Pittsburgh Wallhide Paint - A blank wall.

By contrast to yesterday's rant against the clutter parade of 1970's mainstream sensibility, we at GO! present this wonderful ad from 1957 for Pittsburgh Paints. Lovingly scanned and presented in 1674 x 2200 breathtaking pixels, this delightful example of Danish design can be yours for the low low price of clicking through the image below and doing the old right click "save image as".

What's this? A wall without junk hanging on it, unpolluted with macrame owls or sentimental embroidery reminding us to feel a certain way or do something to flowers with our noses? Sure, the picture is trying to sell us paint, so naturally the big blue wall is the star of the show, but who doesn't like blue? Why not leave the wall a big blue rectangle? What's that you say? I'm quite mad? Don't tell that to the Danish or they'll whack you in the ear with a flat-pack bookcase.

What's with the Danish and minimalist design? Wikipedia doesn't help much. The article just mentions Denmark's "late industrialization" and tradition for quality wood construction.

I think it was World War 2 that made people eager to put as much distance between themselves and the past as possible. The furthest thing from the past will always be futurism, right? But maybe that's an oversimplification? Art deco was very much the style of the explodey-shootey 1940's, and the geometric simplicity of deco can be seen as a direct ancestor of the stuff in this picture. At the time, the modernist movement probably seemed completely new, but maybe it's only our perspective from fifty years in the future that shows us the similarity to it's conceptual progenitor, deco.

The ad had this guest designer Pipsan Saarinen Swanson to design their sample room, who apparently was the daughter of Eliel Saarinen. Who? Looks like he was an architect who became famous in the 1900's for his art nouveau designs. Art nouveau was big in the late 1800's and early 1900's (right before the deco movement) and was characterized by shapes and lines of plants and animals. Lots of birds and lilies. It's really swoopy and organic, but you can still see the groundwork being laid for the whole deco thing to happen. It had things in common with the leafy-swirly classical era, but at the time, nouveau must have seemed mind-blowingly new.

Yeah that's great. So why does Danish modern still work on (some of) us, here in the shiny electronic future? The same reason some people still like claw foot bathtubs and banisters covered with swirlicues. History is pretty long, and whatever you're into, you can find it if you go back far enough. Nothing's new after all. As for me, having spent nearly twenty years in one art job or another, you get a lot of people telling you to "Add more this" or "make it more...everything!", and you don't get paid until they get happy. Generally, people make you add more and more junk until it makes you want to throw up, then take away one thing and call it done. So, when I'm not on the clock, I want to take things away till all I have is a big blank square.

Antoine de Sain-Exupery said this: "In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.

That being said, tomorrow we'll eviscerate some more garbage from the seventies. It's just too fun not to do.


Sue said...


Thought you'd get a kick out of this place.

Phil Are Go! said...

Aaaah, James Lileks. A man after my own heart. He does wonderful work. If you don't have them already, I can recommend his books. He did some guest spots on the Rifftracks sessions.

That restaurant does look like an abomination. The modernist style doesn't lend itself, in this man's opinion, to buildings that look like animals. The Gobbler is a first class mishmash of fundamentally incompatible ideas.

Thanks for commenting again, Sue!

Post a Comment