In 1924, the US Secretary of State advised the French government that the United States would not participate in the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, because American manufacturers had “little or nothing to display” that would meet the French admissibility requirements of new inspiration, and originality. Yet, America could boast of several artists who produced modern and original designs, such as Donald Deskey, Ruth Reeves, and Ilonka Karasz. In 1928, they, together with a group of like-minded artists and designers, incorporated the American Designers’ Gallery, Inc., in order to fill the lacunae perceived by the US Government a few years before.

The Gallery held two exhibitions: one in 1928, and one in 1929, immediately after the first exhibition closed. An exhibition catalogue, complete with images of works on display and artists’ biographies, were published for each exhibition. In the Foreword to the 1928 catalogue, designer Herman Rosse wrote: “The need for a more complete showing of the work by the more enterprising contemporary [American decorative] designers has resulted in the first exposition in the American Designers’ Gallery. It is the first complete showing of the united opinion of fifteen of the most experienced designers in America. In addition, it includes the work of several other designers now active and fairly may be said to give the first view of contemporary art in America.”

In March 1929, shortly after the second exhibition opened, John Shapley, of the magazine Parnassus, wrote: “This exhibition also aroused much comment and many protests and a modicum of praise.” Unfortunately, this “modicum” of praise proved insufficient, and the Gallery became economically unsustainable. These two exhibition catalogues are the only ones that were ever produced in relation to the short-lived American Designers’ Gallery.

Catherine Powell is a student in the M.A. Program in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies offered jointly by the Parsons School of Design and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is an intern at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Library as well as a Fellow in the Product Design and Decorative Arts curatorial department of the Museum.

2 thoughts on “All-American Modernism

I think Ilonka Karasz designed the cover on the catalogue on the left. Her stylized IK initials can be seen on the table top. Surely Karasz scholars can confirm or challenge this observation..

Probably should have named Ric Emmett’s book “All-American Modernist Furniture” what do you think?

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