Design in the Age of Darwin: From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright

Main Gallery, Print, Drawing, and Photography Study Center, and Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery

darwin Louis Sullivan, Decorative Block from Babson House, 1907–09, terra-cotta. Collection of John Vinci, Courtesy of the Richard Nickel Committee, Chicago.

With the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, Charles Darwin challenged the foundations of both science and culture. His ideas about the transmutation of species and the mutability of nature provoked strong reactions among naturalists and theologians and continue to stir debate today. It is less well known that the influence of Darwinian and other modes of evolutionary thought extended into the realms of architecture, the decorative arts, and design, as well, where biological terms like “adaptation,” “fitness,” “functionalism,” and “type” were used by theorists and practitioners alike.

During the fifty or so years following the publication of The Origin of Species, biologists and designers wrestled with the question of whether the evolution of plants and animals, and the decorative forms derived from them, was the result of an internal dynamic presided over by a divine creator or external factors governed by mere contingency. The dispute, which may be called the "formalism/functionalism debate," was engaged by the English designers William Morris, Christopher Dresser, C. F. A. Voysey, and C. R. Ashbee, as well as the American architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, whose works are included in the exhibition.

This exhibition is guest curated by Northwestern University art history professor Stephen F. Eisenman. A full color illustrated catalogue ($36.95) published by the Block Museum and Northwestern University Press accompanies the exhibition.

This prograTerram is part of American Art American City, a citywide initiative sponsored by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Support for Design in the Age of Darwin and related programs is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional support for the exhibition and related programming is provided by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and the Graduate School, Northwestern University; Alumnae of Northwestern University; American Airlines; Mark Angelson; Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation;Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; Illinois Humanities Council; Myers Foundations; Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; Trustworth Studios; and Arete Swartz Warren.