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Marxism, Abstraction, Ideology, and Vkhutemas: The Design Laboratory Reassessed, 1935-1940 Open Access

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The Design Laboratory (1935-1940), a New York industrial design school supported by American industrialists and the state, embodied a utopian desire to merge the aspirations of the Machine Age with the social policies of the Depression Era. With a faculty and advisory board including some of the most significant names in the arts, namely Gilbert Rohde, the school's director, and Meyer Schapiro, an influential Marxist art historian, the Design Laboratory sought to educate a semi-skilled labor force for careers in industrial design. Traditionally the Design Laboratory is thought of as being inspired by the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius' model of education. In a reassessment of the Design Laboratory's context, political leanings, pedagogy, and industrial art, the school indeed supported Marxism, abstraction, and rhetoric and is compared to the art and design school founded in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution known as the Vkhutemas (1920-1930). Linking the Design Laboratory to the Soviet model more so than the Gropius one of utopian socialism reveals fundamental changes in American design and education during the late 1930's and successive generations.

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