Royal Ontario Museum presents exhibition on design in a new age

Around 1914: Design in a New Age is a remarkable display of the design and decorative arts created around the period of the 1914 opening of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Among the special exhibitions during the ROM’s year-long Centennial celebrations, Around 1914 is displayed from March 29, 2014 to March 21, 2015 in the Museum’s Level 3 Samuel European Galleries. This original exhibition includes over 100 objects from the ROM’s renowned European Decorative Art collection. Works of the era’s key designers and critically and historically renowned craftsmen, including Christopher Dresser, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Archibald Knox, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, Emile Gallé, Carlo Bugatti, Georg Jensen, Otto Wagner and Josef Hoffmann are included in the exhibition.

Robert Little, the Mona Campbell Curator for European Decorative Arts in the ROM’s World Cultures department, is curator of Around 1914. Little said, “The exhibition’s timing is no coincidence. With all areas of the ROM wishing to acknowledge the ROM’s Centennial, the European arts section is among the best positioned to make a statement. This exhibition establishes that the year of the ROM’s opening saw the era’s leading designers working in new ways. Given that the exhibition includes many of their innovative creations, we anticipate great interest in this timely display.”

A pivotal time in world history, June 1914 saw Europe plunge itself into a great war, leading to the end of a longstanding social-political system. Its impact and effects were profound. In architecture and the decorative arts, the years leading up to that war witnessed radical experimentation and challenges to the dependency on historical precedents—eventually bringing about the acceptance of the modern movement.

Arranged chronologically, thematically and nationally, the exhibition demonstrates how designers and craftspeople attempted to respond to the broader ideological and social challenges of their day. Around 1914 takes the Arts and Crafts Movement in England and America as its point of departure. Adherents exposed social and economic problems they claimed were tied to industrial methods and poorly produced products. They proposed a return to hand craftsmanship as a means of counteracting this decline. Although high quality works were produced, their inherently high costs made them available only to a limited market.

Subsequently, many designers in different countries across Europe attempted to reconcile quality design with the possibilities of mass production, utilizing the new materials made available with the latest technology. Their efforts were seen in national variations of the Art Nouveau movement in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark. Products of the designers working in these countries form a large portion of the exhibition. Ultimately, these innovative people forced changes in the approach to design, significantly contributing to the emergence of a whole new era. Through 60 years of developments, these changes were to greatly affect the efforts of architects, artists and designers.

Since its 1914 opening, the ROM has collected important works by the period’s key designers working in materials such as glass, stoneware, porcelain, metals, ceramic, paper, wood, ebony and ivory. Today, the Museum’s holdings in this collection area are considered to be the most important in Canada and among the best in North America.

A Centennial Decorative Arts Symposium takes place at the ROM on April 10 and 11, 2014. Keynote Speaker Margaret MacMillan is the award-winning author of the recently published The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. MacMillan and the symposium’s other participants will address the significance of the Arts and Crafts movement in England and America, as well as the other developments in design around the time of the ROM’s opening.

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