For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2001

Albert Kahn: Inspiration for the Modern

June 2 - October 21, 2001
Twentieth Century Gallery

Michael Kenna
The Rouge Study #100, Dearborn, MI
gelatin silver print

Today is heralded as the Machine Age - the day of the railroad, the steamboat, the automobile, the airplane and the radio. We find beauty in a machine, for the absence of all not absolutely required for the performance of its work.
Albert Kahn

Albert Kahn effectively summarized the impact of the machine and the spirit of modernity that inspired the world at the onset of the twentieth century. And it was the architecture of Albert Kahn, in particular the factories that he designed for American industry, that were to become a focus for many other artists, architects and critics working at the time.

Kahn's beautiful factories were unprecedented in scale. Shaped by the new industrial processes devised by Henry Ford and other young entrepreneurs, these were also buildings that clearly demonstrated the consequences of physical form being permitted to follow function. To be able to quickly and affordably plan structures of this type, which needed to be flexible enough to accommodate complex and changing industrial activities, Kahn created a new way of working. At his office in Detroit he created teams of architects who worked directly alongside engineers, cost estimators, and construction specialists.

This exhibition brings together original drawings from the office of architect Albert Kahn and places them alongside the work of artists who were inspired by industry, the machine, and the spectacular realities of mass production. It documents significant buildings designed for Packard, the plans for Henry Ford's first factory at Highland Park, his designs for the innovative Glass Plant which was built at the Rouge in 1922, work in Russia and the Ford Pavilion at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair. Drawings have been juxtaposed with work by Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler, Louis Lozowick, and Moholy-Nagy, as well as the drawings of Hugh Ferris and Diego Rivera, and the film Manhatta, which was made by Sheeler with Paul Strand. A series of models, constructed specially for this exhibition by architecture students from the University of Michigan and based on Kahn's original drawings, also show the details of Kahn buildings that inspired other famous and influential architects - Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe.

It was Gropius, writing in Germany in 1913, who suggested that "the newest work halls of the great North American industrial trusts, can almost bear comparison with the work of the ancient Egyptians in their overwhelming monumental power." Many of these "work halls" were designed by Albert Kahn and built in Michigan; some still exist, but others have been radically changed or demolished. By bringing together this unique collection of drawings, models, photographs, and paintings, this exhibition seeks to document an important architectural legacy and project its significance as an inspiration for the development of international Modernism.

This exhibition is made possible by Ford Motor Company.