A gleaming 1957 Nash Metropolitan sits at the center of “Mid-Century Madness” at the Blue Line Arts gallery in Roseville. The compact red-and-white auto is in primo condition and calls up memories of the 1950s when modernism came to American postwar suburbs.
Open-plan Eichler houses, Eames chairs and Sunbeam Mix-Masters are some of the midcentury classics included in the show. There is also a red leather Art Linkletter contour recliner, a modernistic bird cage and a Heywood Wakefield dining room set.
If you grew up in the ’50s as I did, it will all seem familiar to you and imbued with nostalgia. It’s the kind of thing we rebelled against in the late 1960s and ’70s, but it has become trendy once again.
Tony Natsoulas, who curated the show, lives in a midcentury modern house, and many of the objects in the show come from his home. Others, including the Nash, the molded Eames chair and the dining room set, have been loaned by members of the community.
Also on view are contemporary art works inspired by the period, including a large selection of paintings by Randy Brennan and several modernistic lamps made from silicon computer chips by lighting artist Sean Christopher that harken to the spirit of the era.
Midcentury modern is an architectural and design movement that reached its height in the 1950s and early 1960s. A reflection of International and Bauhaus movements, the American version was more organic and less formal than its European counterparts.
Free-form design elements such as kidney-shaped coffee tables, starburst clocks and pole lamps are the sorts of things that decorated the flat-top, odd-angled houses of the era. Cynthia Wellington’s painting “Mid-Century Modern Living” pictures a flat-top house with a kidney-shaped swimming pool set in the desert, with mountains in the background. A nearby TV set shows a video about the houses and architects of Palm Springs, a center of midcentury modern design.
A lot of the contemporary pieces in the show are a bit ho-hum, but Brennan’s works, which have a Pop air, stand out. His “Bunny Girl” is pure ’50s kitsch, from the winsome jumping girl of the title, which has a comic-book quality, to the appropriated ad art above her. A soundtrack with music from the ’50s, including one of Morton Downey’s bird-call-punctuated instrumentals, sets the mood for a trip down memory lane.
I also got a kick out of Don Hall’s “Portrait of the Artist as Walter Keane.” Keane’s big-eyed waifs were popular images in the ’50s and early ’60s, and Hall’s big-eyed auto-portrait plays with many of the conventions of ’50s kitsch.
Across the room from it is a tableau with a colorful marshmallow sofa, a Jetsons poster, and a series of ceramic plaques of midcentury houses, which calls up the quirky space-age design sensibility of the early ’60s.
Natsoulas, who lives in a Sacramento Streng Brothers house – they are now hot sellers on the real estate market – has done a marvelous job of evoking a bygone era that is retro-chic today. He’s put together a lively and amusing show with a serious purpose, informing people about an important design movement from the last century.