Back to the future

Think flying cars, lunar colonies and glassdomed cities-the stuff of science fiction. Think space rockets, tangled cities and winged airships-all ofwhich have become facts of modern life. Out ofTime, a new book by Norman Brosterman, has inspired a traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) that captures an early 20th-century view of the technological tomorrow.

Released in November, Out of Time catalogs illustrations of futuristic concepts that wowed the public from the 1890s to the 1960s. It was a period of “geewhiz” optimism as the world waited for its wildest techno-dreams to leap off the drawing board. The vivid futuristic art, which appeared mostly in popular magazines, made those flying cars seem just around the corner. “it became the group memory ofthe future because it was portrayed so many times,” Brosterman says.

SITES will bring this original artwork to cities across the country. “[The art] is beautiful and wacky and thoughtprovoking,” says SITES project director Katherine Krile. “Especially now in the year 2000, a lot of people have been thinking about the future. We thought it would be really interesting to look at past visions of the future.”

Many of the collection’s pieces come from the covers of popular-science and pulp magazines. Artists such as Chesley Bonestell, Alexander Ledenfros and Frank Paul grabbed readers with bright, detailed drawings of towering cities, floating airports and populated moonscapes.

The art fed the public’s future fever but also changed people’s expectations Brosterman says. Before Manhattan became, well, Manhattan, artists planted the concept in the vision of the Amer ican people. “Everything flew and now everything flies,” Brosterman says. “Everything was huge and now everything’s huge.”

But the artists drew inspiration from their own surroundings, too. Brosterman writes that Frank Paul’s conical and crystalline towers look “suspiciously like grandiose versions of 1930s hardware and household appliances.” Similarly, Krile says the Capri satellite is “a cross between a 1950s American car and Sputnik-a spherical car with no aerodynamic advantages to it. The artist was pulling together postwar car design and combining it with this new world of rockets and missiles.”

The Out of Time book and exhibition are resurrecting the bedazzlement of these futuristic concepts and designs, starting with audiences in Tacoma, Wash., in November.

“The nostalgic part of this is so rich,” Brosterman says. “The future became much more complicated than anyone imagined.”

Of course, we’re still waiting for those flying cars.

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