Ron Arad: No Discipline
For curator Paola Antonelli, working with designer Ron Arad (Israeli, b. 1951) presented brand new challenges. “Typically, curators wait until an artist dies before they organize a retrospective,” she said. “Sometimes I wished I’d waited.” Arad is a designer other designers love to hate, Antonelli revealed — he doesn’t play by the rules, he writes his own, and his less than cuddly demeanor makes him a difficult collaborator. That being said, Arad remains one of the most respected and influential designer of the last half-century.
If there’s one thing No Discipline succeeds in doing it’s in positioning Arad as a fearless visionary on a constantly evolving journey. The exhibit is visually stunning. Objects are organized within and around a glimmering and flowing infinity curve, commissioned by MoMA and designed by Arad for the installation. The dominating structure in the 6th floor gallery is ballsy yet logical, organic yet geometric, infinite yet bounded, and ultimately stands as a metaphor for Arad and his career as a designer. Back-lighting allows for objects positioned within the interior of the structure to cast shadows behind those housed on the outside, and vice versa. We are constantly reminded that Arad’s present creations are byproducts of earlier works and that each piece awaits a future evolution.
The Rover chair, the bookworm, the imagined revolving Alps restaurant, the works that made him a design legend, those with fair less commercial appeal, his design as art, his design with function: yes, it’s all here in all its incarnations. Antonelli claims all the furniture pieces are comfortable, even the seemingly unbalanced chaise lounge. I’m doubtful, but they sure are wonderful to look at. (The bookworm is available in the MoMA design store if you feel like you need a statement bookshelf.)
Antonelli deserves praise for making a potentially disjointed retrospective logical and easily legible. You don’t need to know a lot about design or Ron Arad to walk away with the exhibition’s thesis. Just look and you’ll get the picture. Antonelli opted to replace typical wall-labels with animated monitors. Short videos construct and deconstruct each object on view, revealing both Arad’s process and the piece’s practical use. Written text is comparatively inadequate — especially in dealing with the work of a designer who takes process and function so seriously. For those that feel the need for some more traditional text, there’s a map out side the door with all the typical wall label information. Still need more info? There’s always the audio guide (which I understand is better than the audioguide for the permanent collection).
Switching out of academic/critic mode and moving into museum-goer mode, I absolutely love this exhibit. The infinity curve, with all its cuby holes, makes a visit to the gallery an act of exploration as you move around and through it. It’s just fun being in there. Each piece of furniture, lamp and light fixture is otherworldly and captivating. You can’t help imagining a room designed around your favorite piece(s). Arad may have infinite designs still in him, but your time to see what he’s already accomplished has a definitive end. The show closes on October 19, and who knows how long we’ll have to wait for a reincarnation.