To the visitor, a museum might appear as a collection of objects. And it certainly is, a collection painstakingly assembled by generations of curators. But intrinsic to MoMA’s curatorial approach is the museum as a collection of ideas, represented by the objects (which convey concepts like abstraction, organicism, and postmodernism) and also communicated though the curator’s selection and grouping of objects. As curators, we are constantly identifying timely concepts worth exploring and representing through MoMA’s collection. Because design is a field often directly engaged with the technology and issues of its time, it demands a contemporary approach and interpretation. Our upcoming exhibition A Collection of Ideas presents several lenses through which MoMA looks at design and the contemporary world—significant areas of research that examine the connection between design and violence; the increasingly important field of interaction design; and the relationship between nature and the built environment, which demands urgent attention and redefinition.
“Organic Design,” the first idea explored in this installation, presents the most recent manifestations of a centuries-old quest—learning from nature how to build elegantly, economically, and sustainably. Organic design, influenced by natural forms and processes, has advanced very rapidly in the 21st century. Computer-aided design and 3-D printing technologies have enabled designers to emulate nature’s economies and building methods. Joris Laarman’s 2006 Bone Chair, for example, was designed using three-dimensional optimization software that mimics the generative process of bones to concentrate the object’s mass and strength in the areas that bear the most stress.
“Design and Violence” (also an online curatorial experiment at designandviolence.MoMA.org) seeks to comprehend the complex impact of design on the built environment and on everyday life, as well as the manifestations of violence in contemporary society. Designers aim to change the world around them—often in fundamental ways—and the consequences can be drastic when they overstep, indulge temptations, adopt abhorrent goals, or even simply err. The Museum’s Camcopter S-100 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, designed by Gerhard Heufler and Hans Georg Schiebel in 2004, is a drone originally intended for aerial landmine detection and eradication. Drones are design objects that have seen an upsurge in news coverage for applications that range from the hostile (as weapons of warfare) to the benign (as delivery vehicles for consumer products).
“Interaction Design” is another idea represented in the display of eight newly acquired videogames (from 1972’s Pong to 2011’s Minecraft), and by digital icons such as the ubiquitous Google Map Pin. The exhibition’s curator, Paola Antonelli points out that,”Interaction designers build the digital dimension of our lives, choreographing everything from the way we tap the screens of our mobile devices to our exchanges with ATM machines.” Our ever more digital world calls for interaction design that is aesthetically appealing, functionally and structurally ingenious, and innovative in how it approaches technology and anticipates user behavior.
These clusters of objects showcase not only new acquisitions and highlights from MoMA’s collection, but also timely categories of investigation and their representative design forms—new ideas and new approaches for the contemporary age.