I Saw The Figure 483689 in Black: Emma Acker’s ‘Cult of the Machine’ and tour


Emma Acker curated the “Cult of the Machine” exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. She also led a small group on a special tour of the show, in July.
I actually wrote a paper on this topic, the precisionists, for Felix McGrath, at Dartmouth in the 1980s. Maybe my paper was just on John Sloan and a rooftop painting in the Hood. (I recall that the painting had been refinished; the artist added color to the pigeons). Dartmouth also has a protrait of Paul Revere. I noted that Acker included Revere silver in her show. I bought a t-shirt of the Charles Sheeler depiction of Golden Gate Bridge.

I also bought the book on the show, which travels.

from the website:
The lack of a human presence in most Precisionist scenes—notable in depictions of factories and cities, which are in reality teeming with humanity—was acknowledged by Sheeler when he wryly described his work as “my illustration of what a beautiful world it would be if there were no people in it.” Historically, these scenes have been interpreted as “proud symbols of technological splendor” that celebrate the nation’s industries, focusing on their formal beauty and awesome power rather than social content. Yet more recently, scholars have argued that many of these works reflect—and perhaps even subtly critique—the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and urbanization.



I have to admit I like this one because Emma Acker’s gesture recalls the robot behind her



This one reminds me of the Bedlam Rovers’ song “Big Drill” featuring Caroleen Beatty


Embarcadero and Clay by John Langley Howard, 1935


Socialite Xiao Jun Lee and friend admire the vintage car along the precisionist continuum.


Art deco gate from 1928

detail of above:
Gerald Murphy “Watch” 1925


kinda reminded me of Demuth I saw the figure 5 in gold


In a related matter I used Electro and Sparko in a poster for Train and Mother Hips, 1999.


Curator Acker and blogger Weiss

Yours truly and Barbara Goldstein San Jose’s expert of public art:

Ms. Lee makes an offering to the Auburn Cord 812 Phaeton 1937
I think my dad, Paul E Weiss, would have nailed this without looking it up

Kudos to Emma her show opened yesterday in Dallas: I hope she gets to see the anish Kapoor at the football stadium whilst there.

edit to add, a few hours later: I’m picking Peter Muller-Munk (Germany and American, 1904-1967) of Revere Copper and Brass Co (American, est. 1928) Normandie shaped pitcher as my favorite piece of the show. For this show, Acker borrowed from Dallas Museum of Art (where the show traveled to, and in fact, opened Sunday), 1935, although it is also in the Met and the British Museum, and was shown at the Legion of Honor in 2004 as part of an Art Deco show.
“Pitcher; chromium-plated brass, of tear-drop section, the body formed of a single sheet of metal bent to shape, with a tear-shaped piece for the base, the join concealed beneath a strip which runs round the base, along the edge and round the rim; the handle is formed of a flat strip of metal expanding at the top to blend in with the line of the rim.” Excuse the indulgence but I am going to quote generously from the British Museum’s curator on this piece — and I recall I made a comment to the group of my tour, something about Paul Revere, which I allude to above. (although I also had a similar conversation with a clerk at a new coffee house in Redwood City called Revere who didn’t seem familiar with the manufacturer or the historical figure; and she posed with a tea service.

2. this is a bit of a digression but I was recently reliving certain childhood moments via my Hot Wheels collection from 1970 and just made the connection that the Cord Phaeton depicted above is the inspiration of a popular Hot Wheels model, which I now have to race home or to storage and see if I have. I had been riffing on Beatnick bandit and R2D2, a prequel to this exhibit. Or isn’t everything: Altoon Sultan.

3. The article on Normandie led me to a cite for Walter Benjamin seminal essay on art in a machine age, briefly referenced by Adrian Daub in the catalog.

4. At a post-tour bread-breaking ritual, I found myself seated between Acker and Barbara Goldstein of San Jose, who had led a workshop on public art that my wife (then-girlfriend) Terry Acebo Davis attended. Karen Huang of the development office sat across from me.

5. More on the pitcher, from Rudoe of London: Text from J. Rudoe, ‘Decorative Arts 1850-1950. A catalogue of the British Museum collection’. 2nd ed.1994, no.214.
Peter Müller-Munk studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin under the silversmith Waldemar Ramisch and emigrated to America in 1926. He designed briefly for Tiffany & Co. before setting up his own studio for handmade silver. In his article in The Studio 98, London October 1929 (the same article appeared in the American magazine Creative Art 5, October 1929) Müller-Munk called for greater harmony of design and technique, criticising contemporary manufacturers in the silver and associated metal industries for striving to imitate handmade pieces with mass-production methods instead of adapting their merchandise to their machines; he despised the application of handmade ornament to a spun or stamped object and the ‘artful practice’ of cutting a hammered surface into the die. He claimed that the machine would not put the silversmith out of business: ‘I still have the outmodish confidence that there will always remain a sufficient number of people who want the pleasure of owning a centre piece without being forced to share their joy of ownership with a few thousand other beings.’ To illustrate his argument he included machine-made metalwork designed by Professor F. A. Breuhaus for WMF and his own handmade silver. He was soon to be proved wrong; the demand for silver was hit by the Depression and in the early 1930s he turned to industrial design. From 1935 to 1945 he taught at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he helped to organise the first college course in Industrial Design and Production Methods (Design 47, 9).
This pitcher was known as the ‘Normandie’ pitcher because its shape was blatantly derived from the smokestacks of the celebrated French ocean liner launched in 1935. The Normandie was a noted example of French modernist design and the image of the ship became familiar through Cassandre’s popular poster. The ‘Normandie’ pitcher has been described as ‘streamlining at its most elegant and practical, a perfect harmony of efficiency, material and the machine process’ (Brooklyn 1986, The Brooklyn Museum, ‘The Machine Age in America’, 307); the spout pours perfectly. Another recent discussion notes the use of the tear-drop form with reference to Norman Bel Geddes’s view that a drop of water was the perfect streamlined form. Streamlining thus suggests the flowing surface of water, thereby blurring the distinction between mechanistic and organic design – the pitcher could be grouped with either (New York, 1985, Whitney Museum of American Art, ‘High Styles: Twentieth Century American Design’, fig. 3.35, p. 120).
For examples of Müller-Munk’s silver, see Newhaven 1983, Yale University Art Gallery, ‘At home in Manhattan. Modern Decorative Arts, 1925 to the Depression’, K. Davies. cat. nos 9, 18, 68. Müller-Munk also participated in the Third International Exposition of Contemporary Industrial Art held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1930-31, nos 396-7, with illustration. For an account of an exhibition of Müller-Munk’s industrial design at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1946, see Design 47, May 1946, 8-9; the works exhibited ranged from electrical household goods and sewing machines to industrial canteens.See also J. Rudoe, ‘An historical continuum: collecting 20th century applied art from Europe and America at the British Museum’ from ‘The International Art & Design Fair 1900-2002’ pp. 15-28, fig. 12.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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