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Out of Time: Designs for the 20th-Century Future
Visions of a future America from the vantage point of the past century are on view from October 9 through December 1, 2002 at the Museum of Fine Arts in the special exhibition Out of Time: Designs for the 20th-Century Future.
The 60 oil paintings, watercolors, and other renderings in the exhibition explore a hypothetical American future -- its modes of transport, fantastic architecture and human settlement in space and undersea. Dating from 1889 through 1961, many of the images were commissioned by popular magazines such as Amazing Stories and Life. A number of the original works featured in the exhibition have never before been displayed. Out of Time provides a humorous, yet insightful and sometimes eerily prescient glimpse of the confidence with which Americans in the first half of the 20th century anticipated the future. (left: Rudolph Belarski, Lunar Colony with Probe Units, cover painting for Orbit #2, 1955)
Art of the future appeared in architectural drawings, industrial designs, advertising art, and illustrations for science fiction publications. Artists often based their work on contemporary innovations and objects. For example, Frank R. Paul's planes in "New York in 1973" (1934) are inspired by a 1932 book of streamlined vehicle, appliance, and airport designs by Norman Bel Geddes, a theatrical artist turned industrial designer. F. W. Read's "In Futuro" (1901), in which a man flies home to his wife on hand-cranked electric wings after his "air ship" breaks down, reflects the design of some experimental flying machines that existed prior to the Wright brothers' successful flight in 1903.
The works in Out of Time explore the hypothetical future of cities, cars, atomic energy, rockets and space travel. From Leo Rackow's 1948 rendering of a sleek bubble-top car to Russ Heath's powerful "Capri Satellite" (1957) -- part 1950s car, part Sputnik satellite -- designs for the future focused on the changes in technology and city planning that were affecting America at the time. Some of the designs proved to be quite prophetic. In "Zero Hour Minus Five - Preparing the Ship for Its Trip to the Moon" (1949), Chesley Bonestell's winged rocket foreshadowed the American space shuttles of the 1980s.
The message in most of these images is a positive one. The artists imagined a future in which people could live their lives with greater ease, and in ways and places they could only dream about. "Now They're Planning a City in Space" (1956), a series of four paintings by Ray Pioch of a giant orbiting space station, appeared in Popular Science, Newsweek and the science fiction magazine Satellite. The widespread appeal of these paintings indicates that on the eve of actual space travel, Americans had confidence in technology and high hopes for the future in space and on Earth.
A book written by exhibition curator Norman Brosterman and published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., accompanies the exhibition.
Out of Time is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and curated by Norman Brosterman. The Museum of Fine Arts is the only New England venue for the show.
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