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The Wolfsonian in Florida

What is art? Is it a painting of a woman? A package for cigarettes? A lone fire hydrant? On a holiday in Miami, Florida, visitors can mull over these questions after a morning of swimming at the beach, and before a night of conga at the club. They can simply pop into The Wolfsonian, where they’ll be provided with all sorts of visuals that’ll fire up their brain cells.

Established in 1986 by art preserver (quite different from “collector”) Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., the museum was donated to Florida International University (FIU) in 1997. People then flocked to the 7-floor building on Miami Beach to see the original ten collections of pieces made from 1885 to 1945.

The British Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts Movement, for example, features objects from a time when artists were veering away from industrialisation, repetition, and convention. Handcrafted and Orient-inspired rugs, cabinets, and tiles are found here, made of such materials as pine, silver and even paua shells with their characteristic metallic purple and blue hues.

Entire rooms imitating nature – especially plants – are found in the Dutch and Italian Art Nouveau area (niewe kunst in Dutch, stile floreale in Italian). With the goal of incorporating beauty in everyday life, art – as was advocated during this period – found its way into advertisements, architecture, and furniture. There are armchairs, book covers, and incense burners with figures of Hindu divinities, decorated with curving lines and floral patterns.

During the Roaring Twenties, consumer products were emerging, and technology was becoming the solution to everything; manufacturers did everything to make their merchandise as appealing as possible. They worked even harder during the Great Depression to encourage sales through the trying times. Thus, American Industrial Design was born, and the Wolfsonian houses these mementos – like clocks, cameras, and print ads –in the collection with the same name.

There is also a section on 20th-century Political Propaganda from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Russia, and other countries. Mussolini's Fascist posters usually had Roman elements, while Spanish anti-fascist images had Cubist and French Surrealist characteristics. A book on prejudices against African-Americans, the cover of which has a person wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and making a Nazi salute, is part of the display too.

Those ravenous for art in all its forms and functions can feed their hunger with the other collections in The Wolfsonian, like German Design Reform, Transportation and Travel, and World Fairs and Expositions.

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