Frist Art Museum Presents “Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style”

The Frist Art Museum presents Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, an immersive exhibition that showcases Charles Rennie Mackintosh—the greatest exponent of the Glasgow Style—as an architect, designer, and artist, and contextualizes his production within a larger circle of designers and craftspeople in Scotland’s largest city. Co-organized by Glasgow Museums and the American Federation of Arts, the exhibition will be on view from June 11 through September 12, 2021.
At the end of the 19th century, the Glasgow Style emerged as the major manifestation of Art Nouveau in Britain. Combining influences from the Arts and Crafts movement, Celtic Revival, and Japonism, Glasgow artists created their own modern design aesthetic, synonymous with sleek lines and emphatic geometries expressed in a wide range of materials.

This exhibition presents 165 works of fine and decorative art in a wide variety of media, including architectural drawings, books, ceramics, furniture, posters, textiles, and watercolors, drawn from Glasgow’s most significant public and private collections. Videos provide guests with tours of buildings designed by Mackintosh and his contemporaries.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928) is one of the most significant architects of early modernism, and Designing the New places his work into the context of Glasgow circa 1900, during the industrial city’s heyday. In 2018 Glasgow Museums organized this exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth, and this is the first major Mackintosh exhibition in the United States since 1996. “Designing the New is a landmark in the study of his career and offers a rare opportunity to see the art of Mackintosh and his contemporaries outside of his native city,” says Frist Art Museum senior curator Trinita Kennedy. “We are thrilled to introduce the work to our guests or further their knowledge and appreciation of the Glasgow Style’s impact and legacy.”

As the most ambitious and inventive proponent of the Glasgow Style, Mackintosh is often compared to Frank Lloyd Wright, who was almost his exact contemporary. Mackintosh made his mark on Glasgow and its environs with his designs for a variety of buildings, including a church, houses, offices, schools, tearooms and, most important, the Glasgow School of Art which is currently being rebuilt after two devastating fires. “Interest in Mackintosh has increased over the last thirty years, and architecture and design enthusiasts go on pilgrimage to Glasgow to see his buildings,” says Kennedy.

The show’s chronological narrative spans Mackintosh’s entire life, presenting his work in the context of his predecessors, contemporaries, patrons, and friends in Glasgow. “Informed by decades of research by curator Alison Brown of Glasgow Museums, this exhibition offers a penetrating new interpretation of Mackintosh that shows he was far from an isolated genius,” says Kennedy. Mackintosh worked most closely with his wife, Margaret Macdonald; Margaret’s sister, Frances Macdonald; and Frances’ husband, James Herbert McNair. They met as students at the Glasgow School of Art in 1892 and together were known as The Four. “Learning their craft in the school’s technical studios, they often worked collaboratively and applied their deliberately eccentric and bold artistic vocabulary to all fields of decorative design,” says Kennedy.

A significant number of women artists played integral roles in the movement. “Glasgow was a progressive city, especially in terms of public education, and some women were able to forge careers as artists. Women teachers and students at The Glasgow School of Art often continued working even after they married and had children,” says Kennedy. A few of these same women were also suffragists (full voting rights were not granted to women in Great Britain until 1928).

Among the highlights of the exhibition are interior design elements for entrepreneur Catherine Cranston’s famous Glasgow city-center artistic tearooms, including the monumental frieze The May Queen and an aluminum and copper pendant light. A high-backed chair that Mackintosh designed for the Hill House in Helensburgh—considered to be his domestic masterpiece—is one of several iconic chairs in the exhibition. His chairs entered mainstream pop culture with appearances in movies such as The Addams Family, Blade Runner, and Star Trek, and Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video.

Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style is published by DelMonico Books●Prestel, in association with Glasgow Museums (2019). This lively and informative book showcases the work of Mackintosh and contextualizes it in relation to a larger circle of designers and craftspeople with which he shared sources, stylistic features, and patrons. Filled with color illustrations, archival materials, and essays, this volume explores every aspect of the Glasgow Style—from beautifully appointed homes and restaurants to everyday works of needlepoint, cups and saucers, stained glass windows, magazine illustrations, and textiles. Far-reaching and influential, the Glasgow Style impacted nearly every facet of daily life.

Exhibition Credit
Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style is a touring exhibition co-organized by Glasgow Museums and the American Federation of Arts. The exhibition comprises works from the collections of Glasgow City Council (Museums and Collections), with loans from Scottish collections and private lenders. Support for the US national tour is provided by the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation.

More information:

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. The May Queen (detail), 1900. Made for the Ladies’ Luncheon Room, Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms, Glasgow. Gesso on burlap (hessian) over a wood frame, scrim, twine, glass beads, thread, and tin leaf, 62 1/2 x 179 7/8 in. overall. Glasgow Museums: Acquired by Glasgow Corporation as part of the Ingram Street Tearooms, 1950. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. Courtesy American Federation of Arts