Design ≠ Art

Release Date: 
Friday, September 10, 2004
Press Release: 

Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Design ≠ Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread”
Sept. 10, 2004 – Feb. 27, 2005

The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present the groundbreaking exhibition “Design ≠ Art” (“Design is not Art”), an exploration of the virtually unknown design works by significant Minimalist and post-Minimalist artists. The exhibition will run from Sept. 10, 2004 through Feb. 27, 2005.

Curated by Barbara Bloemink, Curatorial Director at Cooper-Hewitt, and independent curator Joseph Cunningham, the exhibition is the first by an American museum to feature functional objects by artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Tuttle, Scott Burton, Sol LeWitt, James Turrell and Rachel Whiteread, among others.

“Design ≠ Art” presents distinctive functional designs that share the limited palette, materials, and elegant geometric, abstract forms characteristic of Minimalist and post-Minimalist art. Despite the international reputation and influence of the artists on view, the majority of the pieces―including furniture, lighting, rugs and table settings―have never before been presented in a museum context. This exhibition is the first to fully examine the conceptual framework and relationship of these functional objects to the artists’ works of art as well as to their historical precedents. “Design ≠ Art” will significantly expand the viewers’ understanding of these artists’ collective output, and the intersection of art and design at a time when their differentiation is becoming increasingly debated, reinterpreted and blurred.

“During the past 50 years, artists from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread have experimented to create functional works that are rigorous and significant,” said Bloemink. “In the 21st century, design and art are not the same; but with the ascendance of design today, they can be viewed as equally interesting and thought-provoking aspects of an individual artist’s oeuvre.”

Housed in the former Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue, Cooper-Hewitt will present a number of the design works in the bedrooms of the residence, allowing for the pieces to be explored and examined in their intended function as domestic objects. Included in the room environments will be a number of domestic objects by Judd, Tuttle, LeWitt and others, affording an unprecedented conversation among the works.

Serving as a complement to “Design ≠ Art,” the Museum will be featuring the extraordinary domestic furniture and decorative art objects of Josef and Anni Albers in the “Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living” exhibition on the first floor of the Museum from Oct. 1, 2004 through Feb. 27, 2005. To provide additional context, “Design ≠ Art” will open with a select grouping of historic work by artists such as Isamu Noguchi and Robert Rauschenberg. Known primarily as painters and sculptors, these artists also designed functional objects that influenced the artists in this particular exhibition.

The extensive designs of Donald Judd, Scott Burton and Richard Tuttle will form the centerpiece of “Design ≠ Art,” allowing a unique dialogue between these masters of Minimalism and post-Minimalism. While the work of each artist is distinct, all three show a level of experimentation and awareness of historical precedents that connect their functional designs to their painting and sculpture as well as to Modernist design traditions.

“The intent of art is different from that of [design], which must be functional,” Donald Judd once commented. “A work of art exists as itself, a chair exists as a chair itself.” “Design ≠ Art” presents Judd’s prototypes as well as his final production pieces in order to demonstrate the artist’s range and commitment to design. For the first time, the stainless steel sink Judd designed for his Spring Street home will be on view in a museum exhibition. Uniting common materials with an unrelenting simplicity of color and form, Judd achieved perhaps the most ascetic pronouncement of the Minimalist design style.

In contrast to Judd, Scott Burton declared that all of his work was “furniture/sculpture,” and therefore intended to be functional. Disturbed that the art world was becoming increasingly “elitist,” Burton set out to design objects that were “intelligible to a non-art audience.” Burton distinguished himself from his Minimalist contemporaries through the use of luxurious, sensuous materials that contributed to the distinctive character of each of his furniture/sculptures. He was also among the first artists to explore public, functional sculpture and design.

Richard Tuttle recently observed that the creation of design objects by artists is “one of the great secrets of the late twentieth century, and long overdue for a museum exhibition.” His design objects, like his art, are syntheses of Minimalism and post-Minimalism. With whimsical originality, Tuttle juxtaposes unusual materials, manipulates proportions and organizes space in new ways. The exhibition will feature a number of Tuttle’s furniture and design objects, including a series of chandeliers, freestanding lamps and a new prototype, the “Turbulence chair.” Joel Shapiro and Bryan Hunt will also be designing new work for the exhibition.

John Chamberlain, well known for his use of unusual materials in car-part sculptures, also designed functional objects, several of which will be on view, including a huge foam sofa, a table made of automobile parts and a series of porcelain table servings and sushi dishes. Recently, British artist Rachel Whiteread created a series of daybeds that resonate with the works of Chamberlain but also call to mind vernacular forms common among mass-produced domestic furniture of the 1960s and 1970s. On view will be “Daybed” (1999), which, like Whiteread’s sculpture and architectural installations, is formed by taking casts of the negative space surrounding ordinary furniture.

“Design ≠ Art” also includes objects by Richard Artschwager, Barbara Bloom, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dan Flavin, Jorge Pardo, Tom Sachs, Rosemarie Trockel, James Turrell and Robert Wilson. Each of these artists’ works demonstrates the many permutations on the continuum between Judd’s polarizing statement that art and design are separate and Burton’s view that all furniture is also sculpture. The exhibition will end with an interactive work by Austrian artist Franz West―visitors will be encouraged to add colored masking tape to a table and two chairs―turning the question of how we distinguish between art and design back to the audience.
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