June 10, 2010  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Taking a Hammer to Modern Design: Jordi Canudas’s Less Lamp

I love Jordi Canudas‘s Less Lamp, seen in the video above—a super playful and no-nonsense approach to the business of bringing light into a space. Assuming that the primary purpose of a light fixture is simply that of casting light, you can’t get more explicit than a bulb, a hanging cord, and a shade to cut the glare and to reflect and amplify the light.And that is what the Less Lamp is: simply a hanging bulb inside an egg-shaped shade—a full egg made of plaster, mind you, in either black or white—that comes with a pick hammer for cracking it open. It carries its light within, and it’s your job to bust it free.

One of the exciting aspects of contemporary art is how an interaction with the viewer has become central to the experience of the work. Design objects almost always imply that. I guess that is what they call “function”: we sit in chairs, we ride our bicycles and drive our cars, we set our clocks so we can live by their time, we put flowers in vases and we place them on our tables. We inhabit our design objects fully, but rarely do we get to be part of their making.

The Less Lamp leaves the final design of the shade up to you. With the hammer pick you can create a geometric pattern or chip out a constellation like Pleiades or the Big Dipper, spell out words like enlightenment (or light as Canudas does in his “instructional video”), or simply crack it in half. At MoMA we chose to crack ours below about halfway and also made a couple of planetarium-inspired star holes around the dome.

And that brings me to another reason for me to love this lamp: as Collections Preparator and Art Handler for the Architecture and Design department, I got to be the one to crack open MoMA’s Less Lamp. Breaking museum objects is generally not a good thing, but in this case it was my job.

At first “breaking” the object was more than just a little disconcerting…but after I got started I wanted to crack open half a dozen or so more. I thought I’d like to try for different effects, but then I never like to stop with just one Halloween pumpkin either. Jack-o’-lanterns, just like the Less Lamp, are magically delightful and engaging DIY light fixtures where less can still be more.

The Less Lamp is currently on view in Action! Design over Time in the Architecture and Design galleries on the third floor.


How fortunate for MOMA that your Collections Preparator and Art Handler is such a vivid, engaging writer and art critic. Who could read this and not appreciate this object and want one of their own to crack open? Thanks for your details – they read beautifully.

I share Diana’s sentiment ^above^! This is a great post.

You know I have to agree with Diana, this was so thoughtfully written when you look at the video -I, like her, could have cracked open more myself once having gotten started.
Great details indeed.

Just adding my voice to concur and amplify the sentiments above. Great post! Plus, the sound of the tapping really makes it. How gratifying!

great commentary on the co evolution of design and high art. my initial reaction to the work was to read outright rejection of the convergence. i then started to think about the nuance.

the bauhaus arguments are still relevant – or perhaps they are now even predominant?

it is funny for me because I happened upon this page while looking for a modern lamp that i wanted to acquire, but the this gives pause.

the participatory role of observer is important. however my own experience – and others seem to agree – is a function of the participation of another with the starting work.

I fully agree with you all. Amazing words!
Thanks Pamela Popeson!

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