Maurice Goldberg, Streamlined Railway Train, ca. 1930-1933 | Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation / Harry Ransom Center
Maurice Goldberg, Streamlined Railway Train, ca. 1930-1933 | Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation / Harry Ransom Center

AUSTIN, TEXAS |  I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America explores the career of American stage and industrial designer, futurist and urban planner Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958). The exhibition opens September 11, 2012 in Austin. It runs through January 6, 2013.

The exhibition includes work from more than 60 of Bel Geddes’ projects, including materials relating to “Futurama,” Bel Geddes’ 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair installation for General Motors. I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America highlights more than 300 items from Bel Geddes’s extensive archive at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, including models, drawings, paintings, film footage and photographs.

The NEH-funded exhibition reflects the broad range of Bel Geddes’ interests and work and demonstrates how he shaped and continues to influence American culture and lifestyle. A polymath who had little academic or professional training in the areas he mastered, Bel Geddes had the ability to look at trends and the contemporary environment and envision how they could affect and alter the future.

“When you drive on an interstate highway, attend a multimedia Broadway show, dine in a sky-high revolving restaurant or watch a football game in an all-weather stadium, you owe a debt of gratitude to Norman Bel Geddes,” said exhibition organizer Donald Albrecht, an independent curator and curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York. “Geddes was both a visionary and a pragmatist who had a significant role in shaping not only modern America but also the nation’s image of itself as leading the way into the future. Geddes was a polymath who had no academic or professional training in the activities he mastered—designing stage sets, costumes, and lighting; creating theater buildings, offices, nightclubs, and houses; and authoring prescient books and articles.”

Albrecht organized this show with assistance from Cathy Henderson and Helen Baer at the Harry Ransom Center. He continued: “Geddes believed that art, as well as architecture and design, could make people’s lives psychologically and emotionally richer. He influenced the behavior of American consumers and helped make industrial and theater design into modern businesses. Believing that communication was key to shaping the modern world, Geddes popularized his vision of the future through drawings, models, and photographs. Of his utopian predictions, Geddes’s best-known project was the Futurama exhibit in the General Motors “Highways and Horizons” pavilion at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair. It was an immense model of America, circa 1960, seen by 27,500 visitors daily who exited with a pin proclaiming ‘I Have Seen the Future.’ ”

I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America can be seen in the Ransom Center Galleries on Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Mondays.

The Museum of the City of New York also plans to host the exhibition.

Here is a link to a multimedia slideshow on Harry Ransom Center siteI Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.

I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America explores the life and career of this complex and influential man and is organized into five thematic sections:

Setting the Stage: 1916–1927
In the initial phase of his professional career, Geddes focused on theater design and theater spaces. Geddes adapted for the American stage the principles of the so-called New Stagecraft movement in Europe, which aimed to free the theater from the strictures of bourgeois realism and to create settings for a new generation of playwrights who were exploring psychological and emotional depth in their work.

Industrious Design: 1927–1937
Eager to move beyond theater and broaden his influence over American society, Geddes branched out in new directions in the late 1920s, adapting his flair for theater to architecture and interior design, pioneering the new field of industrial design, and popularizing streamlining as a design concept with his book Horizons (1932).

A Bigger World: 1937–1945
In the late 1930s Geddes sought to reshape the entire American landscape. When Geddes was asked to create an ad campaign for a new form of gasoline, he envisioned a Shell Oil “City of Tomorrow.” With this project, pitchman Geddes became urban visionary, focusing on decentralization as key to the improved city.

Futurama: 1939–1940
Geddes’s Futurama installation at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair, dedicated to “building the world of tomorrow,” was one of the fair’s most popular attractions. This feat of imagination captured the national consciousness and highlighted Geddes’s talents as a modeler, futurist, and urban planner.

Total Living: 1945–1958
No longer at the epicenter of American industrial design after World War II, Geddes nonetheless remained a visionary who was involved in virtually every field that defined Cold War America, from television to suburbia to urban renewal.

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