What is the ‘Wright’ Modernism of the Mid-Century Cold War? American Design in Mid-Century Cold War Propaganda

    • EUPE Florence Dec2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Heather Elisabeth, Parsons School of Design, New York


    This paper researches the mid-century Cold War propaganda design debate over the ‘true American Style’ in the U.S. between the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curator, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., House Beautiful magazine’s editor, Elizabeth Gordon, and the designer, Frank Lloyd Wright. The conflict rested in whether the ‘true American Style,’ promoted for the Cold War propaganda, should be based upon the melding of European and American aesthetics of the International Style or constructed from the Modern Style originating from Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs. The Marshall Plan’s home exhibitions in Europe fueled this controversy between Kauffmann Jr., Gordon, and Wright. The intention of the Marshall Plan’s home exhibitions was to unite America and Europe into a Western community with a shared design aesthetics. Kaufmann Jr. organized three MoMA European exhibitions in the early 1950s. He chose the International Style with its roots from Bauhaus marrying European heritage with American design. The exhibitions portrayed a unified collection of International Style designs recycled from the 1950 MoMA Good Design exhibition in the U.S. In 1951, Design for Use, U.S.A. premiered in West Germany, and traveled throughout major European cities. Due to the U.S. domestic Cold War propaganda campaign driven by Senator Joseph McCarthy, Americans began to associate the International Style with communism. Gordon and Wright established Wright’s Modern Style as ‘true American Style’ using propaganda from the McCarthyism’s ‘red-scare.’ They removed the European heritage from ‘true American Style,’ as well as, any communist connections to it, despite Wright’s consistent associations with communism. Under the Eisenhower Administration, Gordon received the opportunity for the House Beautiful magazine to organize the European exhibition for soft power propaganda in 1955. The exhibition “Main Street U.S.A.” traveled to all the major Western European cities. The debate over ‘true American Style’ demonstrates the manipulation of truths by people in power to control public opinion with propaganda.