Architecture collides with art and design at New York City’s MoMA, where Ron Arad: No Discipline will be on view from August 2 through October 19, 2009.
The strength of this first U.S. retrospective of the British (Tel Aviv-born) designer’s work lies in its compelling architectonic presentation. The nearly 140 samples of Arad’s near 30-year career in art, architecture, interior design, and industrial design are grouped in families on, within, or surrounding a monumental structure, designed by Arad, that fills the center of the gallery. This looping, figure 8-shaped skeleton made of Cor-ten steel, dubbed Cage sans Frontiéres, comprises 240 cage-like cut-outs lined with stainless steel that serve as the shelving for works such as the iconic Rover Chair (1981) and its many iterations. A grey gauze membrane wrapped around one side of the structure directs visitors to circulate, inside and around it, while small video monitors placed at intervals illustrate the various processes of design, fabrication, and construction (in the case of Arad’s built work). At the core of this whimsical tour de force the designer’s Lolita chandelier (designed for Swarovski in 2004), accepts text messages (sent to a special cell number) via 31 processors that send them streaming down the 2,100 crystals and 1,050 LEDs that make up its spiral-shape.
What the show lacks is signage (except for some graphics on the walls identifying the displays around the perimeter of the gallery). Granted, the museum is supporting Ron Arad: No Discipline with a web link featuring text, images, and video of the works on view—a help but not instant gratification, as it requires homework (not good for tourists). And there is a stack of poster-sized diagrams available at the entrance. But it is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention and the two-sided format of the sheets defies easy manipulation in a crowd. Even more frustrating: some of the pieces on display were either missing or re-located the day of the press preview, so did not correspond to the handout.
Simple point-of-display graphics would eliminate the hassle, as well as the questions. And they would make the show a lot more inviting for anyone not intimate with Arad’s body of work. While a force in the design community, Arad is not a household name—at least in the States. A more-user-friendly exhibition could rectify that. Does it matter? To the designer, probably not; but to make design more accessible to a more general audience, I think it does.