Among the perks of collecting and selling vintage menswear are the random artifacts one unearths while digging through clothes in the usual antique shops, thrift stores and estate sales. I discovered the vintage MoMA kaleidoscope pictured above (the top one actually) and nabbed it thinking I’d figure out more about why I liked it later. It isn’t rare. Both kaleidoscopes pictured here are readily available on eBay or Etsy for $10-100 (and what cool vintage Christmas gifts they’d make). Those above are two of four similar kaleidoscopes designed by artist Ernest Trova between 1965 and 1974. According to etrova.org, the first version in black with white text was published by the Pace Gallery of New York in 1965; MoMA published a second version in red with black band and white text/figures, a third version in blue and white (above top), and a final version in lighter blue with blue and red landscape, which is labeled 1974 (pictured fifth and sixth above). According to The Kaleidocope Online Book, the “Trovascopes” (or at least the two pictured here) are most likely manufactured by the Steven Manufacturing Company, since their dimensions exactly match the Steven #150 model of the same time period. The initial two versions may be much rarer, since I wasn’t able to find any available images or listings for sale.
Ernest Trova (1927-2009) was a St. Louis pop artist and Surrealist most known for his abstract figural “Falling Man” sculptures (pictured last and second to last), which explored themes of man’s mechanization echoing a religious fall from grace. Becoming a kind of personal iconographic language, Trova widely repeated the figure of the Falling Man throughout his painting and 2-D work as well as more commercial objects like wristwatches and these kaleidoscopes, and indeed viewed all his art as one unified masterwork. Perhaps as compelling as the themes of spiritual and technological fall embodied in the Falling Man was Trova’s own fall from public acclaim. Once heralded as among the most important American artists working in the 1960s and 1970s–his art represented at the Guggenheim, Whitney, MoMA and Pace Gallery–Trova is now all but forgotten in comparison to his contemporaries like Warhol. Though Trova’s work seems to have much to do with serialization and commercialization, he was criticized for his commercial ventures like the wristwatches and kaleidoscopes. Without them though, I may never have come to know their creator or his wonderful Falling Man, changing with each turn of the kaleidoscope.