Elastic Mind: Here’s A Bunch Of Really Cool Stuff

Last week was without question the week of Design and the Elastic Mind in my personal universe. With not merely multiple friends but multiple sets of friends and co-conspirators represented in it, a constellation of related events dominated my social life every bit as much as the content of the show occupied my thoughts.

It’s that content that I want to say a few words about, now that I’ve had a few days to digest it. I will certainly need to go back and see the show at some quieter time, or times, in order to render a fairer and more lasting judgment, but I did want to get these thoughts out before that initial impression fades.

Here’s the thing: curatorially, “Design” is a mess. Overly ambitious, overreaching, it tries to shoehorn too many entirely unrelated phenomena into one proposition, while at the same time failing to draw at least some of the really interesting connections that should have been made. (This is me all over the place, so YMM certainly V, but I was particularly disappointed that the show didn’t connect the dots between Aranda/Lasch’s awesome generative-algorithm piece Rules of Six and Tomás Gabzdil Libertiny’s equally beautiful, made-entirely-by-bees Honeycomb Vase.)

Many of the more conceptual pieces – and here I’m thinking particularly of Noam Toran’s and Dunne & Raby’s – need a good deal more explication, at least if visitors outside the particular social/intellectual fold in which these artifacts were produced are not to take them at face value, which is something I overheard happening. The show’s Web site is all but useless, and the attempt at information-design graphics bizarre and ineffectual. (What was up with all those weird little illegible “scale” icons?) Honestly, I would have had much, much more respect for Paola Antonelli and MoMA had they merely called their show “Here’s A Bunch Of Really Cool Stuff,” and left it at that.

However. All that said, it’s a great show. It’s great because these are exactly the ideas and materials and practices and strategies that I’d want an authoritative institution like MoMA presenting to its audience at this point in history. It’s great because it doesn’t need to be coherent to be important. It’s great because you can never say “selective laser sintering” too many times. Never least, it’s great because of the sheer and considerable beauty of so many of the artifacts on view.

I mean, of course I’m biased, but Stamen’s Cabspotting in the new, bespoke colorway produced for the show? Stunning – but not more stunning than Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair, Rules of Six, or Brad Paley’s TextArc.

So, if you can unpack the actual projects on display from the relatively unconvincing rhetoric surrounding them – and fortunately, this is not difficult – you will have a wonderful time at “Design and the Elastic Mind.” You will definitely see minds being blown and fun being had, simultaneously, which is a neat trick for any cultural institution to pull off, and especially one so set in its tracks as MoMA. There is of course always abundant reason to be depressed about the state of the world, but in some of the specific strategies, philosophies and processes on view here there’s also just enough support for reasoned hope. Experienced in the presence of others’ (occasionally perplexed, but genuine) delight, if the prospect of that hope doesn’t get you out to MoMA to check this show out, then nothing will.

4 responses to “Elastic Mind: Here’s A Bunch Of Really Cool Stuff”

  1. Boris Anthony says :

    Been meaning to post something along these lines myself.

    As you know I just returned from a 5 month derive literally around the northern hemisphere. I visited the big museums here and there (London, Paris, Tokyo, New York) and here is the impression I came away with:

    The major modern art museums are putting on loosely structured exhibits of interaction design/ubicomp/physical computing/etc stuff. The wording of the write ups the curators provide, if you read between the lines is:

    “there is nothing significant going on in the mediums we normally ascribe to what you might traditionally call “art”, so here’s a bunch of really cool stuff from the fields you might call “design”. We don’t entirely undertsand it ourselves so forgive our poor framing… but hey have fun!”

    exhibit A:
    Matt Jones playing a piece at the Mori Arts Museum, Tokyo.

    (that show, titled “Roppongi Crossing 2008,” was one of the best we had ever attended, we agreed.)
    (The competing Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo had an exhibit along the same lines but not as broad and in depth and engaging.)

    I’m tempted to yell “Art is dead!” but that would just be wrong. It certainly does appear however that people are finally waking up tot he fact that the contemporary media of art are no longer paints and canvasses, but circuit boards and pixels.


  2. natehill says :

    I just got done raving about how incredible this show was as well… but no sooner had I clicked on “publish” than I realized how frustrating it was to see all the mapping/data visualization pieces crammed into a back room as more of an afterthought than anything else. What a shame. I don’t feel like that part of the show got its due… such good stuff… the descriptions weren’t even legible on a couple of pieces.

  3. sevensixfive says :

    The most amazing thing about the show was the trip back out to the rest of MoMA: ‘So what kind of algorithm generated this painting? What? It was made by a person? By hand? Well does it move? Does it blink? How boring? Hey, let’s go look at that plant!’

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