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Posters that promote electricity and other forms of technological progress on view at MoMA
Jacques Nathan-Garamond (French, b. 1910). Elle les Éclipse Toutes, Mazda Platina, c. 1938. Lithograph. 45 5/8 x 63″ (115.8 x 160 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Designer, 1968.

NEW YORK, NY.- Electricity—a source of clean, efficient power and brilliant, reliable light— epitomized the spirit of modernism in the early twentieth century. Decades of research, experimentation, and competition followed the development of the first arc lamps (in which a spark is drawn between two pieces of carbon) and incandescent filament lamps (in which the electric current heats a metal filament) in the mid-nineteenth century. In the new century, electric light—first in city streets and then in homes—brought a revolutionary innovation to daily existence, redefining day and night.

Electric Currents, 1900–1940 features a dozen early-twentieth-century posters from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art that promote electricity and other forms of technological progress that were not universally welcomed when they were introduced. Creating graphics for industry leaders (A.E.G. in Germany, Philips in the Netherlands, and Edison Electric Light Company in the United States), designers were inspired by the beauty of the glass bulb as well as the splendor of electric light. Both are rendered with exquisite power in Jacques Nathan-Garamond’s poster of around 1938, which seems to pulsate with color and motion. Featured here are vibrant posters by Lester Beall for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration, in which bold, patriotic graphics were deployed to foster public awareness of the benefits of electricity in America’s homes and farms during the Great Depression. A radiant celebration of a street light by Futurist painter Giacomo Balla opens the installation. Balla was captivated by the beauty and power of artificial light, and he, like many of his contemporaries across the modern world, maintained a lifelong fascination with rendering light in art and design.

The installation is organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, Aidan O’Connor, Curatorial Assistant, and Kate Carmody, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design.

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