Women's Work: MoMA's Designing Modern Women 1890-1990

This week I took a field trip to New York to check out Designing Modern Women 1890-1990 at the Museum of Modern Art. It looks like the MoMA is responding to criticism in recent years of its scarcity of work by female artists. This exhibit explores the integral role women have played in shaping modern ideas of art, design and lifestyle in the twentieth century. The pieces on display tell a story of emancipation; of women redesigning everyday life and helping to change what it means to be a woman in modern society. The show runs until September 21, so there’s still time to go see it for yourself. In the meantime, here are some highlights.


Designing Modern Women 1890-1990 showcases women's creativity not only as professional designers, but also as clients, consumers, performers and educators.


The Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s raised the visibility of the decorative arts. This, along with new social freedoms, empowered women to explore opportunities in areas historically dominated by men. Design with women in mind as well as design by women for women and children began to emerge as important segments of the decorative arts field. 


In postwar years, new prosperity inspired a taste for modern design and decor. Eva Zeisel's houseware designs, including Folding Chair (1949), were exhibited at the MoMA during this time.



By mid-century, the relatively new focus on design for women brought about major changes in home design. Rather than being ignored as an unimportant room for "women's work," the kitchen became a major source of inspiration and change. Charlotte Perriand's innovative kitchen design for Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation apartment building in Marseille (completed in 1952) was created with the intention of improving women's lifestyles and meeting the changing needs of the modern woman in the early 1950s. 


In the 1960s, cultural changes encouraged more experimental design by increasingly empowered women. Brightly colored consumer product design reflected the optimism and newness of a decade seeking to liberate itself from the past.


This exhibit explores the evolution of what it means to do "women's work." Even as the show progresses from 1890-1990, the phrase becomes obsolete. But a new meaning for "women's work" emerges: That as creative women, we have a responsibility to challenge social convention, facilitate change, and continue to design a better future for the next generations of modern women.

Designing Modern Women 1890-1990 runs through September 21, 2014 |