Meeting in St. Louis : American encounters with nascent European modernisms at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition
McClain, Aurora Wilson
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The German exhibit of interiors in the Palace of Varied Industries and the Austrian Pavilion at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis included striking examples of Jugendstil and Secessionstil design. These modernist interiors were shocking in contrast to the historicist aesthetic that pervaded the rest of the exposition. In many cases, the exposition exposed American designers and consumers to examples of European modernism for the first time, although in other cases it allowed them to personally experience design trends that they had been following in publications. The exhibits met with mixed reviews in America, with the popular press expressing either skepticism about the "new art" that they presented, or cautious admiration of their integrated design. In the design world, the handcrafted interiors of the German Pavilion met with approval from the Arts and Crafts community, which was already well established in the United States. By contrast, discussions of the Austrian Pavilion, which primarily displayed simplified, geometrical designs from the members of the Secession and their students, varied widely, ranging from commentary on the novelty of the designs to discussions about what Americans could learn from the Austrian system of design education. These differing approaches toward discussing the designs displayed in the German and Austrian exhibits in 1904 reveal a variety of emerging attitudes toward modernism in American design. Both their contents and their reception make the German and Austrian exhibits at the St. Louis World's Fair important to the history of European and American modernism. For historians of European modernism, the designs provide a panoramic view of the various approaches that important German and Austrian modernists were exploring at a time when their search for an appropriate style included the broadest range of options. For historians of American modernism, the response to the exhibits offers insight into the values of American designers and consumers at the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as clues about why modernist efforts in the United States declined sharply in the decade prior to World War I.