Monday, October 22, 2012

Earth-Picasso-IRT (22-28 October)

On this date in design…

Earth, first seen from outer space 24 October 1946
Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter & artist, co-founder of Cubist movement, birthday 25 October 1881
Interborough Rapid Transit, New York City, first subway system, opens 27 October 1904

When Felix Baumgartner stepped out of his balloon hoisted capsule and plummeted to back to terra firma last week, the image of the curvature of the Earth was relegated to a backdrop.  However, less than 70 years ago that image had never been seen by man until a V-2 rocket launched from White Sands, New Mexico brought back a few grainy black & white photos.   
The knowledge that the Earth is in fact round is something that we as a species may take for granted today.  In Columbus’ time, it was not so certain and something for which he was willing to risk his life.  Baumgartner didn’t come close to the height of the V-2 rocket but it was high enough not only to appreciate how tiny our planet is but to also break the sound barrier on the way down.  This may all seem a frivolous exercise of a thrill seeker and a pop-drink's marketing department but innovations in the suit’s design will benefit future space exploration as man creeps farther and farther away from our tiny blue marble and into the vast expanses of space. 

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth,” Pablo Picasso once said and no truer words regarding art could have been stated.  Along with Georges Braque, he founded the Cubist movement introduced to the world with “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) where the female nudes were abstracted and morphed with seemingly grotesque tribal images.  It could be argued this painting epitomized Picasso’s chauvinistic attitude toward woman as either “goddesses or doormats”.  

He was a notorious womanizer but as an artist, no painter before him had such a massive audience nor was as famous in his own lifetime.   He used this influence to bring the world’s attention to the Spanish Civil War with the masterpiece “Guernica” (1937) after the German’s callous bombing of that town.  No longer was war commemorated in glorious battle scenes.  Picasso’s stark black-white-gray image was reminiscent of a newspaper photo and the collateral damage inflicted on the civilian population was made aware to the public as the enormous mural-sized piece was toured world-wide.  It was perhaps the world’s first sociopolitical artistic statement and one that worked. 

The thought of riding in a train in a tunnel underground once was relegated to the fantastic ideas of Jules Verne.  However, in the early years of the 20th century, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company sought to alleviate above-ground traffic by expanding their existing elevated train network with the world’s first subway system.  The firm operated as a privately held entity until 1940 when it was acquired by the City of New York.  To assist passengers orient themselves in a dark underground world, no two stations were designed the same.  This provided an opportunity to expand the metropolitan landscape and offered designers new inspiration.   
Today, no major city in the world is without an effective subterranean rail service alleviating congestion and hastening not only travel time but also the pace of commerce as well. 


Article from "Air & Space" about the V-2 #13 launch 
Redbull's site dedicated to Baumgartner's jump 
Reenactment of Baumgartner's jump with Legos 

The Picasso Administration 
Resource for Picasso art 
Pablo Picasso website 
"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" at MoMA, New York City 
"Guernica" at the Museu Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City  
The New York Subway Organization 
Slideshow of vintage NYC subway images from Life Magazine 

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