Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents Second “National Design Triennial: Inside Design Now”
Reviews Cutting-edge U.S. Design of Past Three Years
The “National Design Triennial,” a series of exhibitions exploring contemporary design in the United States, was inaugurated in 2000 by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, to study and celebrate the technological innovations, artistic evolution and cultural impact of design. Following the enormous success of the first “National Design Triennial,” the museum presents the second “Triennial,” subtitled “Inside Design Now,” on view April 22, 2003 through January 25, 2004. The “Triennial” reviews new ideas and future horizons across the fields of current practice, from architecture and interiors to product design, fashion, graphic design and new media. It is the only exhibition of its kind in the nation.
On view will be the work of 80 designers and firms, including such emerging voices as architects Escher + GuneWardena, fashion designer Tess Giberson and product designers Daniel and Christopher Streng. Also featured are noted industry leaders whose work continues to evolve and inspire, including architect Peter Eisenman, product designer Gaetano Pesce, graphic designer Paula Scher, lighting designer Jennifer Tipton and fashion designer Isabel Toledo. Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger of Antenna Design have created a major interactive installation for the Museum’s Great Hall, in which the movements of viewers in the gallery trigger a projection of animated cherry blossoms. The exhibition contains more than 300 objects, models, photographs, films and renderings, and will occupy the museum’s first- and second-floor galleries.
“Inside Design Now” is organized not by a dominant style or theme but by the spirit and focus of each designer and project selected. The exhibition, curated by Ellen Lupton, Donald Albrecht, Susan Yelavich and Mitchell Owens, is conceived as a journey from object to object, guiding visitors along the currents of contemporary design practice through a striking collage of artifacts and images.
Highlighted below are some of the underlying ideas that run through the exhibition and characterize design today. Selected designers and projects featured in the exhibition are cited here to suggest the range of work on view in “Inside Design Now.”
DOMESTIC INTERIORS REDEFINED
The designers showcased in the exhibition are furnishing interiors with new objects, patterns and surfaces. Joseph Holtzman, publisher of nest magazine, has designed an original interior within the museum. Holtzman has conceived every aspect of the room: its furnishings and fabrics, its floor and ceiling. Walls are covered in sunflower-painted jacquard; chairs are upholstered in Holtzman’s marijuana-leaf chintz. Also on view are the eccentric domestic interiors of Hollywood production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, featured in the movie “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
With a dynamic range of innovative furnishings, lighting and textiles on view, the exhibition shows that the domestic arena is attracting some of the design world’s best energies. Stephen McKay creates deceptively simple furniture and lighting fixtures distilled from architectural forms. The contract textiles manufacturer Maharam is looking beyond the traditional bounds of its business to fashion, art and design—while meeting and surpassing industry standards. Mark Pollack is creating textiles animated by three-dimensional structures. Pollack’s textile Flapper appears to have extensions sewn to it, but is, in fact, a single fabric with no fewer than 17 edges, or selvages.
MOBILITY AND TRANSFORMATION
“Inside Design Now” also examines the way interior spaces can be portable and temporary, serving the needs of mobile populations. Product designer Viktor Jondal, reacting to the increasing congestion of global mass transit, has produced conceptual renderings for HUS (Hotel Unit System), a modular hotel room made from stamped aluminum, paper pulp, or polypropylene that could be installed in passenger terminals or alongside airport hotels for low-cost, high-volume usage. Jennifer Siegal, inspired by her grandfather’s hot-dog cart, has created a series of roving kiosks and movable housing prototypes, including Storehouse, a vehicle for displaying books and objects whose design was commissioned by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum for “Inside Design Now.” Addressing the housing needs of migrant farm workers, architect Bryan Bell has devised a comfortable, attractive, yet inexpensive corrugated steel house for apple pickers in Pennsylvania.
As cultures become increasingly global, new technologies are changing how we travel through public and private spaces, as demonstrated in vehicles and devices on view in the exhibition. Cell phones designed by Frank Nuovo respond to the consumer’s desire to change and personalize this ubiquitous and indispensable object. The discovery that some users were painting their phones with bright auto paint so they could find them more easily inspired Nuovo and his team to invent removable faceplates that could be changed at whim, sparking an international craze.
Customization is also key to the Ford Motor Company’s new GloCar concept, launched in the spring of 2002 and conceived by Laurens van den Acker, chief of the company’s Advanced Design group. The lightweight aluminum frame of the GloCar is clad in injection-molded translucent plastic panels that use LEDs to change the panels’ color, intensity and frequency in response to safety conditions and user preferences. Cesar Vergara, presently the chief designer of the New Jersey Transit Corp., is attempting to make the passenger train come to life again in Americans’ imaginations. By installing a pair of 7-foot-tall fiberglass
fins on the front and rear passenger cars of the Las Vegas and Cascades Talgo trains created for the Washington State Department of Transportation—Vergara transformed the look of the trains to resemble Chinese dragons. Models of both the GloCar and the Talgo train will be on view.
BEAUTY AND ORNAMENT
Many of the works selected for “Inside Design Now” reveal a fascination with beauty and decoration, expressed from a distinctly contemporary point of view. Sensuous materials, lush patterns and exquisite production details come together with new technologies, pop culture imagery and fresh approaches to scale, color and construction. Fashion design duo LoyandFord deconstruct and re-stitch garments to turn seams and linings into decoration. Graphic designer Geoff McFetridge has designed a series of camouflage patterns whose flat surfaces come to life with imagery and color. Christoph Niemann creates editorial illustrations whose elegantly rendered details are rich with humor. His satirical cover design for the 2002 fashion issue of “The New Yorker” presents a serene Japanese courtesan clothed in Asian exports: a cell-phone fan, an earphone hair ornament, and a Pokémon kimono with a circuit-board sash.
Ornament, another facet of the renewed interest in the decorative, is seen in many of the objects selected for the exhibition. Co-curator Donald Albrecht states, “No longer is ornament a crime. After years of minimalism, today’s designers are embracing decoration once again.” Critz Campbell’s Eudora chair resembles the archetypal 1930s armchair in your grandmother’s living room, but glows mysteriously from within. Collaborative spawned the F&M series of shaded glasses in the shape of cow and deer hooves during recent scares about foot-and-mouth and mad cow diseases.
Other work in “Inside Design Now” plays with scale and pattern. William Diamond and Anthony Baratta, founders of the SoHo residential interior design firm of Diamond + Baratta, create traditionalist decors whose details have been dramatically magnified and refocused. The graphic design consultancy 2x4 is responsible for the wallpaper in Prada’s flagship New York store, where a 200-foot-long wall is covered with overscaled flowers, each filled with strange fragments of pixellated imagery.
CRAFT, AUTHENTICITY AND ENTREPRENEURIAL PRODUCTION
Designers have become producers, working to initiate ideas and make them concrete. Co-curator Ellen Lupton says, “Some of the most interesting designers working today are producing and distributing their own products, garments, textiles, typefaces, magazines, novels, music, films and videos.” Reacting to mass production and micro-specialization, many designers featured in “Inside Design Now” show a new comfort with making things by hand, taking the most simple, personal and direct route to create their products.
Ted Muehling designs jewelry, porcelain, glass and metalwork that hover on the edge of the abstract but never stray far from the natural forms that inspire them. Milliner Kelly Christy designs and fabricates hats inspired both by culture and nature. One series puts miniature landscapes on people’s heads, including snow scenes, skating rinks and picnics. Jim Zivic of Burning Relic constructs practical yet sensual furniture. With minimal intervention he transforms coal, rubber, leather and steel into functional furnishings.
HunterGather and Green Lady are a pair of small companies that produce print graphics, films and Websites as well as designs for textiles, T-shirts and furniture that revolve around playful graphics. A pillow is decorated with a star map of modern logos and symbols; a magazine rack is finished with a silkscreen of an over-scaled wood grain.
Increasingly, designers are also using their skills to both gather and disseminate original content. The best-selling writer Dave Eggers, who describes himself as a former “hack designer and Macintosh temp,” founded the journal “Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern” in 1998, at age 28. He used his basic production skills to publish the journal himself. At Picture Projects, Alison Cornyn and Sue Johnson produce Websites that document issues such as abuse and overpopulation in the U.S. penal system, using clean, elegant interfaces to weave together visual and verbal content.
Small entrepreneurs are now leaders of the typeface industry, designing, producing and distributing their own work. The design team at House Industries, located near Wilmington, Dela., are infusing digital typography with the qualities of hand-lettering and sign painting. The Hoefler Type Foundry in New York City creates fonts commissioned by clients or offered directly to designers via mail-order and the Internet. CSA Archives, founded by Charles S. Anderson in Minneapolis, is a database of digital illustrations and photographs. Anderson’s images provide fresh takes on the clichéd scenarios that fill the catalogs of the major stock houses—such as executives shaking hands or talking on their phones.
FUNCTION AND TECHNOLOGY
Designers seek to use appropriate materials and structures to solve basic problems of daily life. Fuseproject has designed technologically enhanced shoes for driving and walking. Their MINI Motoring Gear shoe is the first piece of footwear specially constructed for both functions, and their redesigned Birkenstock shoe makes the cork-and-rubber sole more comfortable by introducing a soft inner pad. Products created by Smart Design have become part of our everyday domestic landscape, from plaque-seeking toothbrushes that fit the curve of the user’s hand to easy-to-operate juicers.
The most revolutionary functional object featured in the exhibition is ABIOMED’s plastic-and-titanium AbioCor Implantable Replacement Heart.™ Unlike earlier versions of artificial hearts, which required hooking recipients to refrigerator-sized power units, the AbioCor heart can facilitate the freedom and mobility of a productive life. This four-pound marvel of miniaturization, no bigger than a grapefruit, fits within the patient’s chest and is charged by an external battery-operated transmitter attached to a waist belt.
NEW KINDS OF SCIENCE
The fields of science and engineering share design’s ethos of problem-solving and discovery. In May 2002 physicist Stephen Wolfram published “A New Kind of Science,” an enormous book that rethinks nearly every field of analytical thought, from physics, biology and mathematics to philosophy and theology. “Inside Design Now” features large-scale color computer graphics created by Wolfram that reveal the intricate and unpredictable patterns created by natural processes. Benjamin Fry is a graphic designer and computer scientist working at MIT’s Media Lab who is creating typographic systems for representing the alphabet of life itself: DNA. Fry aims to make the vast sequences of data contained in the human genome more visually intelligible.
Cynthia Breazeal at MIT’s Media Lab explores artificial intelligence in a generation of robots that mimic plant and animal traits. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to interact with her robotic creations: the exaggerated eyes and ears of elfin creatures will respond to human expression, and the petals of robotic plants will open or close, and tentacles reach or retreat, in response to movements. Tod Machover has redesigned the way people learn music with digital instruments that look like toys. Visitors will be able to sample his groundbreaking Hyperscore software, which allows even the most musically challenged to compose complex pieces by simply drawing on a computer screen.
FROM THE PRACTICAL TO THE VISIONARY
All of these projects—from everyday implements to visionary concepts—reflect the best creative thinking in design. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The “National Design Triennial” fulfills the museum’s mission, revealing the range of design practices that are enhancing people’s lives today and fueling our imaginations for the future.
The exhibition has been assembled by a curatorial team consisting of Donald Albrecht and Ellen Lupton, on staff at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, with guest curators Mitchell Owens and Susan Yelavich. Owens is Interior Design Director at “Elle Décor” magazine and a regular contributor to “The New York Times.” Yelavich is an independent consultant working on a variety of book and exhibition projects. The team has also produced a full-color book, Inside Design Now, published by Cooper-Hewitt in conjunction with Princeton Architectural Press. The book will be available in April at the museum and in bookstores. The installation of “Inside Design Now” is designed by Sandra Wheeler and Alfred Zollinger of Matter Practice.
The “National Design Triennial: Inside Design Now” is sponsored by BP.
Generous support is provided by Birkenstock, Agnes Bourne, the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., and Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz.
Additional funding is provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Bloomberg, VERANDA magazine, and Enid and Lester Morse.
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum embraces fields as varied as architecture; industrial, landscape, interior and graphic design; textiles; and fashion. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design through critically acclaimed exhibitions, award-winning educational programs and publications.
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is located at the corner of 91st Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours: Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and federal holidays. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $8; senior citizens and students over age 12, $5. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum members and children under age 12 admitted free. Free admission Tuesdays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. For further information, please call (212) 849-8400 or visit http://www.si.edu/ndm. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is fully accessible.
Effective April 1, 2003, the museum’s late night will move from Tuesday to Friday evenings. New hours of operation will be Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.