Modern lighting and the MoMA contest of 1951

14 September - 21 October 2023
  • In the 20th century, the production of lamps underwent numerous developments and innovations.

    Modernism emerged in the 1940s, after the Art deco era from the 1920s and 30s when luxurious materials, such as chrome and colored glass, and rich stylized patterns were commonly used in the light fixtures. The modernist movement created lighting fixtures with a clean, functional and minimalist design.

  • Serge Mouille
    Serge Mouille
    Serge Mouille
    Serge Mouille
    Serge Mouille

    Serge Mouille

    Two rotating arms wall lamp, 1953
    Black lacquered metal and brass
    72 x 182 cm - 28 3/8 x 71 5/8 in
    Manufactured by Les Ateliers Serge Mouille

    This wall lamp with two pivoting arms is a perfect example of Serge Mouille's minimalistic and highly functional designs. This wall-mounted light fixture presents the uniform black painted metal as well as the discrete and highly functional qualities typical of Mouille’s production. The design was based on the classic layout of a dining room, with a table and sideboard for crockery, the idea being that the upper arm would provide general lighting whilst the lower one would provide illumination over the table. This lamp first appeared on Louis Sognot’s stand at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in Paris in 1954.

  • Serge Mouille Serge Mouille Serge Mouille
    Serge Mouille
    Pair of sconces "Antony" , 1957
    Black and white lacquered metal and brass
    35 x 35 x 35 cm  - 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 in 
    Manufactured by Les Ateliers Serge Mouille
    • Arne Jacobsen, Floor lamp - Prototype , 1950's
      Arne Jacobsen, Floor lamp - Prototype , 1950's
    • Bruno Munari, Table lamp , ca. 1960
      Bruno Munari, Table lamp , ca. 1960
  • Willy Van der Meeren

    Willy Van der Meeren

    Wall-mounted lamp , 1953
    Lacquered metal and copper
    50 x 200 x 40 cm - 19 3/4 x 78 3/4 x 15 3/4 in 
    Manufactured by Tubax
    Willy Van der Meeren’s designs are striking for their simplicity and directness. They are discreet, cleverly built and usually draw one’s attention through the way all their parts and joints are left visible and through some colorful elements. Early on in Tubax’ workshops, Willy van der Meeren started collaborating with architect Jean Stuyvaert. His obsession with shapes and his interest in the playfulness of bent steel sheet gave birth to some signature pieces such as the wall-mounted lamp (also referred as the “swivelling lamp”) in 1953.
  • Pierre Guariche
    Pierre Guariche
    Wall lamp, 1951
    Green lacquered metal, brass
    140 x 80 cm - 55 1/8 x 31 1/2 in
    Manufactured by Disderot

    This iconic wall lamp of the 1950s presents a beautiful green lacquered metal lampshade with two light sources that provide both direct and indirect lighting. With a clever balance system, the lamp seems to defy gravity. The brass arm, fixed to the wall with a green tubular structure, can be adjusted to various positions thanks to the brass ball that acts as a counterweight. 

  • Tapio Wirkkala Tapio Wirkkala
    Tapio Wirkkala
    Table lamp , 1958
    Brass and coloured bulb
    79 x 45 x 10 cm (31 1/8 x 17 3/4 x 4 in)
    Manufactured by Idman Oy

    Tapio Wirkkala is one of the masters of Finnish design. Prolific and versatile artist, he continually shifted between various disciplines.

    This lamp is designed as a modular construction adjustable in various positions with a system of counterweight. The graphic brass structure is completed by a mold-blown opal glass light bulb, available in pink and blue. This lamp shows the talent of Wirkkala in balancing between crafts and industrial techniques, and creating objects that are both aesthetic and functional.

  • Gino Sarfatti
    Gino Sarfatti
    Gino Sarfatti
    Gino Sarfatti

    Gino Sarfatti

    Rare floor lamp, 1946-1948
    Brass, painted aluminum, marble 
    height 160 cm (variable) - height 63 in (variable)
    Manufactured by Arteluce, Milan, Italy

    Supported by a round brass fitting on a marble base, this floor lamp is composed of a rotative brass stem that simply rests on a marble sphere used as a centre of gravity. A second sphere, in polished brass, serves as a counterweight to adjust the lamp to any required height. Designed by Gino Sarfatti between 1946 and 1948, this elegant floor lamp depicts the designer’s search for subtle originality and engineering prowess.
    Engineer Gino Sarfatti founded the modern lighting design company Arteluce in 1939. As a true innovator, he was also a very prolific designer who created iconic pieces while experimenting new materials and production techniques.

  • Gino Sarfatti
    Gino Sarfatti
    Table lamp, ca. 1950
    Painted aluminium, brass, marble.
    height 34 cm - height 13 3/8 in
    Manufactured by Arteluce, Milan, Italy
  • Gerald Abramovitz
    Gerald Abramovitz
    Desk lamp , 1961
    50 x 70 x 9 cm - 19 3/4 x 27 1/2 x 3 1/2 in 
    Manufactured by Best & Lloyd, Ltd., Birmingham

    This beautiful modernist desk lamp was designed by Gerald Abramovitz and was only produced for two years, between 1961 and 1963. 

    It is composed of a weighted aluminum rectangular base and an articulated steel arm angled at 90°with a light source that  give local but diffused light. This iconic cantilevered desk lamp is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 


    • Industrial table lamp, ca. 1930
      Industrial table lamp, ca. 1930
    • Gino Sarfatti, Table lamp, ca. 1957
      Gino Sarfatti, Table lamp, ca. 1957
  • MoMA 1951

  • In March 1951, an exhibition entitled ‘New lamps’ opened its door at the Museum of Modern Art in New York....

    In March 1951, an exhibition entitled ‘New lamps’ opened its door at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition showcased a selection of floor lamps and tables lamps designed by both anonymous and more renowned designers. These lamps were the 10 winning models of a light design contest launched by the instution a year earlier.


    The competition was open to everyone and had no specific guidelines, except that design must be functionnal and costs kept low. A point of honor was placed on the versatility of the lamps and the ability to adjust the light source.

    A jury composed of architects, designers, engineers and scholars (including Marcel Breuer and Rene d’Harnoncourt, director of the MOMA) was responsible for selecting 10 models from the 2,000 proposals of the 600 candidates. These models were later produced by Heifetz and distributed throughout the country by multiples partner stores.

  • Special Prize

  • Gilbert Watrous

    Gilbert Watrous

    Magnetic floor lamp, 1951
    Aluminum, enameled steel, brass, rubber
    114 x 107 x 32 cm (44 7/8 x 42 1/8 x 12 5/8 in)
    Manufactured by Heifitz Manufacturing Co.

    A Special Prize was awarded to Gilbert Watrous for his original floor lamp.  This floor lamp is composed of a small metal tripod base and a main stem with small fiber-glass lampshade at one end and a counterweight handle at the other. The stem passes through a small metal ball that is held by magnetism to the base. This simple, yet clever, structure allows the lamp to be adjusted to various positions. Adding to the flexibility of the lamp is the lampshade that is attached to the stem by a swivel and can also be adjusted for direct or indirect light. 

  • Second prize

  • Anthony Ingolia

    Anthony Ingolia

    Table lamp , 1951
    Steel, nickel aluminum and enamel construction.
    56 x 24 x 24 cm - 22 1/8 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in 
    Manufactured by Heifetz Manufacturing Co


    With its elementary design, this lamps strikes by its simplicity. A metal bonnet-shaped shade is fixed to the main stem by a swivel.  Two smaller legs are also attached by a simple spring to the stem that allows them to be moved up or down. This lamp can be used for direct or indirect lighting and its height can easily be raised or lowered to match any requirements. Highly adaptable, the lamp can also be hung from a shelf or pinned on the wall. 

  • Third prize

  • James Harvey Crate

    James Harvey Crate

    Table lamp, 1951
    Spun aluminum, enameled aluminum, brass-plated aluminum, cork
    62 x 30 x 38 cm - 24 3/8 x 11 3/4 x 15 in 
    Manufactured by Heifetz Manufacturing Co.

    Third prize of the competition is this table lamp composed of a hyperbolic funnel which contains the light source. The funnel is run through by three straight stainless steel rods, tipped with cork balls at both ends, that provide legs at the base and also support a flat metal disk-shaped reflector placed on top of the central part.  By moving the rods, the degree of light reflected from this metal disk can be controlled and adjusted. 

  • Honorable mentions

  • Designed by Lester Geis, this gray and yellow table lamp is composed of a two-piece metal shade. The two sections of the lamp are independent from each other and can be moved separately, creating a very versatile fixture. The lamp can be used for direct or indirect lighting and as a 1 or 2-way reading lamp. 

    A.W. and Marion Geller were also rewarded for their innovative floor lamp. An inverted cone-shaped metal funnel containing the light bulb is suspended at mid-height of a metal tripod, tipped with small brass balls at the base. On top of the tripod rests a round shallow metal reflector that can be tilted to various positions to direct the light to the desired angle. 


  • Mention

  • Robert Gage Robert Gage

    Robert Gage

    Table lamp , 1951
    Painted masonite, enameled steel
    56 x 24 x 24 cm - 22 1/8 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in
    Manufactured by Heifetz Manufacturing Co.

    Robert Gage was awarded a Mention for this table lamp composed of four masonite panels, two of gray and two of yellow, that create a charming geometric fixture. The panels are surrounding the central light source and can be adjusted to give various amount of diffused light, suitable for different uses.