The Concordant 50’s

I would rather not to talk about Sam Mendes’s new movie “Revolutionary Road”, since it can be very damaging emotionally. But the movie, set in the grayness  of 50’s, reminds me my own experience of 50’s style.

50’s seems to be lacklustre with almost every popular things rising up to suppress individuality: The anti-communism, consumerism, surbanization, baby boomers, the gray flannel suits for men and pinched dresses and high heels for women.

Back in 2006 when Lorain Ave in Cleveland, OH was still a lively antique district, Geo and I drove around to visit every store. “All 50’s and 60’s stuff, I don’t like it. But they are hot now.” Geo commented as we entered one of the stores which was decorated with slashes of pink and red and clashing straight lines.I didn’t like it either although it was eye-refreshing after seeing piles of brown furniture and highly decorated objects. But would I live with them? Probably not.

The modernity in 50’s style, in my opinion, started in a degenerate way in that once it declared its supremacy over conviviality of the past, it began to crush any spurring voices.

Later, I had the chance to see some properties in Pittsburgh. Whenever there were wood wall paneling, plastic tiles for the masonite walls bath and formica tops that looked morbid and  outfashioned, I knew probably the last remodeling was done in the 50’s.

But in the Pier Antique Show at the end of the last year, crowds were attracted by plastic and steel furniture of the 50’s. The most ironic item we have found was an empire-style sofa with plastic cover AND IT WAS SOLD! For the younger generation, they don’t hold the memory of the dullness of their grandpa’s days and all they have seen is the traces of earliest furniture with the style that they can relate to.  The best Danish lines in the show still hold their price tags high in the looming economic prospect, but even the funky ordinary retro non-designer furniture becomes inspiring because the mass-produced industrial shapes differ greatly from even more simplified Ikea version. The inventiveness of new curvy lines or unconventional proportion and the determination to break away from the past marked the start of era when designers comfortably collaborated with manufactures in commercialism of ordinary commodities.

Plastic Covered Empire Style Sofa at Pier Antique Show of 2008
Plastic Covered Empire Style Sofa at Pier Antique Show of 2008

What of nowadays would be remembered 50 years from now on? I don’t know. Although I do think that the first generation of Apple iPod was an important invention to show the design of the electronic product was more important than functionality, quality and everything else. I have one such iPod, bought during the time when inventoried iPod at Target.com could only last for 5 minutes. Like other first batch of iPods, it looks chunky and the battery was short-lived and non-replaceable. But when the more advanced technology makes iPod obsolete, will it be possible that people begin to appreciate it only aesthetically? At least I am sure its silver shell will still shine.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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