Paintings, Wall Hangings, and Sculpture
In terms of home decor, Mid-Century Modern usually falls into the period from the mid-1940s through 1965. Some decorative arts historians and dealers extend that range to the late 1960s and early 1970s when styles are appropriate. Keep in mind that not every work of art produced during this period in time—whether high style or humble kitsch—is classified under the Mid-century modern label.
The furniture deemed Mid-Century Modern that meshes with this art includes pieces that were often sculptural, yet very functional. The Eames Lounge Chair, for instance, is said to be one of the most comfortable loungers ever made, yet its extraordinary design sets it apart from the rest.
Art objects created during this period were also as distinctive as the furniture deemed Mid-Century Modern. Some drew on Modernism principles defined earlier in the century by famed artists such as Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), while others reflected the post-war “atomic” style of popular culture of the 1960s. This artistry ranges from paintings to sculptures, to textural wall hangings made of various materials.
Guide to Midcentury Modern Art
1. Mid-Century Paintings
Comparing Mid-Century Modern painters encompasses a wide range of styles. Take Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) as two examples exhibiting the vast differences in artwork created during the Mid-Century period. And while their works are nowhere near the same, and Pollack was already deceased before Warhol hit the big time, both fit in with the current day homage to Mid-century style in their own unique ways. Warhol’s pop art renditions reflected the culture of the day with his famous Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Diptych, among many other iconic images. His bold use of color in most of his work and repeating patterns in many of his paintings give his art a very distinct look. On the other end of the spectrum is the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollack. Using drips and splatters of paint, he created works of art in a new way that brought him considerable fame during his lifetime and beyond. Today his original works, like Warhol’s, are held in private collections and museums. Luckily, canvas prints and art posters are available for those wanting to enjoy the art of these and other Mid-Century painters in contemporary homes.
2. Mid-Century Wall Art Crafted of Wood, Glass, and/or Metal
Wall art that falls into the Mid-Century Modern category often have an atomic feel that transforms ordinary geometric shapes into curves and waves. Or, they may have a Brutalist look about them with jagged edges and an artsy roughness that coordinates with furniture by Paul Evans, for instance. Sometimes they’re just plain kitschy, featuring modernist images such as long-necked cats and stylized fish. One of the best things about this type of wall art is that it shows up frequently at estate sales. You won’t always find this wall decor at a bargain price, as Mid-Century items have become quite popular. But objects of this nature weren’t always created by an identifiable artist, so you can sometimes get the same great look without paying thousands for known works by big names in the field.
3. Mid-Century Sculpture
Sculpture from the Mid-century period also runs the gamut from high to low in style as well as value. Sculptures by Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), who is also known for his furniture designs manufactured by Knoll, are avidly sought by modernism aficionados. He is associated with his “sound art” along with free-form works and bush-shaped designs made of welded metal. Some of these large-scale installations once decorated massive walls in office buildings. Many of these use large wires, either straight or curved, that are welded into position to form modern masterpieces. These can sell for sums well into the six figures. There are many other examples of sculptural works from this period that cost far less. You can also find at these estate sales, and if you’re really lucky, at thrift stores. Pieces with superb design and craftsmanship can sell into the low thousands through a knowledgable dealer. Amateur sculptures, which actually may be signed by the artist, can sell for far less. Some of them are quite colorful and fun in the right home setting, like the owl sculpture shown here.
It’s easy to understand why Mid-Century Modern art and furnishings have seen a great resurgence in popularity—they’re unique, distinctive, and sometimes even charming. If you’re looking to add a few authentic pieces to your home, start by checking out local estate sales and shopping sites like Hanacorners.com and Craigslist. Many vendors use the abbreviation MCM (short for Mid-Century Modern) in their listings, so it’s a helpful term to include when searching for specific pieces. Additionally, many retailers have started to create new replicas of the style, so be on the lookout for distinctive Mid-Century features when shopping at your favorite stores.