Paola Antonelli, design curator at MOMA, filled the room, and then some, earlier this week at the David H Liu Memorial Lecture in Design at Stanford. She gave an overview of her career, talked about the challenges of curating design (i.e., when some cool inflatable sixties (?) chair comes out of storage and the plastic has basically melted. She also went through several key exhibitions and explained her process. I made notes about random bits and pieces that struck me, after the jump.Antonelli quoted someone else's definition of modern - Modern is anything that does not hide the process of how it is made (Thanks, Joe)those items that don't hide how they were made - this is my paraphrase (if anyone has the source of the original quote, let me know)
In 1934, their inaguaral design exhibit was by Philip Johnson (a co-founder or other critical force in the launching of MOMA) entitled Machine Art. They presented designed items as art - springs and propellors upon pedestals in a plain white room. She noted that there was a distance created between the viewer and the item, however.
Now, as a culture, we have changed. Consider going to movies - everyone knows what a Director of Photography is, this changes how we enjoy movies. What can she do to change, similarly, how we enjoy design? She is looking to close this distance established by Johnson, but also respect this original approach even as we are now 70 years later.
In her Mutant Materials exhibit she made sure there were two copies of many things - one that could be touched (and that would eventually go to waste) and another one that would remain in exhibition. I saw this repeated in the Blobjects exhibit last year.
Other funny stories such as requesting a a jet airplane for an exhibit and the initial lack of response, and then finally getting an even nicer plane than she had intended - which even shifted the feel of the entire exhibit.
She has a strong focus on attracting people to her exhibits, even to do better for the design visitors than those elsewhere in the museum, almost in competition with the overwhelming power of the MOMA art collection. She talked like an experience designer, and of course, that is what she's doing.
She made a provocative statement "design needs good narrators" - even though there were some questions about it, it seemed like a comment that was open to a variety of interpretations. She felt that the design writing in the popular or business press was boring, that there was art and dance criticism, but nothing for design. But she was also talking about tools for telling stories about design itself, like the illustrations she commissioned to go with an Arco lamp display.
She showed some examples from Safe including a felt womb-like sphere that a designer made for his neice, after her mother died. This item was something that as a curator Antonellie felt belonged in the exhibit, but not in the collection. It's not clear what those criteria are, but the fact that she saw them as different was somehow interesting.
In her concluding thoughts she suggested the power of design, through exhibits like those at the MOMA, could help make issues and concerns more visible to policy makers rather than simply displaying cute objects.
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