Century of the Child: Growing By Design, 1900 – 2000 at the MoMA
It's not news that, over the course of the 20th Century, the whole concept of "childhood" went from being virtually non-existent to becoming culturally all-consuming. Kids began the 1900s treated as tiny adults–working long hours, no special rights or privileges–and a hundred years later they're hovered over, even worshiped, by parents in particular, and by (some) societies as a whole. Needless to say, this transformation has expressed itself in many ways, including the gradual rise and eventual explosion of things (furniture, books, and, especially, toys) designed specifically for children. Which is the delightful subject of the sprawling, magnificently messy exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Century of the Child: Growing By Design, 1900 – 2000.
The Century of the Child
The Century of the Child design show at the MoMA showcases some 500 objects of all manner of use, practical or not, spread out over seven galleries on the museum's sixth floor. Like many chronologically-lengthy exhibitions, Century of the Child not only functions as an utterly engaging survey of the pure design of children's objects over 100 years, but also as a fascinating study of the history these items represent. To take just three examples: Kids' kimonos in Imperial Japan decorated with bombs; the revolutionary playgrounds of the 1960s, typified by Richard Dattner's Adventure Playground in Central Park, which emphasized creative experimentation while subtly, cleverly, keeping the adults at a distance by covering the interior with sand; the Chapman brother's "Unhappy Meal" of the 2002, an obvious and effective dig on rampant licensing and consumerism, and the broken promises thereof.
Children's Design Changes with Time at the MoMa
The 20th Century was not all fun and games, obviously, and the exhibition includes plenty of examples of how children's design reacted to the wars, conflicts, and other horrors of the era. But playthings and entertainments do dominate the MoMA's Century of the Child show, with everything from a 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur cartoon and a 1930 Graf Zeppelin pull toy to a beautifully simple "Rocking Car" from 1950, the first Legos from 1954, Playmobil "guys" from the 1970s, a fantastic recreation of the Pee Wee's Playhouse set from 1987, and the Aibo Robot Puppy of 1999. And, of course, there's a nostalgia element at work here as well, with a great "oh my god remember?!" moment when you reach the era of your own childhood and, if applicable, the days when you were filling your home with this stuff for your children. A fun, crowd-pleasing show.
Century of the Child: Growing By Design, 1900 – 2000, at the MoMA Details
The MoMA's Century of the Child exhibition will be on the museum's sixth floor through November 6. The MoMA is located on 53rd Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, and is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Friday until 8:00 p.m., when admission is free after 4:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. SPECIAL SUMMER HOURS: between now and September 25, the MoMA is open seven days a week, and until 8:00 on Thursday as well as Fridays. For lots more information about everything, please see the MoMA's website.