Yesterday I read a succinct little book called Which “Aesthetics” do you Mean? – Ten Definitions by Leonard Koren, in which he discusses alternative ways of understanding the meaning of aesthetics.

I was fascinated by the hybrid-functionalist definition, saying that an art object is always “about something” as opposed to just “being something.” Leonard uses the example of a hamburger, which is certainly “about something” if it’s on a plinth in a gallery, but is merely “being something” when you consume it as food. The argument is expanded to include the intention of the artist and interpretation by the public, but that starts to get into the tortuous realm of philosophical thought. I am quite happy to stay with the simplistic version, but I want to relate it to design, so how about this?

An object is a thing, a work of art is about something, but a design is for something.

The “for” implies designing to solve a problem with a sense of purpose, whereas the “about” of art implies commentary.


Yves Klein’s Untitled Anthropometry (1960), from the Hirshhorn’s collection


The discussion of art in the book is illustrated by images, among them Anthropometry by Yves Klein, originally created in 1960. Yves staged a performance during which he instructed models to cover themselves in blue paint and press their bodies onto white paper, calling them “living brushes.” I was in Washington DC last week for the National Design Awards at the White House and saw the exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers at the Hirshhorn. It’s a really interesting retrospective that includes this artwork as well as a documentary film covering the event.


It’s great to see the lively influence that Richard Koshalek is having since he took over as director at the Hirshhorn. One of the first things he did was to commission Diller, Scofidio + Renfro to imagine something excitingly new to do with the concrete doughnut designed by Gordon Bunshaft in 1974. They came up with this magical bubble, a pneumatic structure enclosed by a translucent membrane that squeezes into the void of the building and oozes out at the top and bottom. Richard is hoping to have it in place during 2012.


Bubble – overview


Bubble – side squeeze

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