Toys in the attic

The Kimbell's tribute to Modernism makes you want to search your closets for everyday objects

Appealing as it all is, it's strange there hasn't been more attention paid to this sort of thing; Impressionism, Cubism, and Dada hogged the big, bright spotlight as the bulk of Modernism unfolded slowly, quietly, right under the world's nose. Without sirens or parades, everyone's environment grew more efficient and graceful--its lasting impact becoming clear only in the aftermath. You can still stumble upon the likes of this stuff at flea markets and antique malls; just one episode of Antiques Roadshow proves how much of it has been pushed into the dark corners of Grandma's attic before finding daylight again at the hands of her naive daughter-in-law. Only when the expert appraiser holds that mint-condition Gaillard vase in his hands and starts quivering with nervous excitement do we realize that we may need to do a cursory search of our own basements.

But appreciation for design savvy is growing again. The British glossy magazine Wallpaper, devoted to showcasing the design of "the stuff that surrounds us," is a favorite of the culture crowd; Tiffany has expanded its popular retro "Atlas" collection to include more varied gizmos; the Pottery Barn sells sleek, frosted glass vases by the yuppie truckload. And we've all done a double take on the new VW Beetle, a contemporary nod to Modernist style-meets-substance notions--so rounded and fluid and efficient.

Not a bad trend. It means we're paying attention to those details. The Kimbell show was packed last Thursday morning with people who strained to keep their hands off the goods. Conversely, I believe Bucky Fuller, whose line-drawing design of a curvy econo-car (circa 1934) graces one wall of the show, would have to give that new Bug a test drive if he were still around. The brushed-chrome colored one, of course.

Modernism: Modernist Design 1880-1940, Masterworks form the Norwest Collection, is at the Kimbell Museum through Sept. 13. For info, call 817-332-8451.

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