coupled with the burgeoning machine-art movement, distinctions between high culture and everyday products began to collapse. Advertising in the '20s and '30s provides an explanatory metaphor for this process. Influential art directors began pairing known objects of value, such as impressionist painting, with insignificant household products, say, Johnson's baby powder.
Later they turned to more modern artistic techniques, as a 1928 Steinway piano advertisement, which proudly displays a Picasso, demonstrates. As shoppers became more familiar with the technique of using pieces of high culture to add associative prestige to common products, however, advertisers began to shift their focus altogether. The Steinway piano, eventually recognized as an object of beauty itself, would no longer require secondary validation.
|In short, the marriage of art and trade, with some help from contemporary magazine advertising, led to the recognition of beauty in everyday commodities. Therefore, by 1934, the MoMA could host Machine Art, the penultimate fusion of art and trade, and demonstrate a growing, though still hesitant, acceptance of functionalism, cubism, and other examples of American modern art as high culture.|