The book is the second in a series of publications developed from the archive of MA and research student dissertations held by the V&A/RCA History of Design programme and published by Manchester University Press. The theme of magazines and modern design was identified as a particular area of strength in the original research undertaken by graduates from the programme.
The emphasis of the essays is to understand magazines as designed objects in their own right. Much primary research was undertaken to investigate the particular circumstances surrounding individual titles. A second aim was to uncover the interests of the reader. Drawing on consumption studies, several essays show how interpretations of the magazine can be enhanced by locating evidence to understand readers as historical subjects. The third emphasis in the group of essays is to analyse how design ideals were particularly promoted through magazines.
Jeremy Aynsley co-wrote the introductory essay that reflects on the challenges facing the historian of the magazine. His chapter of the book Fashioning Graphics in the 1920s: Typefaces, Magazines and Fashion examines the gendered nature of typography and its discourses in 1920s France and the USA, as articulated through publication in magazines. In particular it questions the assumption that Modernist design was successful in applying a scientifically standardised approach to artistic form. By introducing questions from architectural and fashion history and applying them to graphic design, the research opens a challenge to previously accepted distinctions in design discourse. The chapter is part of a larger continuing research project which investigates the history of early twentieth-century graphic design and typography, extending research he published as Graphic Design in Germany, 1890–1945 (Thames & Hudson, University of California Press, 2000).
'The Modern Period Room: A Contradiction in Terms?' This essay advanced practice in the field of design history by connecting decorative arts scholarship and museology with other fields of design historical studies. Jeremy Aynsley set out to investigate the origins of collecting historical period rooms to be put on display by North American and European museums in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Museums present one particular form of culturally constructed representation and the wider project of the Centre provided a solid context in which to understand the period room as one variant of more general trends. Following research into magazines, catalogues and museum records, Aynsley's essay traces the beginnings of decorative arts museums, historic house museums and folk (living) museums, and explores the boundaries between museums and international exhibitions and the representational strategies employed by specialist retailers and magazine publishers, which developed a parallel interest in the construction of historical styles of room for purchase. Links between three-dimensional and two-dimensional conventions of display are highlighted.
Aynsley examines, in particular, evidence of the use of the term 'period room', which crossed from museums to the commercial sector in the form of popular exhibitions and publishing, and he challenges the assumptions of many commentaries that have offered 'authenticity' as the determining factor, by showing that the construction of such rooms is always highly selective in what it sought to preserve. His research brought together evidence from ethnographic and decorative arts to show similarities and differences in the intentions of those responsible for installing period rooms, including comparison of differences between British (English), Scandinavian and North American attitudes towards the preservation of cultural history.
A project developing from a long-standing interest in the relationship between design and ideology, and focuses on the culture of advertising and graphic design in the German Democratic Republic, 1949–69.
A new research project addresses the history of graphic design in California, 1930–65.
Jeremy Aynsley will contribute to the forthcoming exhibition, California Design, 1930–1965:‘Living in a Modern Way’, to be held at Los Angeles Country Museum of Art.