Establishing a Permanent Collection: The Centre de Creation Industrielle

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  • REVIEWS

    Establishing a Permanent Collection:the Centre de Criation IndustrielleCentre Georges Pompidou, Paris

    The 'Manifeste' exhibition programmemounted at the Pompidou Centre in thesummer of 1992 embraced a wide rangeof creative activity across the artisticspectrum. Of most potential signific-ance for design historians was 'Mani-feste 2' which set out the basis of theCentre de Creation Industrielle's (CC1)new permanent design collection. Fol-lowing the organization's integrationwith the Centre National d'Art et Cul-ture Georges Pompidou in July 1973,debate about the desirability of forminga permanent collection simmered gentlyon the back-burner until 1991 when apositive decision to do so was finallytaken. However, a number of designhistorians will perhaps be disappointednot only with the resultant orthodoxy ofthe new collection, much of which com-prises those global 'design classics'which have become the institutionalizedicons of twentieth-century design, butalso with the change of outlook whichso clearly undermines the challenge toestablished principles of museologywhich many may previously have asso-ciated with the outlook of the CCI.

    It is a decade since the Design HistorySociety's 1982 Autumn Conference on'Design and Public Collections', whichinvolved a wide range of speakers fromEurope, Scandinavia, and the UnitedStates who were concerned with theproblems inherent in collecting, exhibit-ing, and presenting twentieth-centurydesign. Amongst the speakers wereMichael Collins, representing the BritishMuseum's Modern Collection, StephenBayley of the then Boilerhouse Projecthoused at the Victoria & AlbertMuseum, Stewart Johnson of theMuseum of Modern Art in New York,and Francoise Jollant of the CCI. It wasJollant who departed from a generalacquiescence to the globalization of aparticular 'international' design aes-thetic by asking a number of questionsseemingly fundamental to an under-standing of 'modern design'. Such inter-rogations related to what might beembraced by the term 'modern design'itself, to the ways in which most designmuseums tended to isolate objects fromthe material culture of which they were

    a part, and to the fresh museologicalpossibilities afforded by the burgeoningdiscipline of design history. What cameacross most forcibly to many membersof her audience was the fact that the CCIdid not collect twentieth-century designand that it was perhaps possible to gaina fuller understanding of the material,even cultural, significance of designthrough the gathering of a wide range ofrelated documentary evidence. Lookingback with hindsight on that DHS con-ference at the Institute of ContemporaryArts in London, it is maybe worthremembering the comments of a con-temporary reviewer1 who drew atten-tion to Stewart Johnson's pleasantriesabout removing from his prepared talkthe intended slides of a range of Braunproducts and other design 'classics'(such as Ettore Sortsass's Valentinetypewriter for Olivetti) since the confer-ence delegates had already seen them atleast twice in the previous speakers'talks about specific twentieth-centurycollections. What is difficult to discerntoday is the way in which the formationof the CCI's permanent collection maybe seen to differ from the corporatemuseum culture evidenced by manyother major modern design collections,and their methods of display, on bothsides of the Atlantic.

    With the advantage of hindsight it isinteresting to look back to an early issueof the CCI's quarterly publication Tra-verses, in which were posed many lead-ing questions about the nature ofdesign, its signification and documenta-tion. Having attacked the 'banal, reduc-tive and insufficient vision' afforded byemphasis on form and aesthetic valuestogether with an apparent societal con-sensus on matters of taste, epitomizedby the dominance of a modernist out-look, Hugette Briand-Le Bot, one of theperiodical's editors, wTote in 1975:

    Le design est, il n'est rien qu'un systemede signes. II est un code general de repereset d'incitations qui vise a regler la totalitedes comportements sociaux, des conduitespratiques et des motivations affectives a lafois. La signification, le sens et la valeuraffirmes des objets et ensembles d'objets,tel est le veritable enjeu social de design.L'espace et ses elements 'designes', dans lasociete de la production-consommation, nerelevent pas d'une plus grand utilite nid'une plus grande beaute. Us sont pris

    dans un ordre systematique signifiant(producrion/consommation) . . .2

    A number of CCI exhibitionsaddressed design in a similarly ques-tioning fashion. For example, the 1980show 'L'Objet Industriel: Empreinte ouReflet de la Sociele' examined designwithin the framework of a number ofoverarching themes. Historically, parti-cular periods were organized in tabularform from three main standpoints: Con-ception, Distribution, and Consump-tion. Such broad fields of enquiry werethen subdivided into headings such aswho conceived the design, under whatimperatives and constraints, and whoproduced it? Following this, examina-tion was made into who sells the design,how, and for what market? The cyclewas completed by questions about whobuys the product, the precise nature ofwhat s/he is buying why s/he is buyingit, what constraints are there in using it,and what is the length of its lifespan? Allwere supported with further detailedpossibilities. With regard to the morerecent past (then the 1970s) investiga-tions were made into the object and tech-nology, the object and use, the object andform, the conception of the object, theobject and consumers, the object andlifestyle, and even concerns such asglobal design.

    There is a considerable gulf betweensuch a climate of enquiry and debatewhich was alive only a dozen years ormore ago and the new CCI design col-lection seen at 'Manifeste 2'. It relates tothe period 1960-90 and is conceived ofas epitomizing a design outlook mark-ing a balance between the triumph of afunctionalist spirit in the early 1960s onthe one hand and the more radical tend-encies, experimentation, and symbolismof the late 1980s on the other. Suchapproaches are seen to typify two majorfacets of industrial creativity: the pro-ducts of those enterprises whichendorse a coherent corporate designpolicy, whether in terms of architecture,consumer goods, identity, or publicity,and those designs which explore newavenues and creative ideologies whichchallenge the order and rectitude of thefunctionalist aesthetic. Within thisframework key designers are singledout and celebrated, whether MarcelDassault (designer of the Mirage 111 air-craft of i960) who declared 'to fly well a

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  • plane must be beautiful', GaetanoPesce, the apostle of an alternativedesign method which perhaps relatesmore closely to the fine arts than anygospel of utilitarianism, or Ettore Sott-sass Jr., who can be seen to embraceboth the iconoclastic anti-design atti-tudes of the avant-garde in the late1960s and 1970s and a stylish, everydayaesthetic in industrial products for Oli-vetti. Almost inevitably, given the locusof the CCI collection, the FrenchmanRoger Tallon (collaborator on the TGVprojects, including the TGV Atlantiquewhich went into service in 1989) isamong those singled out as being one ofthe most important industrial designersin the second half of the twentieth cen-tury, specializing in transportationdesign and involving himself in areastraditionally dominated by engineers.

    The exhibition begins with a collec-tion of furniture, mainly old friends wellacquainted through their frequent parti-cipation in collections and exhibitionsacross the industrialized world. GioPonti's Superleggera and Arne Jacob-sen's Egg chairs, organic designs byPaulin and Panton and Gaetano Pesce'sGreen Street Chair for Vitra are alladduced as evidence for examining theEvolution of Seat Furniture 1960-90.The framework for such an analysis isconceived around the use of techno-logies and materials in the explorationof form, the aesthetic dimension beingreinforced by the darkened setting,relieved by soft-focus spotlights whichsearch out their respective icons raisedon low plinths. Elsewhere in the exhibi-tion there are other examples of taste-conscious furniture design. Typical isthe section devoted to the Italian manu-facturer Cassina which, with its com-missions of the 1950s for the great oceanliners Andrea Dona, Michelangelo, andRaffaello, emerged fully fledged from itscrafts-based roots in Milan of the later1920s. Quite in keeping with the gener-ally misogynist spirit of the CCI collec-tion is the labelled reference to theCassina reproductions in the ModernMaster series manufactured from thelate 1960s onwards.

    A number of product types anddesign aesthetics readily associatedwith particular companies cause fewsurprises: Brionvega televisions, radios

    and hi-fi equipment by Bellini, Zanuso,Sapper, and the Castiglioni brothers canbe examined in their glass cases only afew paces away from the customaryrange of innovatory designs producedby Sony; the Braun product rangeincludes electric toothbrushes by RobertOberheim and Reinhold Weiss, sleekblack shavers by Roland UUmann andthe inevitable (Museum of Modem Art,New York 'Good Design' award-win-ning) KM2/KM31 Kitchen Machine byGerd Alfred Muller of 1957. Withinsight are their counterparts manufac-tured by Philips. Of more interest, per-haps, are the Moulinex products simplybecause they feature less prominently ininternational design collections, despitethe fact that in 1990 the MoulinexGroup had the largest turnover for elec-tric household appliances in Europe.The context in which the firm evolvedfrom its formation in the 1930s in thewake of Jean Mantelet's patenting of hisMoulil6gumes is briefly described in anaccompanying label. The fact that theadoption of the company name Mou-linex in 1957 was accompanied by theslogan 'Moulinex libere la femme' iscompletely ignored as a dimension ofthe exhibition of such appliances. Thepossible difficulties of showing objectsdivorced from their social, aesthetic,anthropological, manufacturing, andother contexts are legion, thus poten-tially placing real demands on the threecomputer terminals located in thenearby CCI Information Centre. Unfor-tunately, despite their interactive poten-tial, the levels of information are sobasic (in those instances when it is actu-ally available) that it rarely transcendswhat a brief label could encompasswithout difficulty. There are a few othersections of interest which register onaccount of their lack of conformity to thenorms of international twentieth-cen-tury design collections. These includethe Soci6te Calor, founded in 1917,which went on to manufacture a rangeof domestic appliances, and the SocietyFacon. The latter, established by theengineer Louis Moses in Paris at the endof the First World War, first producedan adjustable spanner (the Madame101) for the French railways. From suchbeginnings, with only two salesmencovering the whole of France, the com-

    pany became international in scope andwell known in hand-tool production inthe rail, road, and air transportationfields.

    The growth of the multinational cor-poration in the post-Second World Warperiod is tacitly acknowledged throughthe emphasis placed on companies suchas IBM and the various sections devotedto Office Furniture and Equipment. IBMis given the lion's share with displaysshowing architectural drawings andmodels, plans, photos, sections of ear-lier exhibitions (such as the Fibonacci/IBM 'Growth and Form' show), officeequipment, and the full gamut of cor-porate graphics. The designers associ-ated with this section of the CCIcollection constitute a veritable Who'sWho of design with all the attendantproblems that such a pantheon causesthe design historian: Breuer, Mies,Noyes, Rand, Foster, Piano, and Eames(Charles and Ray) are all featured. RayEames is one of the few women design-ers represented in the CCI collection,again a problem which might be worthengaging with in some way. The unerr-ing emphasis on form at the expense ofcontent and context renders much of theexhibition monovalent, a reflection ofthe very canons of orthodoxy and out-look which many associated with theCCI in the 1970s and early 1980s soughtso hard to undermine.

    Office equipment, seen in a variety ofIBM designs such as the Golfball type-writer attributed to Noyes (what abouthis many collaborators?), follows a pre-dictable enough path through officemachines designed by Nizzoli, Sottsass,Bellini, and others contributing to thecultural ethos of Olivetti; George Nel-son's modular office furniture designsfor Herman Miller also feature, as do avariety of designs put out by the Borzanibrothers' firm Tecno, including NormanFoster Associates' Nomos range from1986.

    Fashionability has made its mark inthe CCI collection through the inclusionof the Swatch phenomenon. The com-pany, founded by Nicolas Hayek in 1981to save the Swiss watch industry fromthe Japanese, produced Swatch designsfrom 1983. Through its commissioningof artists and projection of product asfashion accessory it has been celebrated

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  • in displays from New York to the newTwentieth Century Gallery at the Vic-toria & Albert Museum in London.3

    What is often a little unclear, when suchartefacts have been assumed into thewider framework of a culturally chargedsetting like that of the embryonic CC1Permanent Collection, is why they areincluded. Is it for reasons of designinnovation, marketing success, aestheticvalue or sociological significance? Or isit in order to conform to an internationalmodern design museum code of prac-tice?

    The celebration of the cult personalityis never far away, whether Sottsass,Mariscal, Colani, or Starck. The latter,dubbed the 'enfant terrible' of Frenchdesign, features appropriately in such acontext, with designs ranging from thehighly organic Toumesol street lampprototype of 1990 to its minuscule coun-terpart, the toothbrush, which can bepurchased in the Pompidou Centre'sDesign Shop. His early 1980s rehabilita-tion from nightclub designer to designerto the President at the Champs ElyseesPalace brought him to the fore of designmedia attention, leading in turn to manycommissions from well-known firmsassociated with canons of high taste. Inthe labelling attention is drawn to thefact that he has designed for a muchwider audience through the mail orderfirm Les 3 Suisses, although there is alittle supportive of this facet of his out-put in the CCI collection itself. LuigiColani is given more prominence thanin other comparable collections, with arange of his biomorphic and ergonomi-cally conceived designs. Such qualitiescan be seen in pro...

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