Though many people may not be familiar with the renowned American industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes he is best known to New Yorkers for the “Futurama” exhibition at the 1939-40 World’s Fair, where 5 million visitors got the opportunity to behold a 35,000 square foot installation and leave with a pin proclaiming, “I Have Seen the Future.” Bel Geddes (1893-1958) was a visionary who played a significant role in the 1920s and ‘30s, shaping not only modern America but also the nation’s image of itself as a global innovator and world leader. Pictured above: Bel Geddes with Futurama Diorama, ca. 1939. Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation/Ransom Center.
THE DA VINCI OF 20TH CENTURY The “Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future” exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York through February 2014 is the first major exploration of the stage and industrial designer’s oeuvre, whom The New York Times dubbed, “the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th Century.” Bel Geddes’ portrayal of what would become streamlined, technocratic and optimistic captured the national consciousness.
I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE Much of what American take as commonplace, such as a drive on an interstate highway, a visit to a multimedia Broadway show, dinner in a sky-high revolving restaurant, or game-watching in an all-weather stadium were innovations pioneered by the futurist. Bel Geddes popularized modernism for home design, and used streamlining as his design mantra, which was demonstrated with his designs for transportation vehicles such as buses, yachts, ships and cars. Bel Geddes’ Motor Car No. 9 (Gold tone, without tail fin) circa 1933 is a striking example of automobile-streamline-chic. Image: Courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation/Harry Ransom Center.
A FUTURISTIC WORLD Bel Geddes later moved into designing complete systems, such as urban utopias and he remained a visionary even after World War II he was involved in virtually every field that defined Cold War American. A complicated figure, he was a savvy businessman and an incredible showman combined. His monumental claim to fame was Bel Geddes’ aim to do nothing less than to transform America through design.
Highlights of the exhibition include: The General Motors commissioned film “To New Horizons,” which provides museum-goers with footage of what it was like to attend the “Futurama” exhibition at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Monumental sketches of stage sets and rare photographs of The Divine Comedy, whose production will be shown as computer stimulation demonstrates Be Geddes’ versatile skills for theater production. To see a complete listing of the exhibition highlights and events visit: www.mcny.org