Fri 26 May
Last night I went to a lecture by Paola Antonelli, the Museum of Modern Art᾿s Curator in their Department of Architecture and Design. The event was part of the AIGA New York’s long-running series of “Small Talks,” which features various luminaries of design speaking in relatively intimate venues — a really great program, by the way.
Antonelli is responsible for a series of acclaimed design exhibitions at MoMA over the past decade or so: “Humble Masterpieces,” which examined objects modest in size and price that also happen to be indispensable design accomplishments; “Workspheres,” which examined the evolving ideas behind the spaces in which we work; and a comprehensive retrospective of the legendary designer Achille Castiligioni, among others. They’re all original and impressive curatorial visions, but they also all focus on design in three-dimensions; architecture and industrial design have benefitted the most from the museum’s surveys of the design arts, while graphic design has suffered the most by neglect. In fact, the museum’s own permanent graphic design collection is somewhat narrow, devoted almost exclusively to twentieth century posters, which doesn’t exactly make for comprehensiveness.
Thankfully, Antonelli recognizes part of her duty as curator includes broadening the scope of this collection. In fact, she organized an all-day symposium back in February that took a serious look at what was missing from the museum’s graphic design collection and made some significant strides towards a plan for acquiring past omissions while also actively collecting into the future. It so happens this was the same symposium to which I alluded somewhat cagily back in February; along with several other designers, I was invited to join in that discussion.
I never got around to writing about the symposium or my experience. This was partly because it was preliminary in nature, and I felt it was inappropriate to make inadvertent and/or premature declarations as to Antonelli’s intentions. I also never wrote about it because it was a crazy, all-star, super-group assembly of graphic design luminaries that left me in awe and greatly humbled… I never got the consent of the other attendees to disclose their participation, but I have to say it was a roomful of living legends, extensively lauded practitioners of the craft who have made lasting and significant contributions to our profession over many, many years… and then there was me, a goose among ducks.
That said, it was an amazing experience to have been allowed to take part in that dialogue, and I enjoyed it immensely. It was also my first prolonged, first-hand exposure to Antonelli’s significant and far-reaching design knowledge. She’s easily one of the smartest minds in design today. What’s more, as I saw last night at her Small Talk lecture, she’s also one of the most eloquent voices in the field, bringing an unforced, almost effortless charm to her discussion on MoMA’s history, its relationship with the design arts, her curriculum vitae of exhibitions, and her thoughts and theories on design.
Some of what she said yesterday evening, through the lens of my inelegant paraphrasing…