In the garden of New York's Museum of Modern Art this week the Maillol bather, poised over a reflecting pool, and the bronze Henry Moore family, seated beneath a sycamore, got some unexpected but worthy company. Under an 80-foot-square tent, a sailplane soars above lighted vitrines that display baseball masks and hockey gloves. A hydroplane shows its potential for speed in every curve. These and others are part of the first museum exhibition of contemporary objects ever drawn from the world of sport.
For The Museum of Modern Art, a Design for Sport show is not the artistic reach that it might seem. Since the museum opened in 1929, one of its major roles has been to recognize excellence of design found in man's contemporary artifacts. It has presented a Machine Art show (1934), a series of Useful Objects shows, two automobile shows (1951 and 1953), an American textiles show (1956) and a packaging show (1959). These, with its own design collection, have established the museum as America's most respected arbiter of 20th century design.
The 115 objects selected for the sports show (they are listed at the end of this article) come from 56 sports pursued in 17 different countries. They were chosen by the museum's Director of Architecture and Design, Arthur Drexler, and its Associate Curators of Design, Mildred Constantine and Greta Daniel. The show, which will continue through July, is jointly sponsored by the National Sporting Goods Association and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, whose editors approved the objects for their performance qualities. For more color photographs and an essay on the role of design in sport, please turn the page.
The car and the sulky in this picture satisfy separate but similar cravings for speed. The Houghton harness-racing sulky is basically the same today as it was in 1908. The Formula Junior Lotus was designed by Englishman Colin Chapman in 1960. Both vehicles speak the language of speed, but with a vocabulary as different as the times that created them. The Lotus is, in the opinion of The Museum of Modern Art, beautiful because of the way its solid forms are combined. Its low-slung torpedolike mass spanning out-sized wheels gives it a powerful, almost menacing, forward thrust even when it is standing still. The cast magnesium wheels are solid, made strong by their undulating shapes. The form of the cowling is repeated by the windscreen. The sulky, by contrast, is an expression in linear composition. It achieves its strength with lightweight bent woods—hickory for the frame, ash for the shafts—and the rigid geometry of steel bicycle spokes. Unlike the car, covered by its fiber-glass skin, the sulky is skeletal—all its workings show. Asymmetry gives it a poised tension, like that of a sprinter in the blocks.
CHALLENGE OF FORM
To a hitter, the beautiful thing about a baseball is the sight of it soaring into (or over) the bleachers. The beautiful thing about a bat is the sound of it connecting. But to The Museum of Modern Art, which has spent a year examining the artifacts of sport, a baseball is beautiful even on a shelf. Every handsome element of a baseball's design is there for a reason. Nothing is extraneous. Everything works. It is a perfect example of the law that in sport, as in architecture, a thing has to do what it is designed to do or it is as useless as tai If ins on a houseboat.
A ball is one of sport's simplest expressions of the form-follows-function credo. Without the figure-eight pattern of its hand stitching, a baseball would be just another sphere. But the pattern is not for decoration, nor is it merely to hold the horsehide sections together—that could be accomplished by a seam around the middle. The curvilinear design provides a grip for the pitcher, and when the ball is released with a spinning action the seam gives the sort of resistance in flight that makes a controlled curve possible. The same principle works on tennis balls. A football, on the other hand, being elliptical and pebbled, is stabilized in flight by its spin, in the manner of a gyroscope. And the linear sectional grooves of a soccer ball keep it in a straight path when it is kicked.
While acknowledging the important place of function in determining the characteristics of a well-designed object, the museum's Arthur Drexler feels that the best designs for sport display a second important attribute—the mark of a designer's individual taste. Not everyone entirely agrees—Howard Head (SI, Dec. 18), for example, the designer and manufacturer of one of the most esthetically satisfactory products in all of sport, the Head ski, has this to say: "There should be an absolute concentration on function, a logic to design. And if the designer concentrates on function, it is a subtle fact that he comes up with a thing of beauty as well." But for Drexler a designer's role is not so simply stated. Of Head and his ski, he says, "He still had an element of free choice, and not all his design decisions can have been determined entirely by function. Even with the little latitude that was allowed to him in the design of his ski, he was able to exercise his personal taste. This can be seen in the proportion of bright metal to black plastic and in the extraordinarily sensitive modulations of thickness."
In addition to function and taste, Drexler believes, a third and less tangible force motivates good design for sport. It embodies a classical concept of the Greeks—that winning the race is not so important as running it well. This is the concept defined in the citation accompanying SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's annual Sportsman of the Year award, which goes each year "to that individual who, in the opinion of the editors, has most closely approached the degree of excellence suggested by the ancient Greek concept of arete—a unity of virtues of mind and body to which the truly complete man of every age must aspire." Arete has a place in every sport, and the pursuit of excellence has a refining influence on the equipment of sport as well as on men.
Thus, when the sportsman buys a piece of equipment he also buys a potential—the possibility that the skills of the craftsmen who designed it may combine with his own skills to produce true excellence. He could equal Anderl Molterer on his Kneissl White Star skis. He could break par with the clubs Ben Hogan designed, or catch a record trout with his Orvis bamboo rod. The potential is there in the object; and in its challenge and in its use the object tests the man as the man tries the object. The relationship is a very close and personal one, indeed more personal than that of a consumer to a product in any other field. Englishman William F. Hardy, who does his designing on a riverbank, says: "When you are fishing, the tackle is part of yourself."