As Art Design Chicago, the Terra Foundation’s year- long celebration of Chicago’s design legacy draws to a close, Northwestern University’s The Block Museum of Art presents the perfect exhibition, “Up is Down: Mid-Century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio” (September 18 – December 9). The exhibition captures the heart of the year’s theme. Up Is Down is the first major exhibition to explore the trailblazing work of mid-twentieth century artist/ designers/filmmakers Morton and Millie Goldsholl (Morton, 1911–1995; Millie 1920–2012) and their Chicago-area advertising firm, Goldsholl Design Associates.
The Block Museum’s exhibition Up is Down: Mid-Century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio reexamines the innovative work of the firm and its national impact from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. The exhibition demonstrates clearly the power of design and the role it played in advertising. Beginning in the 1950s Goldsholl Design Associates, headed by the husband and wife team, made a name for itself with innovative “designs-in-film,” applying techniques of experimental and avant-garde filmmaking to advertisements distributed to a broad audience. The studio worked at the cross-section of art, design, advertising, and visual culture, producing television spots, films, trademarks, corporate identities, and print advertisements for Kimberly-Clark, the National Football League, Revlon, Motorola, and 7-Up. I found it fascinating that while they were compared to some of the most celebrated design firms of the day, the Goldsholls and their designers are relatively unknown today. This is a little known and important Chicago story, well told, and captivating.
The Goldsholls attended Chicago’s School of Design and were inspired by its founder, the legendary artist and designer László Moholy-Nagy. Moholy-Nagy incorporated into his teaching in Chicago core principles of Bauhaus philosophy—characterized by an emphasis on abstraction, experimentation, exploration of materials (especially light), and the overriding idea that art can be an agent for social reform. In his curriculum, Moholy-Nagy also emphasized motion picture production as “the medium of the twentieth century.”
Deeply influenced by Moholy-Nagy’s teachings and the Bauhaus approach, with its ethos of aesthetic experimentation, Morton and Millie fostered a similar attitude among designers working in their firm. Over time, Goldsholl Design Associates became a hub for a generation of Chicago filmmakers, many of whom had also attended the School of Design (later the Institute of Design), working across the fields of documentary, animation, design, and experimental film. Their training deeply influenced the Goldsholl’s innovative integration of film with other forms of visual production, such as print advertising and brand development, placed them at the forefront of their peers in design and the wider community of filmmakers in Chicago. Much of this innovation is rooted in their training.
Moholy-Nagy incorporated into his teaching in Chicago core principles of Bauhaus philosophy—characterized by an emphasis on abstraction, experimentation, exploration of materials (especially light), and the overriding idea that art can be an agent for social reform. In his curriculum, Moholy-Nagy also emphasized motion picture production as “the medium of the twentieth century.”
I was especially drawn to the films of the Goldsholls dancing. They were drawn to what seemed to be Modern Dance similarly to the way current individuals are drawn to Yoga. I also loved the first film that Millie Goldsholl did. But the most amazing film was the one that gives it name to this exhibition- “Up is Down”.
Knowing that the Goldsholls received their training at IIT, I was curious about Northwestern University’s role in this presentation and asked Corinne Granof, Curator of Academic Programs, Block Museum of Art Northwestern University, about this.
She explained, “the School of Design (which became the Institute of Design at IIT) is prominent in the exhibition and was formative in the Goldsholls’ practice and approach, but there is very little on the Goldsholls in IIT archives. When the Terra Foundation sent out a call for projects on Chicago art and design for 2018, it was a perfect opportunity to mine story of Goldsholl Design Associates and Morton and Millie Goldsholl. The Block Museum has a commitment to sharing unknown or under-researched histories that make a contribution to our understanding of visual culture. Although they had a tremendous impact on the packaging, print design, book, and film design, and the look of everyday culture in mid-century American, the story of the Goldsholls is not widely known.
The project grows in part out of co-curator Amy Beste’s PhD dissertation, which was written at Northwestern University with faculty in the department of Radio/Television/Film, whose interdisciplinary work in television, nontheatrical and avant-garde film, and Chicago’s film history have informed the research and thinking around the exhibition. In keeping with the Museum’s mission to work across Northwestern’s schools, the exhibition offered the Block the opportunity to build relationships with faculty and students in Northwestern’s School of Communications, the Medill School of Journalism, and its Kellogg School of Management, known internationally for their marketing programs.
Finally, Northwestern has a unique strength in scholarship and collections focusing on the U.S. in the 1960s, especially in the Special Collections department at the Northwestern University Libraries. We have also focused on art of the 1960s in several recent exhibitions, and this is the third to explore that period in recent years, and from a very different perspective.”
Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise noted