ChiDM Presents: Lara Allison
Thursday July 26th 2018, 6:00 pm7:00 pm

Free and open to the public!

Container Corporation of America’s Great Ideas of Western Man advertising series represented a distinctive moment in the company’s corporate marketing strategy. By 1950, when the campaign began, the company had established itself as easily identifiable to the public. It had been aesthetically unified as a modern organization through the integrated design of its offices, delivery trucks, invoices, and factories. It had also, with the aid of N.W. Ayer & Son Advertising Company (based in Philadelphia), brought in modern French poster artists such as Jean Carlu and A.M. Cassandra, to produce graphic advertisements that emphasized the visual and that detailed the capacities, attributes, and functions of the packaging industry with minimal copy. These early advertisements accomplished the linking of modern art with Container Corporation, but in their rationality, they fell in line with advertisements produced by other companies during the 1930s and early 1940s. In the following series of advertisements, N.W. Ayer and Container Corporation’s Art Department brought in an expanding roster of modern and avant-garde artists and designers to further solidify Container Corporation’s visual identity. These advertisements—especially the War, the United States and United Nations campaigns increasingly pointed towards the company founder Walter Paepcke’s intent to establish the American corporation’s pivotal role in global affairs in the post-war world order.

The Great Ideas represented a move towards non-rational advertising. In other words, they did not inform the consumer about the company itself or its products and processes, but rather linked it to something that had nothing to do with its operations directly—educational, philosophical, social and political ideas stemming from (mostly) the Western intellectual tradition. This move can be understood as a response to the perceived threats to democracy during the 1950s and later, especially felt among American business leaders: from excessive government involvement in private (and cultural) affairs, to the spread of communism domestically and abroad, and the rise of a meritocracy in which individuals in their own efforts to professionally advance (through technical education, college electives, corporate managerial “ladders”) lost a sense of their public and civic responsibilities and failed to develop character.

Dr. Allison’s talk will address the Cold War context in which the Great Ideas of Western Man advertising campaign ran.  She will also discuss the tensions that emerged between those overseeing the Great Ideas and artists associated with Abstract Expressionism.  It seems that the ideal of the Bauhaus in which a fluid relationship between traditional art practices and design was cultivated (a goal shared by  artists, curators, and business leaders in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s) had been rejected by the American avant-garde artist by 1950.  The Abstraction Expressionists largely refused to engage with anything outside of their own medium (politics, literary texts, and commerce) and sought to transcend the type of “fixed” values embraced by the Great Ideas.  Yet both were discussed as fundamental aspects of Western civilization and were promoted internationally as expressions of a free democratic America.

ChiDM Presents explores themes within our current exhibition—Great Ideas of Humanity: Out of the Container. This series is free and open to the public, and held at the Chicago Design Museum, at 108 N. State St., on the 3rd floor.

This particular event is presented as part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art exploring Chicago’s art and design legacy, with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. It is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.