Ferrari: Under The Skin opens at Design Museum

‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ said Enzo Ferrari famously. His is a fascinating story and a brand built entirely on passion and determination. Enzo, in the midst of post-war austerity in Italy, and against all odds, set out to conceive a company that creates pure and efficient sports and race cars, incredible examples of industrial design and objects of great beauty. According to Sir Terence Conran: ‘We have all at some point had delicious dreams of owning a Ferrari.’

A new exhibition Ferrari: Under The Skin at the Design Museum sets out to explore the life and work of this visionary man and the marque he conceived seventy years ago. Read the full review here.


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London Design Museum to relocate with new ambitions

The Design Museum has announced it will open in its new home in west London on 24 November 2016. The building in Kensington overlooks Holland Park and is the result of a £83m transformation of the 1960s listed former Commonwealth Institute building.

The new space is three times the size of the current Bermondsey site. The three floors will house three galleries, a library and learning centre, two events spaces, an auditorium for talks and seminars, a café, restaurant, shop, film studio and offices. It promises to be a small scale institution dedicated to design.

When the Design Museum originally opened in 1989, London was a very different place. Discussions on design were in their infancy, even here in the capital city. The brainchild of Sir Terrance Conran and Stephen Bayley, the Design Museum of the 1980s was hugely radical. It elevated the status of design to be (almost) on par with fine art, and initiated a much needed discourse on the subject. Soon a few universities began teaching Design History as an undergraduate course, which incidentally is where I ended up. These were exciting times.

Much has changed since then, not just in London but throughout the country. There is a higher awareness of design amongst the general public helped by retail outlets like Ikea. Copies of mid-modern classics, mostly terrible, can now be purchased on most high streets, and many of these pioneering designers are now household names.

So what is the role of a Design Museum in a world where design is seemingly everywhere? To start with, the new premise will allow for more diverse ways of communication. The directors are thus planning a challenging programme that encourages new work and new thinking. The museum director Deyan Sudjic wants the space to act as a bridge between the V&A and the Science Museum – both only a stone-throw-away.

Encouragingly, the V&A has in the last decade or so successfully shed its dusty association with ‘old art’ to be a hugely dynamic space running some inspired exhibitions that challenge the separation of the various art and design groups and ‘isms’.

This fantastic building has become a hang-out for families on weekends, the likes of me can be spotted during the week tapping away on the laptop in the glorious dinning rooms, or outside in the sunny courtyard, and on some Fridays when it keeps its doors open late, the V&A transforms into a vibrant social space.

Here you can appreciate the Italian renaissance art, admire Asian pottery, be dazzled by crown jewels and experience the avant-garde world of Alexander McQueen in a highly interactive digital space all in one afternoon. The V&A encourages curiosity – it never force-feeds the viewer and this is a rare trait amongst often sterile art institutions.

So, it will be interesting to see how the Design Museum will evolve in its new home, and what it can offer that is an alternative to the V&A. Sudjic promises a more interactive space saying, ‘the touring, digital and publications programme will take the message around the world.’ He also says the museum ‘will nurture new generations of designers and continue its history of recognising and supporting emerging design talent.’

The Design Museum’s inaugural exhibition gives the impression they’re on the right track. Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World, features a series of newly commissioned installations, promising to be an insight into our hopes and doubts about the pace and impact of change.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read reviews of some of the more intriguing V&A recent exhibitions: What is Luxury?, Alexander McQueenRussian Avant-Guard Theatre: War, Revolution and Design, 1913-1933Double Space for BMW – Precision and Poetry in Motion.

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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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Digital crystal: The future of memory

An exhibition at the Design Museum in London is challenging contemporary designers to explore – in the medium of crystal – the future of memory in our fast-developing digital age. The premise of Digital Crystal: Swarovski at the Design Museum is to create a debate around the changing nature of our relationship with objects over time.

‘With the demise of the analogue era our relationship and connection with personal memory, photographs, diaries, letters, time and ephemera is changing,’ explains the museum’s director Deyan Sudjic.

‘Digital Crystal questions our relationship with the changing world. It seems all too easy to lose connection with the tangible and the real, as we move ever faster through a digital age where memory and the personal possessions we once held so highly are now online, or gone in an instant.’

Ron Arad, Yves Béhar, Maarten Baas, Troika and Fredrikson Stallard are amongst the 15 designers who have worked alongside Swarovski to create works that explores some of these notions. They feature alongside a select number of updated works from the Swarovski archives.

The public is invited to share memories and be a part of the exhibition by tweeting or texting Ron Arad’s installation, Lolita, from anywhere in the world – sending messages that travel around the crystal using complex LED technology.

Digital Crystal: Swarovski at the Design Museum from 5 September 2012 – 13 January 2013

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Changing face of drawing fashion

Drawing – as in the traditional art of applying pen to paper – maybe a dead medium in certain design disciplines, yet surprisingly it has remained a major force in fashion design. The advent of photography changed the role of the medium, but it has evolved to represent a brand’s history and identity.

‘Drawing Fashion’, a new exhibition at London’s Design Museum, sets out to explore this through a rich collection of fashion illustration from the 20 and 21 century collected over 30 years by Joelle Chariau of Munich’s Galerie Bartsch & Chariau who is a leading experts in this field. Working with fashion historian and writer Colin McDowell, the duo have put together a rather impressive exhibition that charts the evolution of fashion drawing through art nouveau, deco, pop, until the present day.

Originally used as a tool for advertising and showing people how to dress, illustration was forced into finding a new identity with the onset of photography. When Vogue replaced illustration on its cover with photography in the 30s, fashion illustration was forced into exile. This, though, was a short lived absence, and soon illustration found its place evolving alongside photography – adding what the new medium couldn’t offer which is visual luxury.

Gathered under one roof, these illustrations – some are more art than fashion – are not only a wonderful overview of the changing ‘fashions’ in fashion drawing, and a glimpse into the style of the time, but also a reminder of the impact it has had on fashion photography itself.

The exhibition includes drawings from the house of Chanel, Dior, Comme des Garcons, Poiret, Lacroix, McQueen and Viktor & Rolf. Also on show are rare works by key artists at the height of their careers. These include drawings by art deco illustrator Georges Lepape – who incidentally also drew programmes for the famous Ballets Russes.

Others include Rene Gruau, one of the key figures in this area who represented fashion as art. Working in the 40s and 50s, Gruau was a favourite of the haute couture world. His illustrations fused art and fashion, highlighting something unique in the way fashion can be portrayed which had a profound impact on fashion advertising and marketing.

Most evocative are drawings by Antonio (Antonio Lopez), a regular on the cover of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, always capturing the spirit of these decades. There are also drawings by current leading artists in this field including Aurore de la Morinerie, Mats Gustafson and Francois Berthoud.

In the rather fickle world of fashion, it is comforting to find an exhibition that places something as seemingly trivial as fashion illustration in a wider context through film clippings of the artists at work, and rare magazine covers that help breath life into these pieces.

‘Drawing Fashion’ is on at the Design Museum until 6 March 2010.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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