Alice Rawsthorn, whom I generally want to grow up to be, writes in today’s T about Every Thing Design, Dutch designer Irma Boom’s latest book based on the collections of the Museum of Design, Zurich. As Mark Lamster has already tweeted, it is another very very big book. 864 pages, mostly objects selected by Boom, working with the curators, and from photographs.
Rawsthorn writes:Without this information, Boom could decide which of the collection’s more than 500,000 objects to include based solely on how they looked. She then paired pieces that bore some sort of relationship to each other in terms of color, shape or symbolism on adjacent pages, and on sequential ones. The result is a whistle-stop tour of design history told through intriguing — and often surprising — juxtapositions. A 1973 Edouard Chapallaz vase and 1961 Electrolux logo share the same rounded shape. A 1968 Cristbal Balenciaga cocktail dress and a pair of 1903 Baccarat vases are decorated with similar floral patterns. Even such seemingly dissimilar objects as Apple’s 1989 Macintosh Classic computer and Enzo Mari’s 1971 Sof-Sof chair turn out to be similar in composition.
I think you can already see where I cam going with this. If I object to the design blog obsession with images relieved of context and history, design objects relieved of their need to function and reduced to images, how can I not object to this? Sure, it is a clever way around creating just another history of industrial and graphic design, but if there’s no need for that, is there really a need for this, particularly as a permanent brick.
It seems like a stunt similar to the one performed by Vik Muniz in his 2008-2009 MoMA show Rebus, where it was up to the viewer to make visual and verbal connections between the diverse art and objects on display. But that was a one-time thing, and a narrative of sorts. The book looks, at least in the images I can find online, like it speaks only across spreads, floral to floral, diagonal to diagonal, swag to swag. Sure it is nice to mix it up, but it would be more interesting to me to talk about the connections too. Are they all accidents or precedents? Why do designers love black, white and red so? And isn’t it a little disturbing to equate Arabic calligraphy with a scrawl?
The book also seems curiously static as a vehicle for this exercise. Boom’s taste, writ large. If we are going to reduce the history of design to a sort of mix and match game, why not let us all play? That might be a worthy app. I’m mentally shuffling the cards as I type. What else does the Valentine typewriter make me think of? Lipstick and compacts, alphabet posters, buckets, ejector seats.