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Ceglio_ASA2011_WWII

Ceglio_ASA2011_WWII

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Published by cjceglio
Conference paper for the 2011 American Studies Association annual meeting. Part of the panel "War and the Visceral Imagination." Visit http://warandvisceralimagination.wordpress.com/
Conference paper for the 2011 American Studies Association annual meeting. Part of the panel "War and the Visceral Imagination." Visit http://warandvisceralimagination.wordpress.com/

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Published by: cjceglio on Sep 21, 2011
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09/21/2011

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Clarissa J. CeglioDepartment of American StudiesBrown UniversityClarissa_Ceglio@brown.eduThe Material Rhetoric of Sensory Persuasion in MoMA’s
Wartime Housing
(1942)
“To see an exhibition as ugly as Sin, as shocking as a Coney Island horror house, small-town mayors, housing officials, clubwomen and school kids trooped into Manhattan’s Museumof Modern Art last week,” reported
Time
magazine in May 1942.
1
The show that inspired thisflamboyant prosewent by the staid title
Wartime Housing
. The museum had, according to
Time,
“caged and displayed the ‘Housing Crime.’” The crime in question concerned the shortage of housing for workers and their families who had flocked to centers of wartime production insearch of employment only to find themselves living in overpriced, substandard accommodationsor, worse, railroad cars, tents and grain bins.
2
The all-too-common situation of being withoutsanitation facilities or located far from the job siteonly added insult to injury. Concern for themigrants’ welfareand fears of social chaos motivated housing reform advocates, but theseinterests ran second to meeting production quotas for munitions, ships, planes and otherimplements of war. Simply put, insufficient housing posed a grave problem; it limited theavailable labor pool, reduced worker efficiency, sapped morale and led to high turnover rates—factors that the government feared could cost the nation the war.Despite the need to address these issues, many communities balked at providing wartimehousing. They still remembered the problems witnessed after World War I when factories closed,workers left and wartime housing projects became ghost towns or slums. Additionally,established residents frequently viewed outsiders from differing racial, regional and class
1
“75,000 Tanks, 414,000 Houses,”
Time
, May 11, 1942, 42 and 44.
2
Kristin M. Szylvian, “The Federal Housing Program during World War II,” in
From Tenements to Taylor Homes: In Search of an Urban Housing Policy in Twentieth-Century America
, ed. Roger Biles, John F. Bauman and KristinM. Szylvian (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 121.
 
ASA 2011 Conference paper ©Clarissa J. Ceglio Page
|2
 
backgrounds with skepticism if not outright prejudice. Makeshift solutions held appeal, as thesemight prevent outsiders, particularly the poor and nonwhite, from settling down for the longterm. Thus, at the start of the war, housing emerged as a critical defense, economic and socialproblem.And, that problem was sizeable. Scholars estimatethat more than 15 million civilianscrossed county lines, including, by some accounts, 8 to 12 million whose move brought them toa new state.
3
The over 16 millionindividuals who entered the service were on the move as well.The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which by 1942 had already mounted nearly adozen exhibitions related to the fast-expanding war, participated in efforts to educate andinfluence decision-makers at the national and local levels about the need to quickly implementwell-planned emergency housing. MoMA, merely a decade old in 1939 when Germany invadedPoland, had, despite its youth, national reachand a reputation as a vanguard institution. Duringthe 1940s, the necessity of developing alternate revenue streams and the political connections of Nelson A. Rockefeller led the museum to, in its own words, work for “the war government inmany ways both officially and unofficially by preparing, showing, and circulating exhibitionsand films and in an administrative or advisory capacity.”
4
In fact, by the end of combat, MoMAwould produce some 30 exhibitions related to the war, a great many of which, including
Wartime Housing
, debuted in New York and then circulatedin traveling versions.Described asan “exhibition in 10 scenes,”
Wartime Housing
presents an interesting casestudy not only for the ways in which it recast earlier messages of social reform into the rhetoricof patriotic duty but also for its explicit manipulations of space, texture, light, text and sound inconjunction with news media images and social documentary photography produced by the FarmSecurity Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI). I argue that in order to fusevisitors’ impulses for social reform with patriotic duty MoMA conceived of a persuasive
3
Data on population movement during the war can be found inJohn W. Jeffries,
Wartime America: The World War  II Home Front 
(Chicago: I.R. Dee, 1996), 69. See alsoMichael C. C.Adams,
The Best War Ever: America and World War II 
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 119.
4
“The Museum and the War,”
The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art 
X, no, 1 (1942): 4.
 
ASA 2011 Conference paper ©Clarissa J. Ceglio Page
|3
 
visuality rooted in material and affective experiencebut struggled to balance pathos with themore traditional strategies of logos and ethos.Additionally, thiscalculated appeal to the visceralimaginationrevealedthe conflicting interestsof the exhibition’s variousexternal and internalstakeholders.
Political Context
Wartime Housing
appeared at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from April 22through June 21, 1942.
5
MoMA and its chief collaborator, the National Committee on theHousing Emergency (NCHE),sought to achieve three aims: “wiser planning, better designing,and more immediate as well as more lasting benefits to the nation ….”
6
Behind this simply statedagenda lay more complicated aspirations and a tangled web of government, corporate and privateinterests. The NCHE, an ad hoc citizens groupdedicatedto studyingand promotingaction on thehousing needs of defense workers, hopedthat stalled agendas for low-income and collectivehousing could ride the coattails of the nation’s push to provide public housing in support of wartime production.
7
For its part, MoMA meant to showcase modern architecture as the sociallyand aesthetically progressive means to these ends. The museum also hoped to solidify its value tothe public, government and industry. And, to be sure, many staff members saw such efforts asfulfilling their patriotic duty to serve the country.Scholar Kristin Szylvian categorized the federal government’s policy responses to thewartime housing problem into three stages. The first (mid-1940 to January 1942) sawgovernment stimulation of the private home-building industry
and 
investment in public housingto ensure workers an adequate supply of lower cost homes and rentals. Still, wariness of publichousing, which many associated with images of the undesirable poor, ran high. For example, the
5
“Wartime Housing,”
The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art 
9, no. 4 (1942): 2.
6
“War Emergency Housing” (Undated memorandum). Registrar Exhibition Files, Exh. #178. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Files hereafter cited as REG, Exh. #178. MoMA Archives, NY.
7
For more information about the group, seeH. PeterOberlander, Eva Newbrun and Martin Meyerson,
 Houser: The Life and Work of Catherine Bauer 
(Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999), 203.

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