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Jewish Culture & IdeasArchitecture & DesignContemporary Art

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism

Apr 24, 2014–Oct 6, 2014

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism is the first exhibition to look at the contribution of Jewish designers, architects, patrons, and merchants in the creation of a distinctly modern American domestic landscape. The story told in this exhibition gives remarkable insight into Jewish assimilation into American society. At the same time, Designing Home goes beyond a simple exploration of physical Jewish contributions to the history of modern architecture and design—an impact that continues today—to examine broader cultural and social themes.

In the aftermath of World War II, the hub of world Jewry shifted from Europe to America. We look at the cultural context in which many Jewish émigré architects and designers from Europe in the 1930–40s were welcomed and embraced into the creative communities that sprang up around the US—including Black Mountain College, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, and even in the Bay Area at Pond Farm in Guerneville. The exhibition and its public programs look at the intersections between Jewish social ideals and modernism’s own progressive commitment to egalitarianism.


Organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, with Guest Curator Donald Albrecht, Designing Home features more than 120 objects organized around five key areas. The first area features furniture and products as well as textiles, ceramics, graphics, and a variety of book and record covers by designers such as Alex Steinweiss, Paul Rand, and Elaine Lustig Cohen. These pieces are presented within an immersive environment of life-sized photographs of period home interiors.

The second gallery features original furnishings by Bauhaus architect Harry Rosenthal from Richard Neutra’s 1938 Schiff House, located in the Marina district of San Francisco. The furniture was commissioned by Dr. and Mrs. William Schiff in Berlin and was brought to San Francisco; Neutra was asked to design the house for the furniture. Eventually the complete set was given as a gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in the 1970s. Select pieces, on loan from SFMOMA, will be on view. This is the first time the Schiff House furniture has been shown to the public.

A small gallery is dedicated to examples of modernist Jewish ritual objects designed by well-known designers, such as Judith Brown’s 1958 Menorah, Victor Reis’ Mezuzah, and Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert’s stylish Seder Plate.

Spotlights on significant architecture from the era are presented throughout the galleries including areas dedicated to Joseph Eichler’s designs and the Walker Art Center’s 1947 Idea House. The contributions of influential entities such as the Walker Art Center, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Arts & Architecture magazine, Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Chicago’s Institute of Design, and Pond Farm in Guerneville, CA, as well as those of individual patron and merchant tastemakers like Edgar Kaufmann, jr., the son of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. whose store was one of the nation’s most trendsetting retail environments, are illustrated in more detail through an illustrated timeline within the exhibition.

Finally, a screening room illuminates Hollywood’s role in promoting modern design to the American public, with movie clips featuring modern settings and fashion, vintage commercials, and illustrated title sequences by such luminaries as Saul Bass. Bass’s well-known movie poster designs are also a highlight of this gallery.

image gallery
about Donald Albrecht

Donald Albrecht’s catalogs have garnered numerous awards, including the Society of Architectural Historians’ Best Exhibition Catalogue for the Eero Saarinen and the Eames catalogs. Albrecht has also contributed essays to a number of books about architecture and design, including The Glass House: Pairings and California Design: The Legacy of West Coast Craft and Style to monographs on Andree Putman, Michael Gabellini, and 1100 Architect, and has written extensively about the relationship between architecture and film, starting with his seminal book, Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies. Albrecht lectures frequently about architecture and design. He is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

exhibition cataloG

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism is accompanied by a full color comprehensive exhibition catalog published by The CJM that includes an essay by Guest Curator Donald Albrecht, a fully illustrated exhibition checklist, biographies on all of the designers, and a reader featuring four key texts published by distinguished authors and historians—“Home means Haym,” by Jenna Weissman Joselit, “Acceptance and Assimilation: Jews in 1950s American Popular Culture,” and “The ‘Christianization’ of Israel and Jews in 1950s America,” by Michelle Mart, and “Di Toyre Fun Skhoyre, or, I Shop, Therefore I Am: The Consumer Cultures of American Jews,” by Jeffrey Shandler.

video preview

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Major sponsorship for this exhibition is provided by Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Osterweis Capital Management, the Seiger Family Foundation, and the Jim Joseph Foundation. Patron sponsorship is provided by Phyllis Cook, Alison Gelb Pincus and Mark Pincus, and The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation. Supporting sponsorship is provided by AIG Private Client Group, an Anonymous donor, Judy and Harry Cohn, Dana Corvin and Harris Weinberg, G2 Insurance Services, Peggy and Richard Greenfield Foundation, Siesel Maibach, Dorothy R. Saxe, and Barbara and Howard Wollner. Participating sponsorship is provided by Alvin H. Baum, Jr., T Beller and Philip S. Schlein, Susan and Joel Hyatt, Carol and Alan J. Pomerantz, Shelli Semler and Kyle Bach, Ruth and Alan Stein, and Roselyne Chroman Swig.

Additional support is provided by The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s Bernard and Barbro Osher Exhibition Fund.

Essential support for catalog publication has been provided by Fred M. Levin and Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation, in memory of Ben and A. Jess Shenson.

Media sponsorship is provided by Dwell magazine.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation.

Image Credit

Header image: Henry Dreyfuss, Big Ben Alarm Clock, 1939. Metal, glass, paint, 5 ½ x 5 ½ x 3 in. Photo by JKA Photography.