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INDUSTRIOUS ART

A SERIES OF major exhibitions on industrial design, some attended by over a hundred thousand people, might surprise the contemporary public of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, a public used to a schedule dominated by “high art,” mostly from the past. But between 1917 and 1940, the period bracketed by the world wars, a number of largely forgotten programs addressed—the design of mass-produced objects. The original charter of 1870, in fact, included the mandate of “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the—application of arts to manufacture and practical life.” Though neither survived for long, an industrial as well as a fine-art school were organized, and a number of open lectures argued design’s case for a place in the public eye.

These encyclopedic plans benefited from the active involvement as patrons of both powerful gentlemen from “society” and captains of

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