Silly Saturday: Atomic City

A huge thank you goes out to our friend, Mid-century Modern Freak for turning us on to Hollywood visual effect artist Markus Rothkranz's Atomic City. Part Jetsons, part Rat Pack, part James Bond the show is like nothing you’ve seen on television! A spoof of a sixties style secret agent thriller, the show features all the futuristic designs that mid-century architects and designers dreamed of for our use in 2014.

Since Atomic City really defies any description we could hope to give it, you’ll just have to check it out yourself!

Atomic City
Markus Rothkrantz. Image from Atomic City (1997-2006).

On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi

Editor’s note: This post originally ran in January 25, 2011.

“Everything is sculpture.  Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.” — Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was one of the Twentieth Century’s most important and influential sculptors. He “believed that through sculpture and architecture, one could better understand the struggle with nature”(1). Noguchi’s father was a Japanese poet and his mother, an American writer. Although the artist was born in Los Angeles (2), he spent much of his childhood in Japan. He returned to the United States as a teenager in order to attend boarding school (3,4). Noguchi would remain an “internationalist, [and travel] extensively throughout his life”(3).

Isamu Noguchi, Long Island City Studio with Akari sculptures, 1960s.
Source: © Isamu Noguchi Foundation Inc, New York courtesy designmuseum, London

As a young man, Noguchi began studying medicine at Columbia University. During this period he was also enrolled in sculpture classes and soon “realized that art, not medicine, was his true calling”(1). “When he was only twenty Noguchi had his first exhibition in New York City”(5). In 1927, “he received a Guggenheim Fellowship…that allowed him at age twenty-three to apprentice under Constantin Brancusi”(5). Brancusi’s influence is evident in Noguchi’s work throughout his prolific career.

Two years later, Noguchi was to meet another individual who would have a profound effect upon his life, “the visionary architect, futurist, and poet”(5), Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s “utopian outlook greatly influenced Noguchi”(5) and the two became life-long friends. Fuller’s ideas, no doubt, had an impact on Noguchi’s “increased social awareness”(5) that led the sculptor to establish “Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the patriotism of Japanese-Americans”(3) in 1942. That same year, Noguchi endured “a voluntary stay in a Japanese interment camp for several months”(5). After the War, the artist returned to Japan to explore “the wrenching issues raised during the previous years. His ideas and feelings are reflected in his work of the time”(3).

Stage set elements from Herodiade (1944) choreographed by Martha Graham in Robert Wilson’s installation of Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design at the Design Museum, 2001

Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham is another figure who greatly influenced Noguchi’s career. “As early as 1935”(3) he designed sets for her company and collaborated with other “dancers/choreographers Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, and George Balanchine [as well as] composer John Cage”(3). According to scholar Nancy Grove, with work such as this “Noguchi challenged Modernist prohibitions against commerce and genre-crossing”(2).

Isamu Noguchi. Akari Lamps, 1951.

Noguchi would blur the line between pure art and functional design with his iconic creation Radio Nurse for Zenith Radio Corporation in 1937 (2). In the 1940s George Nelson, design director for Herman Miller, wrote an article called “How to Make a Table” using one of Noguchi’s designs as an illustration for the piece. This design eventually “became his famous ‘coffee table,’ originally introduced in 1947 and reissued in 1984”(6).  Noguchi’s 1951 Akari Lamps of “paper, bamboo, and metal”(2) borrowed their structure from traditional Japanese shoji lamps, yet these lamps’ “asymmetrical shapes”(4) were inspired by Brancusi’s work (4).

In the 1960s Noguchi and architect Louis Kahn collaborated on a design for a playground (3). “The Adele Levy Memorial Playground, intended to occupy eight acres of New York City’s Riverside Park”(7) was one of a series of “playscapes” the sculptor designed in which “the standard swing, slide, and climbing structure”(7) was replaced by “an array of geometric shapes”(7) that children could climb and play upon. Sadly, the project was eventually rejected by city officials and never realized.

Isamu Noguchi. Playscapes (1975-76). Piedmont Park, Atlanta. Photo by Isamu Noguchi

“Noguchi died in 1988;…half his ashes are buried in the Noguchi Museum garden, the rest at his compound in Japan. In life as in death, Noguchi honored both his Japanese and American heritage”(4). For more insight on Isamu Noguchi’s his life and work and the remarkable people who shaped the artist’s career, visit  “On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries, 1922–1960.” The exhibition runs now through April 24, 2011 at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York.


  1. PBS. (2001). About Isamu Noguchi.
  2. Grove, N. (2005). Identifying Noguchi. Sculpture. 24 no. 9 26-31.
  3. Noguchi Museum.  (n.d.). Biography.
  4. Goldstein, D. (2006). Crossing Cultures. Art & Antiques 29 no. 2 42, 44.
  5. Carpenter, K. (2008). Organic Utilitarianism: The Sculptures of Isamu Noguchi. Sculpture Review v. 57 no. 1 30-33.
  6. Herman Miller, Inc. (2010). Isamu Noguchi.
  7. Exhibition Examines Noguchi’s Ties to Key Figures in Art, Theater, Design, and Architecture. (2010, November 18).
Glamour of Italian Fashion At V&A

After the Second World War, Italy emerged from the War’s rubble and its fashion industry rivaled that of Paris in its innovation and luxury. An exhibition opening in April 2014 at the V&A Museum in London, The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014, examines this transition.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014 will feature leading designers and fashion houses of the period: Pucci, Valentino, GucciGiorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Versace and others. The exhibition will also explore the influence that Hollywood films shot on location during the 1950s and 1960s had on the industry.

Details about The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014 can be found on the V&A Web site.


Designer Valentino posing with models, Rome, July 1967. Courtesy of The Art Archive, photographer: Marisa Rastellini.
Image Source

Future Uncertian for Providence’s “Superman Building”

Late last year the New York Times online posted an article on the Industrial Trust Building in Providence, Rhode Island. A centerpiece landmark of downtown Providence, the Art Deco gem of a skyscraper that once was the workplace of hundreds now sits vacant. The building’s most recent tenant, the Bank of America, moved out in April 2013.

According to the New York Times article, the Industrial Trust Building ”became known as the ‘Superman building,’ in the mistaken belief that it had appeared in an establishing shot for the Adventures of Superman television series of the 1950s. 

The Industrial Trust Building made Providence’s WLNE-TV’s list of Most Endangered Properties in Providence. The building’s current owners, High Rock Development, hope to convert it into luxury apartments. So far their plans have stalled, and the future of the skyscraper is uncertain.

Read more about the Industrial Trust Building on the New York Times Web site.

A Stewart Walker and Leon N. Gillette, Industrial Trust Building, Providence, RI (1927).
Image Source

SAVED: 1954 Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian House

Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1954 Usonian home, the Bachman Wilson House, has been purchased by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. Increasingly threatened by floods in its original location in New Jersey, the structure will be disassembled and moved a thousand miles to its new home.

According to, which posted the news regarding the Bachman Wilson House, “In light of the threat to the building, this approach was supported by both the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and the Borough of Millstone Historic District Commission.”

Read more about the preservation of the Bachman Wilson House on

Frank Lloyd Wright, Bachman Wilson House, Millwood, NJ (1954).
Photo credit: © Tarantino Studio 2013; courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Image Source


The Wonderful Robots of Clayton Bailey

In this video Senior Curator at the San Jose Museum of Art, JoAnn Northrup, discusses the work of Clayton Bailey, a prominent artist in the Funk Art movement. Bailey created robot sculptures from recycled machine and appliance parts. His work was featured in the Museum’s 2008 exhibition, Robots: Evolution of a Cultural Icon, which examined the development of robot iconography in art and design during the Twentieth Century.

Visit Clayton Bailey’s Web site for more information on the artist and his work. 

Silly Saturday: Layout Disasters That Will Make You Wince

Thank you to Facebook friend Dave Higgins for bringing this hilarious post from Patrick Smith of to our attention. Often designers and editors catch these graphic faux pas before going into production, but sometimes they don’t. These layout failures might make you wince, but there’s a good chance they’ll make you laugh.

Check out the entire list on

Design FailSource:

Elise Cavanna: Actress and Artist

Design and Desire in the Twentieth Century is again indebted to one of our favorite bloggers, Amy at Aqua-Velvet, for introducing us to the modernist paintings and textile designs of Elise Cavanna. In addition to having been an accomplished visual artist, the striking, six foot tall Ms. Cavanna had a successful career in theatre and film. She is perhaps best known for her comedic work opposite W.C. Fields during the 1930s.

Elise Cavanna

Elise Cavanna, Gray, textile design (circa 1940).


A scene from “The Dentist” (1932), W.C. Fields (left), Elisa Cavanna (seated center).

Read more about Elise Cavanna and view examples of her work on Aqua-Velvet and on the Los Angeles County Museum Web site.

Review: The Art of Video Games

“Everyone who plays a game puts a little of themselves into the experience and takes away something that is wholly unique.” 

– Unattributed quote from placard in the Art of the Video Game Exhibition

Technology Becomes an Art Form

Thirty years ago, my Aesthetics professor at Syracuse University, Larry Bakke, explained that every technology eventually becomes an art form. For instance, one hundred years ago most people thought that motion pictures were a fad, a toy. People who worked in the film industry during that era were looked down upon. The same held true for the days of early television. Now there are museums, archives, books and college courses devoted to film and television history. Thirty years ago when I was an undergraduate art student Space Invaders and Pac Man were just popular video games, not much more. Time spent playing these video games was considered wasted time.

“One of the first major exhibitions to explore the 40-year evolution of video games,”The Art of Video Games is currently running through January 19, 2014 at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. The video game has evolved into an art form whose time has come.

Color Coded Game System Kiosks

The Art of Video Games exhibit, curated by Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels,2 is one of an exceptionally welll organized show. Video games are organized by gaming systems and a kiosk is dedicated to each system. The video game development is divided into five eras, beginning with the Atari and Coleco systems of the late 1970s up to today’s Wii, xBox and PlayStation systems. Each era is assigned a color; the kiosks are color coded by era and presented chronologically from earliest to most recent.

Each kiosk contains a sample game system controller and short videos that demonstrate and explain four of the most popular games for each system. The games represented in each kiosk are categorized by game type: Action, Target, Adventure or Tactics.

Sonic Adventure

Image: Sonic Adventure, Yuki Naka, Keith Palmer, producers; Takasi Iizuka, director; Kazuyuki Hoshino, art director, SEGA Dreamcast, 1999, © SEGA. All Rights Reserved.

Visitors Get an Opportunity to Play

A few kiosks in the exhibit allow visitors to sample playing several of the most popular games of the past 40 years, including Pac Man, Myst and the Secret of Monkey Island. Unfortunately some kiosks were placed close to screens showing video interviews with game designers, and load sounds emanating from game play made it rather difficult to hear the interviews.

Read More

A Visit to the Exmore Diner
Last September Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap paid a visit to the Exmore Diner in Exmore Virginia. According to Mod Betty’s post, “the Exmore Diner is the only vintage diner on Virginia’s eastern shore. The diner, which opened in 1954, features pink, black and yellow tile work as well as a “swell neon clock.” 
Read Mod Betty’s entire post.
Visit the Exmore Diner’s Web site.

Exmore Diner

Patterson Vehicle Company, Exmore Diner, Exmore, VA (1954). Photo copyright 2013 Retro Roadmap.