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Charles Eames (American, 1907–1978), Ray Eames (American, 1912–1988). Prototype for Chaise Longue (La Chaise). 1948.

Hard rubber foam, plastic, wood, and metal, 32 1/2 x 59 x 34 1/4″ (82.5 x 149.8 x 87 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designers. Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

Sony Corporation (Tokyo, Japan, est. 1946). Television (TX8-301). 1959.

Plastic, metal, and glass, 8 1/2 × 8 1/4 × 10″ (21.6 × 21 × 25.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder. Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Installation view, The Value of Good Design at The Museum of Modern Art

New York (February 10–June 15, 2019). Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

Hiroshi Ohchi (Japanese, 1908–1974). Mitsubishi Sewing Machine. c. 1950s.

Silkscreen, 28 1/4 × 20″ (71.8 × 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer. © 2017 Hiroshi Ohchi. Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Installation view, The Value of Good Design at The Museum of Modern Art

New York (February 10–June 15, 2019). Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

Installation view, The Value of Good Design at The Museum of Modern Art

New York (February 10–June 15, 2019). Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

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Lab 19 Mar 2019

MoMA’s ‘The Value of Good Design’ focuses on democratising the potential of design

MoMA’s ongoing exhibition ‘The Value of Good Design’ raises questions like what is “Good Design” and how can it enhance everyday life. CQ spoke to the curators of the exhibition to get some interesting insights.

Along with other relevant information, the official Press Kit of ‘The Value of Good Design’, an ongoing exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), has compiled 56 quotes about what is ‘Good Design’. And it is fascinating to read what different designers/curators/thinkers consider ‘Good Design’. While Eliot Noyes, Director of Department of Industrial Design at MoMA in 1944, feels that “a good design should have nothing that is irrelevant, accidental, or unrelated to the main idea.” Betty Pepis, in The New York Times in 1951, mentioned, “Since undefinable emotional factors as well as judgment play a part in what one likes, good design will always be different things to different people.”

What is ‘Good Design’ and how can it enhance everyday life is a question not only being currently raised by MoMA’s ongoing exhibition, but something that’s travelled across times.

Hiroshi Ohchi (Japanese, 1908–1974). Mitsubishi Sewing Machine. c. 1950s.

Silkscreen, 28 1/4 × 20″ (71.8 × 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer. © 2017 Hiroshi Ohchi. Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

‘The Value of Good Design’ explores the democratising potential of design, which itself traces its roots way back to MoMA’s Good Design initiatives, that championed well-designed, affordable products through two exhibition series called ‘Useful Objects’ (1938–48) and ‘Good Design’ (1950–55). The current exhibition aims to inspire reflection on everyday design items from the current times, and features furniture, textiles, household items, videos, posters, etc. from the museum’s collection.

Sony Corporation (Tokyo, Japan, est. 1946). Television (TX8-301). 1959.

Plastic, metal, and glass, 8 1/2 × 8 1/4 × 10″ (21.6 × 21 × 25.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder. Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Talking about the challenges of curating this colossal exhibit, Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Andrew Gardner, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, tell CQ, “The basis of our collection is really rooted in acquisitions made in the early years of this Museum, so the materials available to select from are quite extensive. Probably the hardest part was whittling the checklist down. We were sorry to say goodbye to the B.K.F. chair, but alas the physical real estate devoted to Latin American design was not large enough to accommodate it and Lina Bo Bardi’s bowl chair as well.”

“The basis of our collection is really rooted in acquisitions made in the early years of this Museum, so the materials available to select from are quite extensive. Probably the hardest part was whittling the checklist down.”

They also mention that despite the efforts to present an international range of material, much of this effort is inevitably centered on European economies.

Installation view, The Value of Good Design at The Museum of Modern Art

New York (February 10–June 15, 2019). Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

Even if that was the case, we were curious to know if at least some of the designs/products from Asia made it. Many objects from Japan made it to the current exhibit, we are told, including products designed by Sori Yanagi, who set up the first postwar industrial design studio in the country, a Sony television, and a poster advertising Mitsubishi sewing machines.

Apart from that, Kinchin and Gardner tell us, “In 1955, MoMA staged the influential exhibition Textiles and Ornamental Arts of India, part of a larger campaign to situate the ethos of ‘good design’ in a global context here at MoMA. Sadly, the objects on view in the exhibition were not acquired into the collection; the only record that remains in our collection is a film produced by Charles and Ray Eames. Since this is a collection-based show, we were limited by what we already had.”

Charles Eames (American, 1907–1978), Ray Eames (American, 1912–1988). Prototype for Chaise Longue (La Chaise). 1948.

Hard rubber foam, plastic, wood, and metal, 32 1/2 x 59 x 34 1/4″ (82.5 x 149.8 x 87 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designers. Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

“That said, there is a catalogue for a 1959 exhibition organized by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., that traveled to New Delhi and other sites in India titled Design Today in America and Europe. This kind of two-way cultural exchange was very much a feature of government subsidized initiatives in this period, in which MoMA was heavily involved.”

“Like any products that have a wide popular appeal, there is a growing market for counterfeits and pastiches, making it all the more important to give visitors a chance to see and experience the material qualities of the original production.”

An important aspect for the curatorial approach to this exhibit was about addressing the age old and crucial question of trying to protect the copyright of iconic designs while making them accessible to a wide public.

Kinchin and Gardener say, “As an institution concerned with contemporary practice in its manifold forms, MoMA has always sought to defend and protect artistic authorship. A fundamental principle of modernist design practice was to make products available to the widest possible constituency by means of industrial production and replication. Like any products that have a wide popular appeal, there is a growing market for counterfeits and pastiches, making it all the more important to give visitors a chance to see and experience the material qualities of the original production.”

Installation view, The Value of Good Design at The Museum of Modern Art

New York (February 10–June 15, 2019). Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

The curators, in fact, believe that developing a kind of discrimination for the original design and becoming familiarised with a wider set of designer names allows visitors to make more informed buying decisions. They also mention that some of the items in the show have remained in production since mid-century, not all of them designed by individual designers who are widely known or credited.

“One work that plainly illustrates the constant process of revising the historical record is the high back armchair, designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. What few people have made a point of mentioning is that it is upholstered in a fabric by the Bauhaus alum Marli Ehrman. Though she played a critical role in the success of this design, it was only about ten years ago that she was attributed to the production of this chair,” they say.

Installation view, The Value of Good Design at The Museum of Modern Art

New York (February 10–June 15, 2019). Digital image © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

We hope that exhibition like this one trigger more and much-needed conversations around design and its value in our everyday lives, and thereby inspire designers and  consumers both.

‘The Value of Good Design’ is on view at MoMA until June 15

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