From the Archive; five curators interviewed

I contributed to Design Week, in its print form, for fifteen years; Lynda Relph-Knight was the first editor to commission me as a freelancer in 1994. Until recently it was possible to search the entire DW print run, via its website, and find “full text” of years and years of design journalism, so I could access my back catalogue of articles including a regular column. Not only was this a useful research tool (with a search box), but it also functioned as a (stop-gap) personal archive too. However, a recent website redesign has adopted a sub-Instagram interface that displays just a handful of results, which can neither be saved nor downloaded, and, mysteriously, DW has cut years off its age!

Scrabbling around at home, I found “some” (but not all) tear sheets of articles and this particular one seemed relevant to share. In early 1999 I interviewed five curators who were producing design exhibitions, and we talked about their current shows. To foreground the curators’ voices I edited our conversations into monologues (the interviews were taped). Each curator also discussed the nascent field of design curating, which was evidently flourishing. Design was in the air during the build-up to the opening of the Millennium Dome (big party 31/12/99, cue Prince); the press was full of stories about architects and designers as controversy surrounded the various exhibits planned for the Dome. Stephen Bayley, ex-Design Museum Director, had been in charge but by the end of 1997 he was ex-Millennium Dome too; he resigned. See Chapter 6 on the Dome, in The Trojan Horse: The Growth of Commercial Sponsorship by Deborah Philips and Garry Whannel (Bloomsbury, 2013).

At the time the prospect of a “Millennium Bug” melting down our PCs was freaking people out but the world was still on the cusp of digital connectivity; the Internet was dial-up and mass adoption of websites by business and government was still to come. So this design-curating activity and these exhibitions remain under-documented online – just try searching for them. When I’ve found “traces” I’ve added links, but it appears that some of the exhibitions have nudged off “past projects” pages (if the curators have a website). I’ve also included links to information on individuals to show their subsequent career paths. The catalogue cover images are from my own copies.

“Display cases”
Design Week
26 March 1999, pp.41-48

Standfirst: Five curators describe, in their own words, their experiences and the highs and lows of managing and producing an exhibition. Liz Farrelly acts as custodian.
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Tracing the temporary; clues to past exhibitions

I’m apologising upfront for ranging around a few ideas here. I wanted to avoid using footnotes but not lose any tangents either; after all this is a blog post which needs to be a little more condensed than my thesis (!) but at the same time it is discursive. This is a place for me to try out ideas.

While my PhD is not a history or geography of design museums a taxonomy is helpful in order to demarcate the field, the still novel “museum type” of “design museum”. The exhibition catalogue, Design Museums of the World: Invited by Die Neue Sammlung Munich (published by Birkhäuser in 2004) accompanied the show, Design Museums of the World, staged at Neues Museum Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design in Nürnberg (17 September to 23 November 2003). A rich source of information and opinion, this surveys the field at the start of the 21st-century, and I investigate it at length in my literature review.

If I could travel the world visiting exhibitions I would, but as I don’t…I didn’t see the exhibition and I would guess that few of the MUSCON Europe delegates did either, as when a big box of the exhibition’s catalogues made an appearance at Vitra Design Museum (summer 2014), coinciding with Angelika Nollert’s keynote speech, it was eagerly consumed. Angelika had been Director at the Neues Museum Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design in Nürnberg and is now Director at sister institution Die Neue Sammlung München; the collaboration between the institutions, which produced the exhibition and publication, is mirrored by Angelika’s career.

As I’m interested in how a temporary show lives on after its “time is up”, this catalogue proves a point – the usefulness of investing in print on paper. Originally produced for the debut exhibition at Nürnberg’s new art and design museum, the catalogue is a unique resource for comparing and contrasting a number of design museums, 29 in all, at a particular moment in history. Worldwide there are about twice that number now, and while many of the institutions listed in the catalogue evolved from museums of decorative arts, or were art museums that extended their remit, most of the newly opened institutions are “purely” design focused. Along with the newbies, some of the world’s most established museums of design are reinventing themselves; this is a time of flux.
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Conference Paper: Design History at the Design Museum; perfect fit or culture clash?

40 Years On: the Domain of Design History. Looking Back Looking Forward
The Open University
Berrill Lecture Theatre
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
22 May 2015

Here’s an edited and slightly expanded version of the paper that I gave; I’d like to thank Dr. Elizabeth McKellar for organising the event and for inviting me to participate. The images are from my PowerPoint presentation.

Slide01

Since 2011 I’ve been working on an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, which partners University of Brighton with London’s Design Museum, so this paper comes out of a larger work-in-progress and started life as a search for mentions of the Design Museum in academic journals.

A bit of background; from thinking that my application for this award was a random act of “career development”, I’ve come to realise how important the Design Museum (“upper case”, meaning this specific institution [capitalized in this text]) has been to my design-focused career spanning teaching, publishing and curating. I started on an Art and Design Foundation Course in 1982, the year in which the first incarnation of the Design Museum, the Boilerhouse, opened in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum. During my Art History degree at University of Sussex it was exhibitions at the Boilerhouse – on Memphis, Issey Miyake, Handtools and British Youth Culture in particular – which enthralled me to design, from the objects on display, to the installation and display, and even the much-maligned white-tiled gallery. While the Director of the Boilerhouse, Stephen Bayley was considered “very bothersome” within the V&A and aimed to discourage people “wandering in from the V&A” (as he put it), I wandered the other way onto the V&A/RCA History of Design MA. Graduating in 1989 just as the Design Museum opened in its new Thames-side location, my work as a design journalist included reviewing exhibition; not always nice, not always nasty. For the last four years I’ve been: invited to nominate for Designs of the Year; observed the goings on in the café (not that this is a sociology of the Design Museum); talked to staff (on and off the record); enjoyed sporadic access to an “under construction” archive; visited every exhibition; dealt with the contradictions of a Supervisor who is also top of my list of “interviewees” and a very busy museum Director; and witnessed the museum prepare for its next phase.
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Anthony Dunne: two moments

Anthony Dunne on Design Week website

With the news last week that Professor Anthony Dunne, Head of the Design Interactives programme, and his partner Fiona Raby, a founding member of CRD Research Studio and a Senior Research Fellow, are to step down from their roles at London’s Royal College of Art at the end of the 2015 academic year, I’ve looked back through my archive of design magazines and found a couple of interviews with Tony. Now Fiona and Tony plan to concentrate full-time on their joint practice, Dunne & Raby, which has brought us, among other memorable moments, the “design fiction” United Micro Kingdoms (in exhibition form at London’s Design Museum), see reviewed here.

Blueprint
No. 76, April 1991, p.44-47

“Loewy’s Children”
(extract start) As the Design Museum celebrates the father of industrial design, Michael Horsham assesses its history and Liz Farrelly looks to its future (profiling five young(ish) product design practices)…

Tony Dunne’s intrepid move to Japan, after graduating from the RCA, led him to a full-time job at the Sony Corporations’s Design Centre. Being one of only two western members of a design staff over a hundred strong, and being expected to develop ten products a year, Dunne has been exposed to a rate of technological change, and social and cultural differnces, that have profoundly affected his view of product design. Using this as material for a redefintion of perception and information, he has come up with a product aesthetic that attempts a “mapping of the void”.
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From the Archive; Paul Davis spreads joy

On the occasion of Paul Davis’s latest exhibition reviewed on the Eye blog, here’s a reminder of an earlier show that I was privileged enough to stumble across…

…and if you’re in Tokyo, you’ll find Paul drawing a…
Line in the Sand
at
Ginza Graphic Gallery (ggg)
DNP Ginza Building, 7-2, Ginza 7-chome,
Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Until 28 February 2015

Paul Davis on Eye Blog

Monday, 12:47pm
1 June 2009
Paul Davis wakes up in Brighton

On first viewing, Paul Davis’s exhibition of word drawings felt a tad bleak, on a sunny Friday afternoon wind-up to a Bank Holiday weekend, during the Castor + Pollux Private View right there on Brighton’s holiday-making seafront, with pleasure jostling business for attention. A few days later I revisited the work to discover more light among the shade.
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From the Archive; Can Starck be serious?

I wrote this review of an exhibition at London’s Design Museum when I worked for Wordsearch, at the time was the publisher of the design magazines, Blueprint and Eye. I was a writer and assistant editor on both titles, from 1990 to 1994, and continue to contribute on a freelance basis. We also published Design Review, a magazine for members of the Chartered Society of Designers, which ran from 1991 to 1994. (For a seminal study of the CSD see Dr. Leah Armstrong’s doctoral thesis, Designing a profession: the structure, organisation and identity of the design profession in Britain, 1930-2010 available at the University of Brighton’s Grand Parade library.)

I came across this exhibition review during the long and dusty process of locating, scanning and (still hopefully) posting as complete a record of my published design journalism as I can muster; an online archive is in the works, hence the long and inexcusable lapse since my last post on this blog. I’m thinking a lot about archives right now. I’ve planned a series of visits to the Design Museum’s archive, which is currently being re-organisation, and I hope to post some gems from it in the coming months. Archiving my interaction with the museum is a priority too, as I investigate the museum’s online, digital and social media presence. I began mapping the museum’s website early on in my doctoral research; now that the museum has recently launched a new website there is a unique opportunity for assessing how changes in the museum’s offer are presented and communicated, and how the museum’s online presence might reflect and/or facilitate such changes.
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Right here, right now; The Future is Here

This blog is intended as a place for comment on a wide range of activities, but specifically, it is an adjunct to my doctoral research so I’ll be posting interviews, reviews and articles about contemporary design in museums. The following is extracted from a longer interview with a Curator at London’s Design Museum, which will feature in my thesis, but also relates to my on-going interest in visions and versions of the future.

Neon welcome sign/exhibition logo hangs over laser-cut graphic of an industrial/technological timeline and points towards the Future Factory

Neon welcome sign/exhibition logo hangs over laser-cut graphic of an industrial/technological timeline and points towards the Future Factory

The Future is Here
Design Museum
Shad Thames, London SE1
24 July to 29 October 2013
Alex Newson and Liz Farrelly
Interview, 2 December 2013

Installation shot of The Future is Here with exhibition design by dRMM Architects and graphics by LucienneRoberts+

Installation shot of The Future is Here with Exhibition Design by dRMM Architects and Graphic Design by LucienneRoberts+

“The Future is Here” grew out of conversations between the Design Museum’s Director, Deyan Sudjic, and David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the UK’s innovation agency, which invests in new technology for the UK Government. The TSB backs start-ups with the aim of creating new manufacturing jobs. Wanting to do more than simply promote a string of TSB projects, Curator Alex Newson hit on the idea of telling the story of the “Third Industrial Revolution”. He opens the show with an historical “time line” of inventions and scientific breakthroughs, that have fuelled industrial manufacturing from the early 18th-century to today; a “Future Factory” is installed at one end of the gallery; and a wide array of exhibits explore a range of new technologies, and include: customisable dolls delivered by post (Makie dolls); compostable trainers, demonstrating that “unmaking” may be customised too (InCycle by Puma); and a crowd-sourced sofa, designed and voted on my the public and put into production by MADE.com.
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From the Archive; Pop Panel at Pick Me Up (version three)

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Arts Fair
Somerset House, London WC1
24 April to 5 May 2014

Over the years at Pick Me Up, the importance of getting visitors involved in workshops and events has become more and more central to the whole project. By Pick Me Up 2010, Somerset House Curator, Sarah Mann, had responsibility for programming the vast and varied offering, from academic conference to kid’s weekend. She invited me to co-organise and chair a panel discussion examining the role of Illustration and Graphic Design in the music industry, tackling such issues as how the packaging and branding of music and bands has changed as digital delivery rocks the edifice of corporate control and a DIY spirit emerges. The speakers brought a range of expertise to the discussion, drawing on their experience working with music, from the late-1970s to now. The review below first appeared on Eye Blog.

Review of Music x The Graphic Arts panel discussion at Pick Me Up 2012
23 March 2012

Screen shot 2014-05-02 at 08.18.09

Wednesday, 7:48am
28 March 2012
Pop panel
Music design session at Pick Me Up with Malcolm Garrett & Kate Moross

On Friday night, as part of a “packed programme” of events, talks and workshops at Pick Me Up (the graphic arts fair at London’s Somerset House, now in its third year), I chaired a “Music x The Graphic Arts” panel discussion. Since the digital revolution of the 1980s, the music industry has undergone radical changes in formats, distribution, style and substance.

The panel: designer Malcolm Garrett (Buzzcocks, Duran Duran); critic (and Varoom editor) John O’Reilly; the prolific Kate Moross; and Tom Oldham (label boss at No Pain in Pop and Berserker, an online music/comics magazine).

Malcolm kicked off with his schoolboy Hawkwind obsession, which led him to Barney Bubbles. Highlighting the polarised nature of Britain’s tribal counter-cultures in the 1960s and 70s (naming IT and Oz magazines as “the birth of blogging”), he suggested that with Punk, “it all changed”. Later, in the 1980s, the zeitgeist was celebratory; the music industry sold lifestyles, with video and “merch” paramount, and the first sponsored tour was by Duran Duran, brought to you by Coca-Cola.
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Guest blogger; revisiting Pick Me Up (version one)

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Arts Fair
Somerset House, London WC1
24 April to 5 May 2014

Five years in and Pick Me Up is now a headline event in London’s creative calendar; undoubtedly it’s evolved and mutated, and much discussion has been generated about how it reflects and influences the graphic arts in London, the UK and beyond. But more of that later, when I visit this year’s PMU. Also, watch this space for an archival re-post of a PMU debate that I chaired in 2012, here.

Meanwhile, here’s guest blogger John O’Reilly, editor of Varoom, the magazine of the Association of Illustrators, with a long-form review of the very first Pick Me Up, back in 2010. I commissioned this for étapes magazine; it was published in “issue zero”, an experimental, white-cover experiment intended to rehearse the redesign/relaunch in the form of a quarterly “bookazine”. John explored the widest implications of PMU, as an expression of zeitgeist and as a reinvention of the exhibition/artfair.

Nobrow’s nook, Pick Me Up, 2010

Nobrow’s nook, Pick Me Up, 2010

Peepshow Collective’s DIY installation, Pick Me Up, 2010

Peepshow Collective’s DIY installation, Pick Me Up, 2010

Photography: © Sylvain Deleu
Courtesy: Somerset House

Review of Pick Me Up 2010 by John O’Reilly
23 April to 3 May 2010

Two exhibitions bookend transition moments in recent British visual culture. Back in the late 1980s a young art student took over an empty building in London’s docklands and put on an exhibition that would shape the Art World over the next two decades. Born in a recession, Damien Hirst’s show, “Freeze”, introduced the general public to a type of brash, spectacular art, and over time these Young British Artists (YBAs) combined the two-fingered, anti-establishment sensibility of their roots with a growing awareness of big-budget, Art World thrills. It evolved into brash, boom-time art, and whereas artist Robert Patterson described the YBA tag as “a kind of licence to show tits and arse more than anything”, with this second exhibition, the invitation implied in the informality of “Pick Me Up”, of a cultural cheap date, is ideologically, temperamentally and aesthetically very different.
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Voting for Design; Designs of the Year

For its annual Designs of the Year award, London’s Design Museum employs social media, an email campaign and a micro-site to engage with its audience and entice it to judge the exhibits. It also suggests that talent-spotting curation offers a glimpse into the future.

For its annual Designs of the Year award, London’s Design Museum employs social media, an email campaign and a micro-site to engage with its audience and entice it to judge the exhibits. It also suggests that talent-spotting curation offers a glimpse into the future.

Designs of the Year 2014
Design Museum
Shad Thames, London SE1
26 March to 25 August 2014
Nominees’ Party
25 March 2014

An exercise in engagement, a sure-fire media event, and a comprehensive round-up of the best design launched in a year, the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year award and exhibition is now in its seventh year, showcasing design across a range of categories; Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphic, Product and Transport. Designs of the Year was instigated by the current Director, Deyan Sudjic, to replace the “Designer of the Year” award, when a winner was picked from just four nominated individuals whose careers and recent achievements were being judged rather than any particular outcomes. Increasingly, that competition attracted criticism for pitting star-designers against rank outsiders, and for some controversial decisions. Opening up the nomination and judging process to a wider panel, Designs of the Year provides the public with an annual, international round-up of headline-grabbing ideas, solutions and products.

The selection process for this new format has also generated a worldwide network of judges and nominatee from across the design industry — the museum’s extended “family” — who are now known to curators, with both parties mutually benefitting from the association. For the past three years, I’ve been asked to nominate, and each year had a couple of my choices make it through to the “exhibition” round. Proof of how much designers and their clients appreciate this opportunity to exhibit at the Design Museum may be judged by the massive amount of social media and personal thanks generated on the “shortlist” day, when the selection is announced; and by the packed, riotous party on the eve of opening. I’m writing this after attending the nominees party, so excuse the lack of focus on particular exhibits; this show demands repeat viewing as there’s so much to see.
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