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European Design Exhibition Coming To Milwaukee Art Museum
James Dyson, DC11 vacuum cleaner, 2003. Photo courtesy Dyson Ltd.
MILWAUKEE, WI.- The Milwaukee Art Museum’s newest feature exhibition, European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century, opens October 9, 2010. It is the first encompassing, critical assessment of contemporary Western European design from 1985 to 2005.

European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century will present more than 250 seminal works including furniture, ceramics, metalwork, glass and product design that reveal the extraordinary creativity of 118 European designers. The exhibition defines Europe’s central role in driving design’s proliferation during the 1980s and 1990s.

“This exhibition reminds us that great art is present in our lives every day. European Design Since 1985 makes art accessible,” said Mel Buchanan, Mae E. Demmer Assistant Curator of 20th-century Design. “Whether it is a light fixture, a vase, a chair, a vacuum, or a knife and fork, it is not just an object. These are useful and beautiful artworks that express ideas and opinions and sometimes genius.”

European Design Since 1985 features multiple works by the most influential figures of the period’s “older generation,” such as Ron Arad and Philippe Starck, who have attained the status of design masters. The exhibition also presents a younger generation of designers for the first time, such as Tord Boontje, Maarten Baas, and Hella Jongerius.

The exhibition and catalogue divide designs into two major movements, those that continue a “Postmodern” attitude and those that renew a “Modern” tradition. The two camps exemplify an ongoing dispute: what is the leading design principle, artistic concept or function?

The first theme explores the continuation of early 1980s Postmodernism, when designers opened up the parameters of high design. Eschewing reason, their objects can be purely conceptual, highly decorative, historicizing, or even kitschy. These designers embraced handcraft, conceptual art, and ornament.
On the other hand, the second theme explores a rational tendency that concurrently swept across Europe. To designers with a Modernist spirit, like the “form follows function” school of the 1920s Bauhaus, good design comes from the integration of use, materials, and process. Their designs are usually for mass-production, but can look spare and refined, or curving like natural forms.

“This exhibition is friendly, colorful, and whimsical,” said Buchanan. “European Design Since 1985 offers a fantastic variety of objects that blur the line between fine art, craft, and design. It might differ with what some define as fine art, but you can also argue that many of these chairs and lamps are as conceptual as a bronze sculpture or abstract painting.”

The Milwaukee Art Museum | European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century | Mel Buchanan |


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