Ordinary objects with extraordinary stories

The Design Museum is running a seemingly simple exhibition of ordinary, mass-produced products. These, though, are not any old objects  – they all have interesting stories to tell and have in one way or another shaped our modern lives. Whereas exhibiting art requires little dialogue from the curator– it almost ruins the sensory experience – here at ‘Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things’ the story is almost as crucial as the objects on display. The new permanent exhibition reveals intriguing insights in the most exceptional of everyday objects, and the surprising origins of lesser-known designs.

For instance we learn of Ettore Sottsass’s Valentine – a central figure in the 60s and 70s avant-garde movement. His revolutionary typewriter, designed in 1969 for Olivetti, represents the very first time a work equipment was made to look playful. The machine was in hot red and the ribbon spools bright orange, plus the stylish carrying case doubled up as a stool.

This creative approach paved the way for Jonathan Ive’s iMac for Apple. Playful and colourful these computers completely altered the design of electronic gadgets, along the way helping Apple become one of the most valued companies in the world.

A section on Modernism provides a snapshot of a dynamic period of design in the UK when the likes Bauhaus designers Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and architect Erno Goldfinger, took refuge from war-torn Europe.

Breuer designed the tubular steel cantilever chair here in 1925 – supposedly inspired by his bicycle handlebars whilst cycling. This now iconic design was not so warmly received back then, which reveals how tastes evolve. The influence can be seen in British designer Jasper Morrison’s Handlebar Table of 1983, made of the simplest of elements – a glass top, timber and two bicycle handlebars.

Fashion designer Issey Miyake using recycled PET from plastic bottles to create fabrics used in his designs. The exhibition traces the dominance of plastic in our lives with examples of luxury through to everyday plastics from the last 75 years.

The opening of the museum’s permanent collection marks a milestone in the journey towards the future of the Design Museum at its new home in Kensington – the former Commonwealth Institute building – where the entire top floor will display the museum’s collection of twentieth-century design.

Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things runs from 30 January 2013 at the Design Museum in London.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks


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