MIAMI BEACH — For every skyscraper, zeppelin, airplane, or even lightbulb that demonstrated the progress of technology from the late-19th to mid-20th century, there were countless human bodies mangled, maimed, and electrified along the way. Margin of Error, currently at the Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami Beach, is an exhibition of around 200 objects demonstrating the cultural response to this fine line between development and disaster.
Curated by Matthew Abess, the exhibition features models, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and music (including Blind Willie Johnson’s 1929 blues ballad for the Titanic). It’s the posters that are the visual standouts. Most are from the Wolfsonian’s collections, and assembled together under this theme of danger in industrial modernity they show the vivid aesthetics that were impacting all areas of art. There are Bauhaus-influenced graphics warning of factory hazards with block colors and cutouts, Art Deco personifications of electricity, and muted WPA illustrations calling attention to the new perils of the highways.
Margin of Error isn’t all about catastrophe, although those certainly are the most captivating moments, like an Edward Gorey-worthy series of 1938 work safety postcards from Italy’s National Board of Propaganda for the Prevention of Accidents that feature rhyming couplets. “Capelli sciolti, pericoli molti [Loose Hair, Much Danger]” one warns as a woman’s hair is wound in a machine and everyone throws their arms up in despair.
Alongside the stark cautionary portraits are almost spiritual depictions of new technology, like Man Ray’s ethereal “Électricité” (1931), which transforms the illumination of a lightbulb into a galaxy, or Daan Hoeksema’s poster for the 1907 Exhibition of Electricity in the Home and Handwork in Arnhem, Netherlands, in which a new incandescent lamp is proudly replacing the bell of a church. Yet there are just as many works using sacred imagery to depict the human toll of the machine age.
Alberto Helios Gagliardo’s “La pietá umana [Human Pity]” (1946) has one worker holding the corpse of another, inspired by an accident at the Port of Genoa. It’s one of a few pieces referencing Michelangelo’s “Pietá” — a sculpture of Mary holding Jesus following his crucifixion — with the laborers being sacrificed for the world’s new wonders. The invisible currents of electricity, and the strength of steel, were victories for the march of progress, and woe to those who fell beneath their divine power.
Curiously, the exhibition doesn’t directly delve into either World War I or World War II, where technology manifested itself in new ballistics, automatic weapons, razor wire, tanks, and other inventions that gave the first half of the 20th century an unprecedented brutality. Posters from fascist governments — and subtle visuals like a poster imagining a swastika-adorned Hindenberg docking at the Empire State Building — instead hint at the military engagements that would both harness and propel the mechanical arts in empowering and devastating ways. As an Austrian poster from 1929 by Joseph Binder of a man jolted by electricity as he touches a lightbulb warns: “Be Careful or Else.”
If there is an object you have ever desired in your life, rest assured that someone in the advertising industry made money convincing you of exactly that.
Eva Hagberg’s new book sheds light on the relationship between critic and publicist Aline Louchheim and architect Eero Saarinen.
The award-winning Canadian artist explores notions of power through the imagery of science fiction in portraits, sculpture, and objects.
Custodians, groundskeepers, and movers at the Rhode Island School of Design are seeking wage improvement, healthcare benefits, and a retirement package.
Ceramic fried eggs, critiques of real estate, and a whole booth dedicated to female-identifying saints caught my eye at Untitled, NADA, and Art Miami.
This affordable, interdisciplinary program with excellent facilities and private studios offers in-person instruction for 2023.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office recovered 23 looted objects from Shelby White’s home over the last year and a half.
An egregious “anti-woke” billboard erected in Los Angeles attempts to sow division among Latino/a/x communities.
The latest episode of this documentary series on PBS explores the meaning of home through handmade objects, hand built homes, and the artists who create them.
This week, missed signs of previous life on Mars, the appeal of forged art, and why are blue whales singing in lower octaves?
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed forcefully posits multiple parallels between the world Nan Goldin grew up in and the one she fights in today.
Rhode Island School of Design opens registration for its residential summer Pre-College program and year-round online intensive Advanced Program Online.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very Los Angeles art events this month, including Bob Thompson, Aimee Goguen, Uta Barth, the Transcendental Painting Group, and more.
There is the singular artist and then there is the more exclusive club that has only one member. Harvey belongs to the latter.