Andy Warhol – Death and Disaster at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

November 23rd, 2014

Much as Andy Warhol predicated we’d all be famous for 15 minutes, he also understood we’d all be dead forever.

And that he dealt with the inevitably of death in all its poetic, brutal and unjust facets in works of art every bit as lively, critical and complex as those he created to deal with the vagaries of celebrity, trash culture and consumerism can currently be experienced in the exhibition “Andy Warhol – Death and Disaster” at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz.

Andy Warhol Death and Disaster Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

Andy Warhol - Death and Disaster at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

Much like displaying a Konstantin Grcic exhibition was one of Mateo Kries and Marc Zehntner’s first aims on taking control of the Vitra Design Museum, so to was Andy Warhol an early wish of Ingrid Mössinger upon taking up the position of Director General at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. Her wish began to become reality when in context of the museum’s 2012 Picasso exhibition she was introduced to the art dealer, collector and gallerist Heiner Bastian. A friend of Warhol since the early 1970s Heiner Bastian has published numerous texts on Warhol and was responsible for the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin’s 2002 Andy Warhol retrospective, an exhibition which was subsequently shown in the Tate London and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Through conversations between Bastian and Mössinger the idea slowly developed of presenting Warhol’s so-called “Death and Disaster” series in Chemnitz. You’ll forgive us if we refrain from making our customary disparaging remarks about Chemnitz. Yes, we’ve experienced unhealthy, unnecessary, volumes of death, near death, disaster and raw brutality in Chemnitz, but no, the reasons therefore don’t provide the social and cultural context that make the presentation of the Warhol works in the Kunstsammlungen appear so natural. So obvious. As if they belonged in Chemnitz.

According to Heiner Bastian Andy Warhol’s artistic focus on the more morbid and unsavoury aspects of life began in the summer of 1962 as he was developing his screen printing techniques. Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, 129 people died when Air France flight 007 crashed on take off, and Warhol realised that all his work was, in one form or another, associated with death and so he decided to use it to give the victims, the dead, a face, a story, a relevance. A persona if you will.

Thus one has the curious situation that just as Warhol was perfecting his technique for removing the artist from art, he was beginning with the creation of arguably his most personal and personalised works.

Andy Warhol Death and Disaster Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz Flash November 22 1963

Flash-November 22 1963 by Andy Warhol, as seen at Andy Warhol - Death and Disaster, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

Presenting some 61 objects created between 1962 and the mid 1980s, Andy Warhol – Death and Disaster at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz includes works such as Skull, Flowers, Suicide, Sixteen Jackies or Electric Chair, a work which is perhaps most impressively presented as a family of 10 prints in various tones. A presentation which also highlights that although 61 “objects” are on display, there are only 12 themes/images; repeated in various materials, colours, formats and contexts. But with Warhol that’s OK, the industrialisation, repetition and mass reproduction of art being amongst his main themes.

The repetition also helps make the images seem less threatening despite the appalling, brutal nature of many of the works, and thus helps create a more accessible exhibition than would/could/might otherwise be the case. Through the variation one has the distance to concentrate on the message rather than the image. That may not give the subjects the persona Warhol strove for, but does focus on their fate.

Slightly disappointing is what is not on show, most notably “129 Die in Jet” and “Marilyn Diptych”, the works which arguably began the series. Disappointing as that is, the selection of works which Heiner Bastian and the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz are presenting is more than adequate to allow the visitor to understand not only one of Warhol’s most interesting and challenging artistic explorations but also the man behind the bright, vivacious screen prints, graphics and Coca-Cola bottles.

Andy Warhol Death and Disaster Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz Sixteen Jackies White Disaster II

Sixteen Jackies and White Disaster II by Andy Warhol, as seen at Andy Warhol - Death and Disaster, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

In conversation Heiner Bastian impresses that the works in the death and disaster series aren’t pop art; having nothing to do with the disposable nature of everyday culture as represented in pop art. While not wanting to contradict a man like Heiner Bastian, and freely accepting and acknowledging that we are barely qualified to do such even if we wanted to – we’d argue, what is as expendable, as temporary, as transient as life. As Malcolm Middleton so adeptly phrases it “there’s a when not an if inside everybody” Or, and to remain in the Warhol vocabulary, are we all, ultimately, not just tins of soup? We have a use by date, an expiry date. But will we survive that long? Or will disease, crime, misfortune, political unrest or suicidal tendencies condense things?

And just as there is nothing as transient as life, so to is there nothing quite as permanent as death. Andy Warhol understood that. And perhaps that is why he wished everyone 15 minutes of fame.

Before the indignity, and anonymity, of death.

Andy Warhol – Death and Disaster can, and indeed should, be viewed at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Theaterplatz 1, 09111 Chemnitz until Sunday February 22nd 2015

Full details, including information on the extensive fringe programme can be found, albeit sadly only in German, at www.kunstsammlungen-chemnitz.de

smow blog compact: Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin Reopens

November 21st, 2014

Following three years closure and an investment of some four million Euros the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin – Berlin Museum of Decorative Arts – is once again open to the public.

In addition to architectural and interior design adaptations and conversions by Berlin based architects KUEHN MALVEZZI and refreshed displays chronicling the development of popular culture since the middle ages, the past three years have also brought the museum a permanent fashion section and new dedicated special exhibition spaces.

Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin Building

The Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin

As with all similar institutions the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin suffers under the sheer volume of objects in its collection and the question of how best to display them.

As with all similar institutions the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin’s solution is room after room filled with display case after display case.

In the wide open spaces of Rolf Gutbrod’s 1967 construction the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin and KUEHN MALVEZZI just about get away with it; but there is no escaping the fact that in the 21st century there must be better ways of presenting valuable, old objects. And that such museal presentations should long since have become museal exhibits.

The shortcomings of the presentation strategy are particularly apparent in the dedicated design section, and for all in the current special exhibition dedicated to chair design which, although presenting some truly wondrous and important objects, just screams “storage room”. And who wants to hang around storage room for longer than absolutely necessary? The permanent design exhibition space meanwhile commits, to quote our thoughts on the exhibition Alvar Aalto – Second Nature at the Vitra Design Museum, the “curatorial sin” of objects on white blocks.

Although, and as with Second Nature, the quality of the objects on display does more than make up for the lack of inspiration in the planning.

Everything one would expect to see is there, from Thonet via mid century US design, Germanic gute Form, and on over the golden age of Scandinavian design and Memphis to contemporary designers. All neatly abridged. Neatly stereotyped. Neatly close enough to the truth to be accessible and informative without boring or overtaxing.

And perversely therein may lie the secret for the rest of the museum. Don’t try to present everything. Leave gaps, skip a little, move things along a little quicker than history recalls.

That, or install a few cafes at strategic points on the way round the museum to allow some respite from the endless, unabating, flow of objects, dates and information.

Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin Eames Noguchi

American mid century design - just Eames and Noguchi, apparently....

Despite our reservations about the presentation style, it is good and welcome that the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin is once again open, especially from a design perspective. Berlin has numerous museums that specialise in aspects of design, for example, the Bauhaus Archiv, the Bröhan Museum or the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge, but an international metropolis like Berlin needs a location where design in all its nuances can be presented, connections explained and developments followed.

And in that sense what is particularly pleasing in the new Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin is that many of the design highlights aren’t in the dedicated design section, but scattered throughout the museum, presented in the context of the situation from which they arose rather than abstractly as “design.” And so, for example, we have a furniture ensemble from Henry van de Velde presented in context of Art Nouveau or a wicker furniture collection by Richard Riemerschmid presented in context of the Werkstätten movement from the same period. And while Berlin is represented throughout the various rooms, including delightful works by, for example, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Peter Behrens and Herbert Hirche, we did miss a dedicated look at the history of design in the city. Not that museum’s should be parochial about such things, far from it and we’d certainly be the first to complain if they were; however, given the role Berlin and Berliners have played in the development of product and furniture design, and given the current levels of creativity being practiced in the city, a focus would be nice.

As would works by a few more contemporary Berlin designers.

But let’s wait and see what the special exhibition programme brings.

And until then the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin, and its display cabinets, can and indeed should be enjoyed in their new glory.

A few impressions:

Orgatec Cologne 2014: Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

November 19th, 2014

Explaining the background to their contribution to Stylepark’s Being Home 4+4 installation programme at Orgatec Cologne 2014 Marcel Besau and Eva Marguerre a.k.a. Besau Marguerre stated their belief that the best ideas rarely strike at the desk and that, and in particular in a home office context, any space is a potential work space.

The garden, for example. On the balcony. In the dining room.

Or in the kitchen.

And so why not take the kitchen into the office.

So, or similar, is possible with the Concept Kitchen system by Kilian Schindler for German kitchen accessory manufacturer Naber.

Constructed from powder coated sheet steel the Concept Kitchen comprises six basic unit types which can be used individually or combined as required. And although originally designed as a kitchen system for our contemporary, highly mobile, urban society, the units can just as easily be used in an office context.

As excellently demonstrated at Orgatec.

Quite aside from the practicality of the system’s variable module based concept and the easy accessibility of the powder coated sheet steel construction, the units are produced by French steel fabricator Tolix, more famous for Xavier Pauchard’s, near, ubiquitous galvanised sheet steel chairs and stools, and consequently Concept Kitchen possesses the same sophisticated industrial form language and enduring charm, meaning it can be used in any setting or space.

And the fact we started this post with Besau Marguerre was no coincidence. Eva Marguerre’s NIDO stool was looking fantastic on the Concept Kitchen stand. We’ve not seen it for a long, long time, and absence really has made the heart grow fonder….

Orgatec Cologne 2014 Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014: Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014 Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014: Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014 Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014: Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014 Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014: Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014 Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

Orgatec Cologne 2014: Concept Kitchen by Kilian Schindler for Naber

(smow) blog Design Calendar: November 17th 1904 – Happy Birthday Isamu Noguchi!

November 17th, 2014

Whereas the vast majority of successful and popular furniture designers have an architecture or handcraft background, there are naturally exceptions. One of the best known and most fascinating being without question the sculptor and artist Isamu Noguchi.

Born on November 17th 1904 in Los Angeles as the first and only child of the American writer Leonie Gilmour and the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi, the young Isamu was raised in Japan until 1918 when he was sent to the Interlaken boarding school in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. Following his gradation from high school in 1922 Isamu Noguchi began studying medicine at Columbia University; however, having become fascinated, if not infatuated, by and with sculpture and art in general, he quit his medical studies in 1924 to devote himself fully to sculpture. In 1927 Isamu Noguchi was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship which he used to pay for a flight to Paris to seek an apprenticeship with the Romanian born sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, one of the leading protagonists of modernist sculpture. Legend has it that on arriving at Brâncuși’s studio Noguchi was informed by Brâncuși that he had neither need for nor interest in an apprentice. Undeterred Isamu Noguchi proposed that Brâncuși may not need an apprentice, but probably needed a stone cutter. He did. And so Isamu Noguchi spent the next six months working with and learning from Constantin Brâncuși. Following his return to New York in 1929 Isamu Noguchi met two further individuals who would have a decisive influence on his future career: the architect Richard Buckminster Fuller who installed and nurtured in Isamu Noguchi a passion for new technologies, new materials and the glorious utopia winging its way towards us, and the choreographer Martha Graham for whom Noguchi would develop numerous stage design concepts and through whom Noguchi was able to develop his passion for abstract, avant garde art and to expand that passion into the worlds of music, theatre and dance. All three relationships and the associated experiences helping form the complex, universal, thoroughly unique, artist Isamu Noguchi.

The 1930s saw Isamu Noguchi travel extensively, including an emotionally fraught return trip to Japan, as well as realising numerous stage design, sculpture, art and landscape design projects in the USA and Mexico. Then on December 7th 1941 Japan attacked the US Navy at Pearl Harbour; for Isamu Noguchi “an unmitigated shock, forcing into the background all artistic activities”1

Following Pearl Harbour all Japanese citizens, and Americans of Japanese descent, living in California were placed in internment camps. As a resident of New York Isamu Noguchi was not obliged to enter such a camp, however voluntarily entered one on Indian territory in Poston Arizona with the intention of helping develop creative and artistic programmes. The reality in the camp not matching the promises made Isamu Noguchi sought permission to leave, and after seven months internment was released on a temporary licence.

Post-war, in addition to sculpture projects, Isamu Noguchi completed numerous important public landscape architecture projects including the Sunken Garden for the Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza in New York, the Kodomo no Kuni children’s playground in Yokohama, and the Peace Bridge in Hiroshima. And increased his creative repertoire to include furniture design and lighting design; his most famous works being without question his Coffee Table for Herman Miller, his Rocking Stools for Knoll and above all his Akari light sculpture family.

Despite the success of his furniture and the popular fame they brought him Isamu Noguchi always considered himself a sculptor and all his furniture works retained a sculptural origin, a sculptural basis and were created according to Isamu Noguchi’s understanding of sculpture and art. The concept of the industrial designer working to a brief devised by a company being wholly foreign to Isamu Noguchi, or as he himself phrased it, “I was not interested in, however – or should I say not capable of – designing anything for manufacture à la mode.”2

Isamu Noguchi died on December 20th 1988 in New York aged 84, and is survived today by one of the most diverse, intense and challenging creative legacies of the 20th century.

Happy Birthday Isamu Noguchi!

1. Isamu Noguchi, “A sculptor’s world”, Thames & Hudson, London 1967

2. ibid

happy birthday isamu noguchi

Happy Birthday Isamu Noguchi!

(smow) blog Design Calendar: November 15th 1904 – King Camp Gillette Patents Safety Razor with Disposable Blade

November 15th, 2014

Despite the transient nature of the definition of “design”, an important role of the designer is unquestionably solving problems. And an important role of the industrial designer is solving problems in context of industrial production.

One of the earliest, and most elegant, examples of this dates back to the very beginnings of industrial production: the disposable safety razor blade. The patent for which was granted to King Camp Gillette on November 15th 1904.

According to popular legend the enterprise began in 1895 when King C Gillette was working as a travelling salesman for the Crown Cork & Seal company. William Painter, head of the company and inventor of both the crown cap and, somewhat brilliantly, the bottle opener, gave the ambitious Gillette the advice that if he wanted to get rich he should, “invent something people use and throw away”; which of course is the capitalist’s contorted version of “Give a man a fish and you feed for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” – “Sell a man a fish and you feed for a day, teach a man to fish and you destroy your business model”

Shortly after receiving these words of wisdom King C Gillette had his eureka moment while shaving, or at least attempting to shave; his efforts being hampered by the ubiquitous shaver’s problem of the day, a blunt blade.

Or as Gillette phrased it in his patent application from December 3rd 1901, the problem with the contemporary safety razor was the “considerable amount of trouble, time, and expense on the part of the user in keeping the blades sharp, not only for the reason that the blades used in razors of this type require to be stropped and honed frequently, which cannot be done satisfactorily by the average individual user himself, but also for the reason that the blades are worn out by honing and have to be replaced at considerable expense.”1

For Gillette the solution to freeing man from this time, trouble and expense was a thin, sharp disposable blade. A blade which was sharp when bought and which when blunt could be simply disposed of and replaced with a new, sharp, blade. The secret of such, deduced Gillette, was creating a steel blade with as thin an edge as possible.

Lacking the technical skills to realise his project by himself, Gillette approached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT with the aim of winning them as a cooperation partner. The MIT, considering Gillette’s idea unworkable, declined; however, during the negotiations King C Gillette was introduced to the engineer, MIT graduate and amateur inventor, William Nickerson, a man who possessed not only the necessary technical skills but also the vision lacked by his alma mater.

Over the following six years Gillette and Nickerson worked tirelessly on their plan until in 1901 they had not only a machine capable of producing blades of the required quality, but a patent application for the invention.

Granted to King C Gillette on November 15th 1904 US Patent 775134 describes a safety razor in which a very thin steel blade is contained in a holder “so constructed as to provide a rigid backing and support for the blade, as well as a handle therefore so that although my blade itself is readily flexible by reason of its thinness and lacks the rigidity of the ordinary razor-blade yet when it is combined with its holder it receives a degree of rigidity sufficient to make it practically operative”, and in addition “which enables me to utilize the flexibility and elasticity of my blades in a very advantageous manner, my holder being also simple in construction and easily cleaned and having other advantages which will hereinafter appear.”2

Such as creating a ready, insatiable, global market for new blades.

And while Gillette may no longer have the monopoly Patent No 775134 once offered them, Gillette and Nickerson’s disposable blade remains a highly profitable system and a powerful example of the benefits targeted design thinking can bring to both industry and society.

And a powerful example of the global truth that not only does nothing sell like that which one has to throw away, but nothing sells like that which locks the user into dependency.

Then it was razor blades. Today its smartphones.

1.Patent No. 775,134, dated November 15, 1904, United States Patent Office. Source http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?docid=00775134 Accessed 14.11.2014

2.ibid

US Patent 775134 Razor King Camp Gillette on November 15th 1904

US Patent 775134 for a disposable safety razor. Granted to King Camp Gillette on November 15th 1904 (Source: United States Patent Office)

Design and Violence at the New York Museum of Modern Art: George Nelson – “How to Kill People”

November 13th, 2014

In our recent design calendar post on the 85th anniversary of the opening of the New York Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, we noted that they are currently presenting an exhibition under the title “Design and Violence”

Although “presenting” is perhaps not the correct phrase, for rather than display objects as part of a traditional exhibition in their spacious if crammed base in Manhattan, for Design and Violence the MoMA are staging what they refer to as an “experimental online curatorial project”.

To this end the exhibition curators first compiled a list of objects and projects which have a connection with violence, be that direct or indirect, and subsequently invited international experts from various fields to discuss one of the objects in an essay. These essays, and the public responses to these essays, then form the online exhibition.

Which brings us to journalist and critic Alice Rawsthorn’s Design and Violence essay on George Nelson’s monologue “How to Kill People”

In the late 1950s the Charlotte, Michigan based aluminium manufacturer Aluminium Extrusions established what they playfully referred to as the “First Chair in Educational Television”, the holders of which being invited to present a televised lecture on a subject of their choosing.

Following presentations from architect Minoru Yamasaki and designer Richard Latham came on November 20th 1960 George Nelson and his 25 minute appeal for maintaining quality and standards in the design of weapons.

Alice Rawsthorn doesn’t like it. At all.

Now we greatly respect Alice Rawsthorn’s works, and there is certainly an awful lot uncouth scallywags such as us can and indeed should, if not must, learn from Ms Rawsthorn. However. We fear she may have missed something quite important.

Yes, in “How to Kill People” George Nelson states that design for killing has the “unquestioning support of society”
Yes, George Nelson states that there is a difference between “”the respectable kind of killing” (his euphemism for government-sanctioned warfare) and “murder.”"
Yes, George Nelson states that the great advantage for a designer working in creating tools of war is that “no one cares very much what anything costs.”

No, George Nelson doesn’t “ask whether it would be more productive to focus the design resources currently expended on “How to Kill People” on “How to Stop Killing People.”
Nor does Nelson “question whether so many designers should invest so much of their time and energy on armaments”

But then, why should he?

For although one can’t actually see it from the film, George Nelson’s tongue is firmly in his cheek.

It is a talk about design. A delightful wander through the history of weaponry and warfare which serves as an exemplary illustration of how design evolves, how successful design thinking functions and above all about a designers responsibilities.

A brutally dark, deeply comic and at times genuinely unsettling illustration. But an illustration nonetheless.

Unable to find any clever minds who have analysed the text, we’ll have to do it ourselves.

In effect Nelson begins with a basic problem: A wants to kill B. So A hires a designer to help him. B has however also hired a designer to help him defend himself. And off we go. Until we come to today’s modern “de-personified” machinery, machines in which the “designers have designed the excitement out of killing.” Indeed so complex and incomprehensible are the tools of modern warfare that we can only understand and relate to them as children’s toys.
How, asks George Nelson towards the end of his lecture, “can we re-introduce the personal element into the activity that has been man’s favourite throughout history”

The monologue is an appeal for keeping the human in design, for not losing sight of the purpose and function of design and for always remembering for whom one is designing and why one is doing what one is doing.

Design shouldn’t become so abstract that it becomes irrelevant.

At the end of his lecture George Nelson contemplates a world in which legalized killing has been outlawed, designers, he assures us, will find something else to do, “and personally I think it would be nice if that “something else” has to do with people”

Not just in terms of the tools of war, but in home furnishings, in office furnishings, in architecture.

That said “How to Kill People” is also the most wonderful critique on the absurdity of organised violence, a critique which considered in context of today’s modern drone based warfare is all the more scathing, blistering, unequivocal, and in many ways more relevant now than it was then. It has certainly got a lot darker.

But judge for yourselves.

And Design and Violence can be viewed and followed at http://designandviolence.moma.org

(smow) blog compact Dutch Design Week Special: Living Soil by Raya Stefanova

November 11th, 2014

As older readers will be aware, one of our all time favourite projects is, was and probably always will be the majestic Spore Vase by Paulo Sellmayer.

Not just because as an object it teaches us so much about contemporary society and the absurdity of the perceived control we have over the natural world; but because through discovering and dissecting Spore Vase we learned and understood an awful lot about our job and our responsibilities. Since we saw Spore Vase in Smalle Haven in Eindhoven we have genuinely been thankful that we can do what we do. Regardless of the sacrifices and challenges involved.

We’re not going to claim that Bulgarian born, Design Academy Eindhoven student Raya Stefanova’s Living Soil graduation project has or will have such a profound effect on our lives; but as a work it is, for us at least, every but as interesting, challenging and important.

In essence, the more we sanitise our world, the further we remove ourselves from those other organisms with whom we share our environment. As Spore Vase proved, they’re still there; but, and at least in the economic “north”, we are not only looking for ever new ways to eradicate microbes, but are doing all we can to avoid contact with them. Readers of a certain age will remember long hot summers eating dirt, playing in hay lofts, abandoned caravans or coal cellars and quenching the well won thirst with a nice mouthful of puddle water.

Younger readers wont. Such actions having become “unhygienic”

The bitter irony of course is that while yes doing all or any of the above can give you an upset stomach – there is nothing like getting a bacterial infection to help ward of future bacterial infections.
And just as the body needs movement to keep it fit and supple, so to does the immune system need to regularly ward of threats in order to keep you fit and supple.

But how do we achieve such without offending modern social decorum?

The answer, according to Raya Stefanova, is to bring micro-organisms into our world through soil based household objects.

An argument with which we find it very hard to disagree.

In a first step Raya Stefanova created a collection of objects from pressed soil. Over time the objects release dust, and so microbes, into the environment. Raya subsequently developed this first collection into a series of limestone objects which slowly disseminate soil/microbes through their porous structure. For us the pressed soil objects were the better solution, the more convincing, the limestone versions may have been visually more accessible but were, for us, simply too sanitised to be effective.

Obviously a vase or bowl made from pressed soil isn’t going to increase the microbial concentration of your living room dramatically; but then that isn’t the idea. With her objects Raya Stefanova hopes to raise awareness to the fact we need microbes in our lives; that our lives, our health, our existence, is and are dependent on our interaction with those bacteria, fungi, viruses and nematodes with whom we share our planet.

At the moment Raya Stefanova’s Living Soil collection is limited to decorative objects, we however are already looking forward to the next stage and a collection of decorative, functional objects. We don’t know if Raya Stefanova is planning such. But we’re looking forward to them

In addition to helping us make our homes simultaneously less sterile and more aesthetically agreeable Raya Stefanova has developed S-O-I-L, a web based platform for presenting and sharing information on microbial life. Although, officially, targeted at architects and designers, http://s-o-i-l.info is an excellent reference source for all.

Dutch Design Week 2014 Living Soil by Raya Stefanova Design Academy Eindhoven graduation

Dutch Design Week 2014: Living Soil by Raya Stefanova, as seen at Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation 2014

Dutch Design Week 2014 Living Soil by Raya Stefanova Design Academy Eindhoven graduation

Dutch Design Week 2014: Living Soil by Raya Stefanova, as seen at Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation 2014

Dutch Design Week 2014 Living Soil by Raya Stefanova Design Academy Eindhoven graduation

Dutch Design Week 2014: Living Soil by Raya Stefanova, as seen at Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation 2014

(smow) blog compact: Only Wood at Galerie kreo Paris

November 9th, 2014

Until December 20th the Paris dépendance of Galerie kreo is presenting an exhibition dedicated to the vivacious variety of contemporary wooden furniture design.

Presented under the sparklingly original title “only wood” the exhibition presents a mix of previously displayed objects and new works.

Amongst the older works on show a special mention must go to the Woodwork lamp by BIG-GAME, a work premièred at Galerie kreo’s 2008 La Liseuse exhibition, the Cork #3 storage system by Martin Szekely which previously featured in Szekely’s Heroic shelves & simple boxes solo show, and the truly monumental Hanger coat rack by Naoto Fukasawa as first shown in the 2008 exhibition, 16 new pieces, and which takes all the innovation, inquiry, contradiction, insecurity and formal reduction of contemporary post industrial product design to new heights. Or depths, depending on your perspective.

The exhibition 16 new pieces also featured the Geta Table, an oak coffee table by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec created using a computer controlled digital chisel. At Only Wood the Bouroullec’s are presenting Geta Noir, a limited edition of the Geta Table in black oak.

The Geta Noir table was, technically, premièred in September during London Design Festival 2014 as part of the exhibition Des Formes Utiles, the inaugural exhibition in Galerie kreo’s new London base; a further Des Formes Utiles alumni is London Calling by Konstantin Grcic, a project which for us, and based on nothing more reliable than PR photos, is the genuine highlight of Only Wood.

Now in recent years Konstantin Grcic may have given the impression that he had broken with his cabinet making roots. And certainly projects such as Pro chair for Flötotto, Waver for Vitra or the Traffic family for Magis tended to support such a view. His Panorama exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum should have been enough to convince the last doubters.

Observant eyes at Milan 2014 would have spotted a “work in progress” on the Magis stand that suggested otherwise; however, London Calling is the best evidence we have seen that not only is Konstantin Grcic as committed as ever to traditional carpentry, but that he has lost none of his grace and compositional delicacy despite his regular ventures into other genres and processes.

London Calling is a set of spiralling wooden library steps. But a set spiralling wooden library steps that needn’t only be used in a library. We can well imagine them working in a kitchen, a conservatory or simply in a large spacious lounge as a feature-cum-occasional chair.

Simply delightful.

Only Wood runs at Galerie kreo, 31, rue Dauphine, 75006 Paris until Saturday December 20th.

Full details can be found at http://galeriekreo.fr/

Only Wood Galerie kreo Paris

Only Wood at Galerie kreo Paris (Photo © & courtesy of Galerie kreo Paris)

London calling Konstantin Grcic Only Wood Galerie kreo Paris

London calling by Konstantin Grcic. On view at Only Wood, Galerie kreo Paris (Photo © & courtesy of Galerie kreo Paris)

Cork #3 Martin Szekely Only Wood Galerie kreo Paris

Cork #3 by Martin Szekely. On view at Only Wood, Galerie kreo Paris (Photo © & courtesy of Galerie kreo Paris)

Hanger Naoto Fukasawa Only Wood Galerie kreo Paris

Hanger by Naoto Fukasawa. On view at Only Wood, Galerie kreo Paris (Photo © & courtesy of Galerie kreo Paris)

(smow) blog Design Calendar: November 7th 1929 – The New York Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, Opens

November 7th, 2014

“The belief that New York needs a Museum of Modern Art scarcely requires apology. All over the world the rising tide of interest in the modern movement has found expression not only in private collections but also in the formation of great public galleries for the specific purpose of exhibiting permanent as well as temporary collections of modern art. That New York has no such gallery is an extraordinary anachronism. The municipal museums of Stockholm, Weimar, Düsseldorf, Essen, Mannheim, Lyons, Rotterdam, The Hague, San Francisco, Cleveland, Providence, Worcester, Massachusetts and a score of other lesser cities provide students, amateurs and the more casual public with more adequate permanent exhibits of modern art than do the institutions of our vast and conspicuously modern metropolis.”1

So announced the trustees of the future New York Museum of Modern Art their intentions in August 1929.

And just three months later on Thursday November 7th 1929 the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, formally opened its inagural exhibition presenting 100 works by Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh and Seurat.

A quadruplet who indicate that at the institution’s opening the MoMA backers’ definition of “modern” had only little to do with the spirit of change sweeping 1920s Europe and more to do with the spirit of change that had swept Europe some 40 years earlier.

But then winds of change take a long time to blow across the Atlantic. At least from East to West.

But arrive it did. On January 18th 1930 the MoMA opened its third exhibition, Painting in Paris, a showcase of contemporary French painting that featured works by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall and the Paris based Catalan Joan Miró; and a showcase which proved so popular with the New York public it forced the MoMA trustees to begin, reluctantly, charging entry to the museum. The first two exhibitions and the majority of Painting in Paris had been free; however, two weeks before it was due to close the MoMA announced that on account of the unexpected popular success of the show they had received “innumerable complaints from visitors” who had “come intending to look at pictures and have instead been trampled, with no better compensation than a view of other visitors’ necks.”"2

A fifty cent entry fee between 12 noon and 6 pm was considered the best solution.

moma new york 1929

The original New York Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, home in the Heckscher Building, corner of Fifth Avenue and 57 Street.

Just as it didn’t take the MoMA long to discover European modernism it also didn’t take long for the MoMA to expand its horizon and to embrace modern film, music, architecture and design.

On February 10th 1932 the MoMA presented with Modern Architecture: International Exhibition its first architecture exhibition, quickly followed by Early Modern Architecture: Chicago 1870-1910 in January 1933 and in April of the same year a show looking at some of the more promising and notable young mid-western architects of the day. This passion for contemporary, modern architecture was unquestionably attributable to the hiring of Philip Johnson as the first Director of the institution’s Department of Architecture: and it was Johnson who also curated the New York Museum of Modern Art’s first dedicated design exhibition “Objects: 1900 and Today” which opened on April 5th 1933 and which, as the name implies, presented objects produced between 1900 and 1933. Some 100 in total. And which according to Paola Antonelli contained many objects from the curatorial team’s own homes, and even items from Philip Johnson’s mothers house.3 Which gives an indication of the level of personal interest the MoMA staff had in the subject. And the limited resources the fledgling museum had available.

This inaugural design exhibition was quickly followed by Machine Art in 1934, an exhibition arguably as important as Modern Architecture: International Exhibition and an exhibition which not only established the New York Museum of Modern Art as an important location for presenting, discussing and exploring contemporary design but also marks the establishment of the MoMA design collection.

Curated, somewhat inevitably, by Philip Johnson, Machine Art presented objects “produced by machines for domestic, commercial, industrial and scientific purposes”4 and demonstrated, according to the museum, “a victory in the long war between the craft and the machine.”5 No mean boast. And one they underscored with a display of some 400 objects including ball bearings, propellers, kitchen units, glass vases, copper tubing, steel springs and Poul Henningsen’s PH Lamp from Louis Poulsen, an object listed as retailing for the princely sum of $24.50.

Philip Johnson resigned from his post as Director of the Department of Architecture and Industrial Art shortly after Machine Art closed, being succeeded by first Ernestine. M. Fantl and then in 1937 by John McAndrew. And while under the tenure of these two directors the commitment to contemporary architecture remained unshakable, design, or “Industrial Art” as the MoMA insisted on referring to it, was limited to the occasional handicraft exhibition or as an occasional, additional, feature of an architecture and/or art exhibition; until that is 1938 when the MoMA presented first, Furniture and Architecture by Alvar Aalto, an exhibition in which Aalto’s moulded plywood furniture was given just as much, if not more, prominence than his architecture, before on September 28th 1938 the Museum of Modern Art began what would become their most influential and enduring contribution to American design, the Useful Objects exhibition series.

moma new york 1939

The New York Museum of Modern Art's first permanent home at 11 West 53 Street

Premièred in 1938 with the exhibition “Useful Household Objects under $5.00″, the Useful Objects series, effectively, grew out of a conversation between Philip Johnson and the MoMA’s founding Director Alfred H. Barr in which they discussed their joint desire for an industrial design show “which would discriminate between “good modern design and modernistic cosmetics or bogus streamlining”"6 A desire which in our books makes both men very sympathetic. Running nine years and formally ending with the 1947 showcase “100 Useful Objects of Fine Design (available under $100)” Useful Objects was ultimately about selling products, something it did very successfully, if the reports of the day are to be believed. Which we do.

Not that the MoMA was selling directly. The MoMA presented the objects in hands on, interactive exhibitions, and provided a list of retailers from whom visitors could purchase those products which interested them. And as such was, if you will, a forerunner of public consumer goods trade fairs. And provided many American consumers with their first contact with contemporary design, a contact which established the notion of “modern culture as modest, down-home, democratic housewares.”7 And thus arguably accelerated and anchored the popular acceptance of post-war American design, and so paved the way for the commercial success of designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson or Alexander Girard.

Despite the clear commercial focus of the Useful Objects exhibition inclusion was based on a strict set of criteria; for example when compiling the inagural 1938 exhibition John McAndrew selected objects on the basis of their functionality, material and production processes.8 And this combination of usability and contemporariness was to define the Useful Objects shows under McAndrew’s successors; Eliot Noyes, who in 1939 was appointed the first Director of the newly created Department of Industrial Design, and subsequently Edgar Kaufmann Jr. the man who more than most was to establish the MoMA’s position at the vanguard of what would become known as Mid-century modernism.

A scion of the Philadelphia based Kaufmann department store dynasty, Edgar Kaufmann Jr first began cooperating with MoMA in 1938 as a consultant to the Useful Objects exhibition before in 1940 helping conceive the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. In 1946 Kaufmann took over from Eliot Noyes as Director of the Industrial Design department and one his first projects was the now legendary Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design, a competition which of course ultimately gave us the Charles and Ray Eames plastic chair collection.

Edgar Kaufmann Jr was also responsible for transforming the Useful Objects exhibition series into the Good Design programme, an exhibition series which ran from 1950 – 1955. And which took the commercial connections initiated with Useful Objects to whole new levels. Organised in conjunction with the Merchandise Mart in Chicago – an immense shopping centre geared towards the wholesale and contract trade – the Good Design exhibition featured three showcases a year: in January and June in Chicago and then in winter in New York. The MoMA showcase presenting selected products from the two Chicago shows and thus being, in effect, a “Best of”. As well as of course a museum presentation of the Chicago “in-store” presentation. One could argue an affirmation.

However one must also add that as with Useful Design, and despite the clear commercial nature of the shows, inclusion to the Good Design exhibitions was via a selection process. They were curated shows in a museal sense. Ahead of each Chicago exhibition Kaufmann and two external judges selected exhibits from new products launched in the previous six months and according to strictly defined criteria. Yes Kaufmann unquestionably viewed objects as one with experience in retail, and yes one must query, for example, the predominance of furniture by Herman Miller and Knoll Associates in the Good Design exhibitions; however, as a devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright and a man who busied himself with design and architecture theory, Edgar Kaufmann Jr also had a clear understanding of what contemporary design is, was and should do.

Nor were the MoMA were alone in mixing museal presentation with economic interests, of blurring the lines if you will between the curated and the commercial presentation. The Good Design concept was, for example, greatly influenced by the For Modern Living exhibition Alexander Girard had organised at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1949, and throughout the 1950s similar shows were being staged in museums and cultural institutions across the USA.

However, and aside from the scale and regularity of the shows, what made the MoMA Good Design shows so important was that in addition to presenting objects and advising where they could be purchased, the Good Design shows also awarded prizes and allowed all selected objects to market themselves as having been in the exhibition. Not only the start of the branding of “Good Design” but also the start of the maxim “MoMA = Good Design”. An association that many producers, designers and retailers still happily and openly play with.

moma good design

The MoMA Good Design logo.

In 1956 Edgar Kaufmann Jr left the museum and was replaced by Arthur Drexler, who would guide the MoMA’s Architecture and Industrial Design department for the next 30 years.

Three decades through which, and as with the years under Fantl and McAndrew, although the reputation of the MoMA’s architecture exhibitions continued to grow, its design department began to wane, becoming an institution much more associated with reflecting on the past than the present and/or the future. In the early 1980s, for example, as the first seeds of postmodern design were being planted in Milan and the Neue deutsches Design movement was starting to break through in Germany, the MoMA presented retrospectives of Eileen Gray and Marcel Breuer. Both valid themes for a design museum. But not exactly cutting edge. Almost as if having caught up with European Modernism in the 1930s the MoMA felt obliged to remain there while the rest of the world moved on.

Although to be fair, and without wanting to sound jingoistic, the years from 1960 onwards were not golden ones in terms of American design, nor did the new design movements sweeping Europe necessarily reach America. And despite its unquestionable international view the New York Museum of Modern Art, rightly or wrongly, tended to focus on themes of interest to America and Americans.

What did however continue was the growth of the museum’s collection, with works by the likes of Enzo Mari, Verner Panton, Jasper Morrison or Maarten Van Severen being added over the decades. Yet these works were never presented in thematic, contemporary exhibitions; instead design became something presented as “Recent Acquisition” or “Design from the Museum Collection” exhibitions rather than in context of current developments, current thinking, current ideas. Modern design.

Of late that has changed with exhibitions such as Contemporary Design from the Netherlands in 1996, the 2008 show Design and the Elastic Mind or the current Design and Violence demonstrating that the MoMA is capable of presenting interesting exhibitions that do explore contemporary design thinking and issues.

However in context of design the MoMA remains largely a place of reflection, a location for grand retrospectives, and, ultimately, in the words of Wolf Von Eckardt the place “which introduced and nurtured” modern American design9

Which to be honest, is no bad claim.

And something for which we should all be thankful.

1.”Publicity for Organization of Museum”, Museum of Modern Art Press Release, New York, August 1929 Source: http://www.moma.org/docs/press_archives/1/releases/MOMA_1929-31_0001_1929-08.pdf Accessed 07.11.2014

2.”MOMA to charge admission during last 2 weeks of Painting in Paris because of unexpected crowds” Museum of Modern Art Press Release, New York, February 17, 1930 Source: http://www.moma.org/docs/press_archives/27/releases/MOMA_1929-31_0027_1930-02-17.pdf Accessed 07.11.2014

3.Paola Antonelli “Design: die Sammlung des Museum of Modern Art. Objects of design from the Museum of Modern Art” Prestel, München, 2003

4.”Exhibit of machine art opens” Museum of Modern Art Press Release, New York, March 3, 1934 Source: http://www.moma.org/docs/press_archives/164/releases/MOMA_1933-34_0031_1934-03-03.pdf Accessed 07.11.2014

5.”Machine Art” in The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, Vol. 1, No. 3, November 1933

6.Mary A. Staniszewski, “The power of display: a history of exhibition installations at the Museum of Modern Art” MIT, Cambridge, Mass., 1998

7.ibid

8.Paola Antonelli “Design: die Sammlung des Museum of Modern Art. Objects of design from the Museum of Modern Art” Prestel, München, 2003

9.Wolf Von Eckardt, Forms That Follow Function, Time, Vol. 122 Issue 18, p89, 1983,

(smow) blog compact: HeuHütten.BergBauern.LandSchafft at the Schwäbisches Bauernhofmuseum Illerbeuren

November 6th, 2014

Given the urban-centric view of the world most of us posses it’s all to easy to forget that social and cultural change, and the associated problems, challenges and opportunities they bring, aren’t limited to our cities. An exhibition of photographs of the Ostrach valley in Bavaria by local photographer Christian Heumader attempts to reinforce this point.

Presented at the Schwäbisches Bauernhofmuseum Illerbeuren near Kempten im Allgäu as part of the Architekturforum Allgäu’s LandLuft programme, HeuHütten.BergBauern.LandSchafft aims to both explain the nature of the changes taking place in the Ostrach valley, and also remind us why it is important that these changes are managed every bit as carefully as we expect our urban change to be managed.

The photographs presented are all black and white. Now as many of you will be aware nothing, but nothing, brings us into a rage quite like contemporary black and white photography; and so we’ll ignore the monochrome nature of the photos and concentrate on the context.

As we’d advise everyone else to do.

The exhibition is based on photographs published in Christian Heumader’s books Hoibat – Die Geschichte der Bergwiesen im Ostrachtaland from 2011 and 2013′s Stadel und Schinde – Hütten und Fluren der Hindelanger Bergbauern and presents images of the typical agricultural buildings, structures and constructions of the region, often in various states of disrepair, and images of the typical agricultural folk of the region. Be that those older members who have spent their whole lives in the valley or those younger members who probably won’t.

In addition, or perhaps better put, above all, the photographs show the Ostrach valley, show that such a valley doesn’t just exist for pleasant Sunday afternoon strolls, show why it is important that an area such as the Ostrach valley is cared for and by extrapolation explain that demographic change, social pressure, technological advance and evolving identities are rural as well as urban issues.

And unavoidable issues for rural communities in western Europe just as they are for those in Africa, Asia, southern America or far eastern Russia on whom documentarists normally focus.

And so something in which we should all take an interest.

HeuHütten.BergBauern.LandSchafft runs at the Schwäbisches Bauernhofmuseum Illerbeuren, Museumstraße 8 87758 Kronburg (Illerbeuren) until Sunday November 30th.

HeuHütten.BergBauern.LandSchafft at the Schwäbisches Bauernhofmuseum Illerbeuren

Eckwiesen Hinterstein, part of HeuHütten.BergBauern.LandSchafft at the Schwäbisches Bauernhofmuseum Illerbeuren (Photo © Christian Heumader)