Design Life Now is design light

Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006

Coming into the Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006, I didn’t have any expectations. I was aware of Speak Up’s contribution and had read the NYT’s review. As I walked through I tried to see it through the eyes of someone that may not be aware of what design influences are around them daily. Unfortunately afterwards I don’t think the show made a convincing argument that design is actually that important.

I understand that this is a “national” design triennial, not an international affair so I won’t even bring up the argument about who it included and didn’t from around the world. Part of my experience was spoiled before it even really began. No photographs allowed. While I can understand that kind of policy at the Neue gallery, I’ve almost taken it for granted that institutions like MoMA, the MET and the American Museum of Natural History allow their pieces to be photographed. If the exhibition was really design life now, the ability to photograph examples should be expected. Adding to the tone were all the signs displayed say “do not touch”. While I understand that some of the items are fragile, it really makes you wonder if they are trying to be art or functional design pieces. So no photos allowed + stuffy signs = weak pretentiousness.

As I did walk around both floors seeing it through the eyes of an average civilian, what other impressions did I have? Slight awkwardness, I viewed fashion items that really didn’t have context, buildings that I wondered why were included and what the qualifications were to get in. I saw materials that belonged in a gallery and not in real life. I wondered why Kid Robot was included and why the displays that relied on technology weren’t working properly. There were three large corporate players that deserved to be there (Apple, Nike and Target). However Target’s Clear Rx was the only one shown in context of design as function instead of pure consumption. Google was included, though there was no nod to the digital photography explosion of the last couple of years.

Afterwards I did visit the gallery store. Ironically I felt more comfortable walking around there than in the exhibition space. You could pick things up, go through the books and if a person was so inclined take their object home. In that small space there was probably as much to learn about design in the past three years as there was to the two floors of curated design.

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  • litherland

    Yeah, what is up with the “no photos” thing? Even without a flash… I don’t get it.

    Somehow I had missed Roberta Smith’s review; thanks for linking to it. (Ever since I cancelled my home delivery – although I do subscribe to TimesSelect – I find that I read the NYT less, or at least less deeply than I used to. Until good screen resolution becomes the norm, I suspect that that will remain the case.) Coincidentally, I was just telling some friends over the weekend that my favorite part of the show was the Panelite. Smith definitely makes some (in my opinion) valid points, but I wish she would have amplified certain arguments, like the Surrealism charge. Kind of sad to see that Nicholas Blechman didn’t even get a passing mention. That said, the work featured in the show didn’t really demonstrate his range. Good to see Coma get props.

    So what’d you buy in the shop?

  • litherland

    Mulling this over some more, I really think that Smith also could have addressed Speak Up’s inclusion (and I don’t just say that because I have some personal involvement). It was risky to include them: how do you curate a community? It’s almost impossible to contain and present. So much of what Speak Up is about is extra-verbal, extra-visual—just extra, intangible. It’s like trying to curate water. And regardless of whether Smith thought the curators succeeded or failed, the fact that they at least attempted to negotiate the curation of a design community is worthy of mention, it seems to me.

  • E. Tage Larsen

    Litherland: how by any leap of the imagination is the Speak Up blog (and i say this because I’ve had some personal involvement) curated? It’s an open forum.

    I use the word open somewhat loosely. The nature of curating something is highly selective and pointed in a way that the curator (or small body of curators, in this case) present a thesis.

  • litherland

    Eric: Speak Up is a community. Lupton, McQuaid et al attempted to curate it.

    Am I using the word “curate” incorrectly? It was a long, long week.


  • E. Tage Larsen

    No. I conflated and misread your comment. Again, you are right …as usual. I should know better than to try to wrangle you from a 349am post.

    My vitriol remains intact just belated and ready to strike, like an adder. A late night, near-sighted adder.