A new installation in CMOA’s Charity Randall Gallery, Hot Metal Modern: Design in Pittsburgh and Beyond reveals Pittsburgh as a major center of design, where avant-garde art met cutting-edge materials that transformed America. From the roaring 1920s to the swinging 1960s, pioneers at Carnegie Institute of Technology, Kaufmann’s Department Store, and manufacturers such as Westinghouse, PPG, and Alcoa formed a collective network of brave experimentation, education, and promotion of progressive design.
Early 20th-century Pittsburgh was well-acquainted with “good design.” When Edgar Kaufmann, jr., organized his Good Design exhibition series at MoMA (1950–1955), he built upon family legacy. Kaufmann Sr. used his department store as a cultural centerpiece, transmitting modernism through market research and lectures, trained sales staff, lavish international exhibitions, and product-buying offices in 27 cities abroad. Shoppers could buy home goods as “fresh as tomorrow’s newspaper”—including Cubist-inspired Ruba Rombic glassware and industrially chic McKay furniture.
In 1936, Carnegie Institute of Technology graduated the first industrial designer with a degree—and “he” was a woman. Hot Metal Modern shows the work of female students of this program in the 1930s and 1940s. And, during this period, regional manufacturers took a chance on now-iconic designers—including Eva Zeisel and Russel Wright—who once struggled to get their work produced. These partnerships created products that infused modern painterly and sculptural ideals in aluminum, ceramic, glass, steel, and cutting-edge plastics.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website