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Second Lives: Massive New Design Museum Opens in NYC

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Second Lives: Massive New Design Museum Opens in NYC


Museum of Art and Design - Photo by Hélène Binet

Amid much fanfare opens the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City’s Columbus Circle. Until 2002 this museum was called the American Craft Museum, but that name was too much glue-and-sparkles or old-furniture for a fickle youngster like me, and probably for most of the people who might be drawn towards what’s actually inside the building. Hence the re-branding.

Having just opened, they’ve launched their inaugural exhibition, called Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary. It’s a series of 50 exhibitions that refashion a bunch of materials into new pieces. From what I can gather this isn’t any kind of large-scale statement on recycling material or the terrible vagaries of consumption, which is a welcome approach. It’s far better to treat the show as art first, and allow the social implications of the work to rise up from the viewer’s response, rather than having it spelled out as an overarching (and thus slightly boring) theme.

Psyche Complexo Courtney Smith, 2003

But check out fine art critic Roberta Smith’s review of the show in the New York Times:

There is a simplistic political thrust to a lot of this work, but environmental sensitivity is mostly nil. Some questions for the artists here are: Thought about your carbon footprint lately? Are more iterations of this tired Surrealist idea needed? Are you really giving the objects you’re using a second life, or just enabling them to last longer and take up more space?

If I’m reading her right, she’s asking that any exhibit with a “simplistic political thrust” at least deal, using a modicum of subtlety, with a top political issue of the day. If you’re going to call your exhibit Second Lives and make other political points with it, at least say something smart about the environment, she suggests. The museum, on the other hand, says that “while the focus of the exhibition is neither on sustainability nor recycling, the works in the exhibition are a catalyst for thought and discussion about these issues.”

Now reading, talking, and doing things about consumption/carbon footprints/etc is a heavy, important thing for all of us to pay big amounts of attention to, but when art exhibitions are yoked into the service of environmental concerns as their primary raison-d’etre, something is lost in the process. Being virtuous and thinking morally about the environment are beautiful things, but I have yet to be convinced they’re ideal frameworks for an art exhibition. There’s still time to change my mind, but for now I like the museum’s subtle approach.

And besides, Smith’s final verdict? “I recommend a visit.”

Some of the more notable exhibits on show include:

Trinity - Photo by Schroeder Romero

Trinity: Grandma, Spike, Bubbles (2007) by American artists Andy Diaz Hope and Laurel Roth. These custom chromed chandeliers are designed in traditional neoclassical form, but are made of hypodermic needles, gelatin capsules and Swarovski crystal which reflect drug culture themes. While seductive in their beauty, the chandeliers are a chilling reminder of a darker side of contemporary life.  (from the museum’s website; photo credit: Schroeder Romero)

My Back Pages - Photo by Anna Beeke

There are also a couple that are just straight-up aesthetically pleasing to gawk at. They also both happen to be made of vinyl, which might explain my attraction. One is shown above–Paul Villinski’s My Back Pages, in which his records take off and fly away as a series of butterflies. It’s good. The other, “Sound Wave” by Jean Shin (check out the Times for the photo) is a giant wave molded out of old records.

If you’re in New York City soon, stop by–you’ll see a load of original design in a wonderful space. Smith says “the opening displays, it must be granted, reflect an institution that is wild with delight at having for the first time a real museum building of its very own.”

An additional note: the MAD acronym and entire re-branding campaign was done by the famous Pentagram agency, who have a great blog post on the big spread of work they’ve done for the launch.

Posted in Art & Design, Events, FeaturedComments (2)


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