In the years between the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the final Apollo mission in 1972, American culture was preoccupied with radical and romantic notions of the future.
In the popular imagination, the year 2000 was a distant bright line between the industrial and technological ages. It was exciting and addictive to believe – or even to vainly hope – that interstellar travel and self-piloting personal aircraft were on the horizon and that disease and war would soon be history.
This fascinating and fertile period in American culture and creativity is on glorious display in “The Future Is History,” a spectacular, if jumbled, collection of space-race memorabilia, furniture, audio and video technology and publications, on view through Saturday in a multistory warehouse on out-of-the-way Chandler Street in Black Rock.
The show is the brainchild of longtime collector Martin McGee, whose trips to shows and expos across the country have yielded an enviable trove of technological and decorative oddities. The vibe of the space is a fusion of impossible chic and total nerd-vana – a cross between Carnaby Street and the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
Each of the objects in the show has a life of its own, and prospective visitors tonight will probably want to show up for one of two guided tours with McGee at 6 and 8 p.m. so they can get the inside scoop.
The aspirations of the era announce themselves immediately on entrance to the building, home of CooCooU, a sprawling vintage furniture vendor. A table of atom-themed memorabilia from the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels greets visitors, including a model of the Atomium, a massive model of an iron crystal atom.
This leads, naturally enough, into a room bedecked with Space Age items that range from imaginative Russian spacecraft models and collectible pins to publications of the era with inspirational covers that can seem laughably self- serious from today’s perspective. An adjoining room is filled with furniture designs from the period, which tended to be low to the ground and egg-shaped or otherwise biomorphic.
There are fold-out record players, sleek self-loading toasters, clear inflatable chairs and dresses made out of eye-popping mylar. There is a set of funky silverware that McGee reports was used in Stanley Kubrick’s era-defining film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a black swivel-chair that appeared on the original “Star Trek” series, and two salt and pepper shakers of the same model “Star Trek” character Leonard McCoy used for medical instruments.
And there is much, much more – all of it very loosely organized into separate rooms and still looser themes. Despite the great need for some significant editing and a better execution of the story McGee is trying to tell, “The Future Is History” has at its heart a fascinating and enduring idea. As others have written, the way we viewed the future at the height of the space race, when so much was unknown and technology appeared to be moving so fast, is remarkably different than the panic-stricken attitude many of us have adopted toward the future today.
In the end, the human imagination moved much faster than reality could hope to, while science offered frightening visions of the future that look absolutely nothing like an episode of “The Jetsons.” But it’s fun, and more than a little eye-opening, to get lost in the beautiful naiveté of McGee’s many-splendored objects of aspiration.
What: “The Future Is History: The Rise and Fall of Space Age Culture and Design, 1957-1972”
When: Through Saturday; guided tours at 4 and 8 p.m. today
Where: CooCooU, 27 Chandler St.
Info: 432-6216 or www.coocooumodern.com