What is Mid Century Modern?

What is Mid Century Modern? This is a catch all phrase attached to the various movements in art and design around the middle of the 20th century. Generally described as art and design with an impulse toward clean lines and simple geometry, Mid Century Modern is more than any quick description. Furthermore, other trends and movements were active simultaneously. Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, and other movements combined into a cauldron that produced a rich and varied style and flavor that still manifests itself in what contemporaries call modern.

The Mid Century Modern era covers 1930 through 1965, even though some iconic designs came out of years earlier. This era should be seen as part of the Modern Art Movement that goes back even further to the Post-Impressionists and even the Impressionists. As with Modern Art, Mid Century rids itself of extraneous details and excess decoration. Pomp and convention became anathema to the modern aesthetic. Besides “clean” lines and geometric simplicity, mid century art and design relishes the skilled facility of modern industrial manipulation of materials such as steel, metals, plastics, and the incorporation of natural materials. The modern designer of the time savored the expert fabrication of the natural into useful objects. The egos of desTulip Chairigners exploded into the rich array of products that brightened the world of the middle of the 20th century.  Nevertheless, Mid Century Modern is especially known for the extensive use of man-made materials such as this Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen, entirely composed of industrial materials. The Mid Century aesthetic also included a new color palette. Although not the bright garish colors associated with this period today, but a lack of shyness in introducing color is a notable part of modernity.

Mid Century Modern is the whole package. The influences of this modern movement affected architecture, interiors, design of every kind. Fine art of the day included the Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and the Pop Artists such as Andy Warhol. Many think of Mid Century Modern as entirely architecture, graphics, and interiors, but this is not the case. Just as in other art periods, all should be included that conform to the modern impulse.

In America the International Style was influential. However, the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the strength of the Arts and Crafts movement tremendously affected design in the United States and lead to unique structures. The extreme proliferation of the consumer culture and the national expansion of business lead to Mid Century Modern injected in every blender and hamburger joint. The geometric designs and the unabashed abandonment of unnecessary details greased the wheels of mass production and led to an amazing array of forms as well as choices.

When examining Mid Century Modern to contemporary aesthetics, we understand the necessity of this movement. It has led to what we have now and informs us of the incredible progress humanity has made since the rise of the modern industrial state. In looking to the past, we still see the future.