Friday, 20 March 2009

I Think Before I Shop

Do you know what is thrilling to a design nut like me? To go to a good design show and find two of your favorite purchases under the spotlight. That happened to me Sunday when I went to MAK/Frankfurt to look into an exhibit called, I Think, Therefore I Shop. (A word later on that pretentious and fallacious takeoff on Barbara Kruger's I Shop, Therefore I Am.) The good news was my serendipitous encounter of another unrelated show called Less Is Better (a much more agreeable formula than Mies van der Rohe's puritanically narrow Less Is More), a tribute to Braun Design's resident Genie, Dieter Rams. (My two treasures are a small bedside clock that tells you, lighted, in the middle of the night, what time your insomnia is clocking, and a larger, but still agreeably compact, stereo radio with my favorite frequencies ready to punch up.) Both are clad in black dull lacquer, with controls in highly visible white, green and red.

It was a great pleasure to learn about the career of my benefactor, and see the whole range of his creations in the vitrines. Designers are even more anonymous creators than architects, and I firmly believe that the low level of median design in the advanced economies derives mainly from an utter lack of basic education on the subjects for future consumers. MAK is a pioneer in extending this education. Only last year I was relishing at MAK their display of the annual Braun student design competition.

And recently on a trip to Stuttgart, their exceedingly attractive Kunst/Design posters at the main train station inveigled me into a trip to the airport to see another Braun show. It was a watershed experience for me. The art half of the exhibition was full of half-baked avant-garde pieces, not one of them worth even a cursory glance, let alone sustained meditation. They were on the level of last year's Turner prize in London which went to a Kunst Klutz who designed a space where the lights went on and off, period. Come on. Is that a reasonable payoff for the millions of Euros we invest annually in Fine Arts curricula?

Meanwhile, across the hall in that airport concourse, the design half was luminous in its collection of everyday objects in which technological intelligence and aesthetic feeling were melded into transcendently and permanently attractive objects. Braun not only designs well, it is educating future consumers to understand the importance of such designs. The only other such broadly based mechanism is the firm, MANUFACTUM; which was started because its founder couldn't find common necessaries well designed enough to relish while using. He even tried to institutionalize his vision by opening a store in Weimar's Neues Museum during the city's tenure as Cultural Capital of Europe. Alas, there wasn't enough trade to make it profitable. (You can still get his mail order catalog.)

Kitty korner to the Neues Museum on Rathenauplatz is the Thuringian Design Center, whose director, Hans-Joachim Gundelach has the vision of kick-starting the flagging Ossie economy with good design. One of his stars, Wolfgang Schneider, after losing his job as head of design for Robotron in Sommerda after Unification, soon started winning design prizes to get back in business.(My favorite is a children's colorful plastic sled which won me brownie points when I dragged one home to St. Paul, MN for my granddaughter three Christmases ago.) And then, of course, there's IKEA. Gundelach tells a sad story about how he got several Thuringer Wald furniture firms to go into production only to have IKEA switch to cheaper sources in Poland and Bulgaria.

Gropius surely had the right idea in 1919 when he urged his Bauhustlers to bring art and technology together so everyman could afford the best in design. Braun is flying his flag. Murray Moss, of I Think, Therefore I Shop is misleading, bringing Ambience and Tendence trade shows from the Frankfurt Messe into MAK. The museum is no market place. It should prepare consumers to market thoughtfully. I THINK BEFORE I SHOP.

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