A Designed Life

Sketch-up rendering of a gallery view of the "A Designed Life" exhibition.
Image: Exhibition concept drawing, courtesy of Margaret Re, Courtesy of the Estates of Stefan P. & Juliana D. Munsing, all rights reserved, Courtesy Knoll, Inc.; Images courtesy Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress; U.S. Information Agency, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, (306-CS-1D-3); Additional photo credits: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum / Art Resource, NY; Courtesy of Historic New England

A Designed Life: Contemporary American Textiles, Wallpapers and Containers & Packaging, 1951-1954

September 13 – December 8, 2018

View the virtual tour of A Designed Life below— the Contemporary American Textile and Contemporary American Wallpaper exhibition as featured at the Design Museum of Chicago and The Contemporary Containers and Packaging exhibition as featured at the Chicago Cultural Center (2021).

The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture presents A Designed Life: Contemporary American Textiles, Wallpapers, and Containers & Packaging, 1951-1954, a traveling exhibition based on three historically significant traveling exhibitions of contemporary mass-produced, American-designed consumer goods commissioned by the U.S. Department of State in the early 1950s:

A Designed Life recreates and interprets these early Cold War exhibitions restating and interpreting part of each display as it might have appeared in the early 1950s. Artists, designers, and manufacturers featured in these exhibitions include Eszter Haraszty, Noemi Raymond, Angelo Testa (textiles), Portia LeBrun, Ilonka Karasz, Ray Komai (wallpapers), the Design Laboratory, Morton Goldsholl, and Paul Rand (containers and packaging). Many of these individuals are associated with American Modernism.

The Traveling Exhibition Service, later known as the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, organized Knoll, Lee, and Burtin’s exhibitions for display in post-WWII Germany on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to help promote the growth of democratic governments within postwar Europe. These exhibitions were circulated through the Amerika Haus program and cultural institutions such as schools, museums, and trade fairs.

Read more about the exhibition in this Print magazine article by Steven Heller, “Modernism Rediscovered.”


Purchase the Catalog

The A Designed Life Catalog
Learn more about the exhibition catalog and how to purchase it here.

This project includes a scholarly catalog that discusses how the Department of State used design as a Cold War weapon. The catalog essays document the collective thinking and efforts of the government officials, design professionals, and manufacturers, who contributed to the making and distribution of Knoll, Lee, and Burtin’s exhibits and other later exhibitions such as the American Home Exhibitions and the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 70. Contributing essayists include Greg Castillo, Stuart W. Leslie, Jan Logemann, Emily A. Margolis, Margaret Re, and Virginia Gardner Troy.



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