To accompany a film and PBS documentary examining the history and social impact of Tupperware the Columbus College of Art & Design mounted a show featuring hundreds of Tupperware products, many dating back decades and on loan from the Smithsonian museum.
The film offered a deeply researched history of the Tupperware business and used it as a vehicle for insights into gender and self-determination through one unique slice of mid-20th Century consumer culture. While the film allowed viewers to draw connections from this early women-driven enterprise to women’s roles in business and consumer culture today the accompanying exhibit mostly eschewed making similar links across industrial design history, instead focusing on a constellation of popular design kitsch as a historic locus of the Tupperware brand.
When the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Gallery at Parsons School of Design extended an opportunity to reimagine the show for a New York installation we used ithe opportunity to point to 20th Century evolutions in both gender roles and industrial design. The NYC incarnation of the show relinquished the original kitsch-heavy contextualization of Tupperware and emphasized the objects themselves as direct outcomes of the kind of early modernist ideals that were embodied in Bauhaus attitudes towards mass production of design objects.
The signature imagery used in the exhibit design and promotion was developed around the concept of Tupperware as totemic objects of consumer culture, with a nod to the influence of Brancusi on the design stylings of the era.
Most of the products being exhibited, as well as the gallery window display that looked out on Fifth Avenue, were installed in the form of light tables and light boxes. In cases where the Tupperware on display was translucent, the illumination amplified the material properties of the objects, transforming the inexpensive polyethylene containers into vessels glowing with jewel-like colors.
The design decision to use illuminated displays in dimmed rooms was multi-purposed; to highlight and aestheticize the physical qualities of the objects as well as to create a personal resonance with visitors to the exhibit – to bring the experience home in an echo of the most common memory of tupperware; as a backlit, glowing artifact of modernism encountered in an ordinary household refrigerator.