Play Sculptures and Picturebooks: Utopian Visions of Modern Existence
This article examines ideas surrounding abstract, modernist art for children during the post-war era by analyzing play sculptures and picturebooks created by Egon Møller-Nielsen, a Danish-Swedish sculptor and artist. His monumental sculptures for children received international attention during the 1950s, and became influential and representative for progressive ideas about art and children in both the United States and in Europe. How, then, is the notion of art articulated and expressed in this context? And how are these ideas connected to the ideological position that children have in the rebuilding of the post-war society in Europe? Egon Møller-Nielsen described his play sculpture as a “lekmaskin” (play machine), paraphrasing Le Corbusier’s famous modernist term for a house, “machine à habiter” (a machine for living in). This kind of use of terminology demonstrates how play sculpture is situated at the core of notions concerning public art, architecture and sculpture in post-war Europe. It also encapsulates ideas of children as the future citizens of the welfare state, and thus, ideas about how these new citizens could be created and formed. Modernist play sculptures and experimental books for children can be seen as a means of equipping children with knowledge of art, thereby creating better adult consumers of art, which identifies children as both an integral part of the utopian vision of modern existence and as future consumers. The play sculpture is thus based on the idea of a new citizen who is also a new kind of art consumer, and can thus be seen as a sculptural embodiment of an idea of the modern child.
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