Out of Time: 20th Century Designs for the Future

Faculty Reflections: Saint Mary's Professor Carl Guarneri, of the History Department, reflects on the "Out of Time" exhibit in a piece titled: "Rethinking the Future: A Historian's View."

In Out of Time: 20th Century Designs for the Future, a new exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Services (SITES), sixty works of compelling beauty and often remarkable foresight document America’s fascination with the future. Exhibition curator Norman Brosterman has assembled watercolors, oil paintings, pen and ink drawings, gouaches, and other renderings to explore America’s “hypothetical” tomorrow – its architecture, transportation, urban communities (undersea and on land), space exploration, and robotics. Few of these works, which date from 1895 to 1956, have ever been exhibited.

Astonishing scientific discoveries and technological advances of the past century provide fertile ground for speculation about the future. “Today’s Fiction – Tomorrow’s Fact!” trumpeted the magazine Amazing Stories as it regaled Americans with stories and illustrations of colonies on distant planets, fantastic flying machines, streamlined automobiles powered by nuclear cyclotrons. Many of the images in Out of Time tantalized their original viewers from the pages of science fiction anthologies and magazines including Life, Amazing Stories, Popular Science, Mechanics Illustrated and in the variety of visionary drawings of architects and industrial designers.

Out of Time focuses on the exceptional artists from the late 19th through the mid-20th century who were largely responsible for the invention of the future, and this exhibition gauges the accuracy of their predictions. Richard Arbib proposed a city for General Motors Futurama at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and designed bubble top cars and the first electric wristwatch. Herbert Paus created dazzling futuristic images for Popular Science during the 1920s and 30s. Other visionary artists among the thirty-two in the exhibition such as Alexander Laeydenfrost, Chesley Bonestell, Ray Pioch, and Frank R. Paul – considered to be the greatest early science fiction artist – imagined the American future and prophesied elements of the real world to come.

Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The Gallery will be closed Sunday, April 20, for Easter. For more information or to schedule a group tour, call (925) 631-4379.

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Contact: Heidi Donner (925) 631-4069 or hdonner@stmarys-ca.edu