NEW YORK — Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958) was one of those only-in-America figures, part grandiose visionary, part inspired tinkerer, part exalted entrepreneur, and all self-creation — right down to designing his own name. The Futurama exhibit Bel Geddes created for General Motors at the 1939 New York World’s Fair attracted 5 million visitors, and as they left the building they were handed a button that said “I Have Seen the Future.” Boast and slogan rolled into one, those words were also advertising for Bel Geddes. Seeing the future, and remaking the present in its image, was what he did.
“Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future” runs at the Museum of the City of New York through Feb. 10. It richly chronicles not just a remarkable life but also a remarkable era. That era, the years between the two world wars, had a defining look. It was functional, gleaming, streamlined. Or “dreamlined”: “Dreamlining Tomorrow” was the headline on an article Bel Geddes once wrote. Had he been present at the Creation, you can be sure that Bel Geddes would have spent the Eighth Day streamlining the Maker’s handiwork.