Industrial saviors


Profound impacts of everyday objects on display at the SJ Museum of Art
text: Marissa Bush / image: George Tanner


Giant boxes on stilts are scattered throughout white rooms. Glass jars of pickles and some unidentified items sit on blue-painted shelves. In the back of the room, a 1930s cartoon commercial features Weck glass jars and on the floor, 30 of the glass jars are filled with old, blackened photographs.

The “Hidden Heroes” exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art features 36 everyday objects that have been engineered since the Industrial Revolution. The exhibition hails from Weil am Rhein, Germany at the Vitra Design Museum and the assortment will be on display until Feb. 2, 2014.

The objects on display are chosen from a specific categorical system: The objects must be mass-produced by the billions but they are not expensive to produce and not expensive to the buyer.

The object must remain unchanged or be largely unchanged since its creation. The object must be simple, self-explanatory and easy to use.

The object must be familiar and finally, able to shape everyday lives.

The 36 objects draw you in, from the lighting to the colorful displays to the artistic compilation of the objects itself. Because the objects featured are used daily, it has become a part of our cumulative materialistic culture.

“(The objects on display) created needs that were never there. We have needs that we have never had before,” said Kat Koh, a curatorial assistant at San Jose Museum of Art.

The exhibition is clearly a celebration of engineering, design, and longevity. In Silicon Valley, the openness to design is evident with start-up companies in almost every town. The idea to bring this exhibition to San Jose makes sense.

“Hidden Heroes” is an art project that strives to expand the visitor’s view of what defines design. A few main items catch my eye at the exhibition. The first object is the barcode. The barcode is the only item in the exhibition that was invented in the Bay Area. It is displayed inside of a box with myriad colorful cans. An American named Norman Joseph Woodland invented the barcode, which he patented on Oct. 7, 1952, making it a standard for international trade today.

Another item that caught my attention was the condom display. The first rubber condom was produced in 1855. Once latex was invented in 1920, latex condoms began to be mass-manufactured. A 1918 ruling legalized condoms as the prescribed contraceptives to prevent disease and by 1931, the top 15 American condom manufacturers were producing 1.44 million condoms daily. This everyday object is reaches others worldwide.

One section of the exhibition called Up-cycle invites visitors to think critically about an everyday object and creating a new use for it, inspired by the humanitarian UNICEF block.

It is a white Lego-style rectangular block with two blue containers holding rice and water. Once the block is created, it can then be used as a building block for a shelter.  When visitors tour the exhibition they can stop at this section and write down their own ideas for Up-cycle and display them on a wall for others to see.

“Hidden Heroes” is an illuminating and intriguing art exhibition to peruse during the winter holidays. The San Jose Museum of Art is located next to Downtown Ice and Fairmont Hotel. This is a great option for those looking to learn about the history of objects that have become a part of our everyday world.


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