Peter Muller-Munk: Design So Great It Vanishes

THE DAILY PIC: At the Carnegie Museum of Art, his best work transcends its era.


THE DAILY PIC (#1524): Peter Muller-Munk was responsible for some of the icons of modern design: The stunning 1935 Normandie pitcher (why has no one reissued it?), the classic postwar Texaco sign, the Unisphere for the 1964 New York world’s fair. Those and other vintage projects are thoroughly covered in the wonderful show called “Silver to Steel: The Modern Designs of Peter Muller-Munk,”at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. The CMoA has given Muller-Munk the kind of serious, comprehensive treatment that museums usually reserve for major figures in fine art. Even in New York (especially in New York) design shows are almost always treated to a glitzy gloss that fine art somehow manages to do without – as though the design curators themselves believe they are dealing with lesser material that can’t be left to speak for itself. (And don’t get me started on the shameful dumbing-down of fashion exhibitions.)

Rant over.

Heading back to the subject at hand … the object that most impressed me in the Muller-Munk show was – we get to it at last – the V-Gard Safety Helmet that is the subject of today’s Daily Pic. That hard hat was designed in 1962 for Mine Safety Appliances and is still in production by that same company today, while not showing its age even one bit.

It’s wonderful when designers can inhabit and even exemplify a moment in our visual culture, as Muller-Munk did with the Normandie and many other objects from his 40-year career. (His Bissell floor-sweepers take me right back to my childhood.) But it’s got to be even more impressive, and is certainly far more rare, when designers manage to make objects that cut across the period styles that history almost always imposes on us.

Visual art never makes a temporal leap like that. When design does, it proves that its curators should never apologize for their subject, or take it lightly. (Photo by Tom Little, courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art)

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