WILL THE REAL “DESIGN” PLEASE STAND UP?

One of the problems with the contemporary “Design” movement is that quite a lot of the pieces are seemingly extreme just for the sake of being “different”. Many designers forget that a little originality goes a long way. Also, many of the new designs are far from being actually functional.  There are chairs that one cannot really sit on, tables that are too fragile for use, and bookcases that hold perhaps 10 books. They are really more sculptures than furniture, and one could argue that the creators of these pieces, in their quest for something new, have failed as furniture designers – they have forgotten, or ignored, the dictate of the famed American architect Louis Sullivan  – “Form follows function”.

Jules Bouy, Chair, ca.1931

While no one would suggest that designers should not be producing exciting new designs, exactly how many non-functional pieces does one really want in a room? If a piece of furniture cannot be used for its ostensible purpose, is it a chair, table, or sculpture? If it is really a “sculpture” why not call it that, and not pretend that it is something else? Is it not the responsibility of a really talented designer to create exciting pieces that can be used?  I know that many designers might consider my saying this as ignorance on my part – I would consider this arrogance on their part.

Mouille, Spiral Table, 1962

There also seem to be a number of young designers, fresh out of art school, who do not see why they should not enjoy instant success. I often see estimates in auction catalogues for unknown new designers with very high estimations. They seem to forget that the designers who are now famous have been working for a long time, and that many of them worked for furniture manufacturers, where they established their reputation, before going on to work independently. Also, quite a few of the new designers seem to be “one-trick ponies”. They have one good idea, and work it to death.

Max Ingrand for Fontana Arte, Table Lamp, ca.1955

I am certainly not suggesting that collectors should not be excited by new and original designs, quite a lot of which are excellent and worthy of attention. What should be remembered, though, is that the term “Design” has been co-opted, and has been so over-used as to now being essentially meaningless. Any new movement of any period, from Victorian Gothic through Art Noveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus, 1940’s Neo-Classicism, Danish Modern, 1950’s, can rightfully be considered Design, and many of these movements produced work that was truly revolutionary for their time.  There are outstanding works from any of these periods that rival, and often surpass much of what is being done today.

Gilbert Poillerat, Table, ca.1940s

I feel that it is important that the great designs of earlier periods should not be forgotten or ignored in the rush to have the latest “status” piece by a hot new designer.  There are wonderful things out there – in galleries and at antiques fairs that are waiting to be re-discovered and they work and play well with contemporary work – after all – it’s ALL design.

Wendell Castle, Abilene S Chair, 2009

Audrey Friedman for Primavera Gallery

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