All shows Designed to Win

The Design Museum in London has a current exhibition that ties in with the Olympics, called Designed to Win. This features objects to do with sport, from equipment to clothing. Design and sport, it is remarked, share their drive to better human endeavour.

Announced this week is the fact that the Lottery Fund has granted the Design Museum £4.65 million to help their 2014 move into the old Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington. The aim is to create the world’s foremost museum of contemporary design. We here at GDP hope that there will be permanent displays of up-to-date graphics, such as posters, magazine spreads and covers, book jackets and digital media, rather than having to wait for exhibitions to come round to see these. Most of the permanent design displays in London are currently historical – which is great in itself, but we’d like to see some more modern stuff too. We did say this to the Design Museum whenwe were interviewed about it, along with other educators, as part of the move process.

John Pawson is re-designing the interior of the listed building, which has been empty for a decade. So this in itself will be worth seeing.

Other exhibitions on in London at the moment that we have been lucky enough to see are the Bauhaus show and the Designing Bond experience, both at the Barbican. The Bauhaus is about the famous, or infamous, German art and design school of the 1920s and 30s. It is most well known for its expressionist and even spiritual beginning under Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten, leading through to the more functional and industrial outlook of the newer wave of Constructivist mentors, such as Moholy Nagy. The show follows this chronological path round the exhibits. When teaching about the Bauhaus I have often imitated Itten’s pre-class breathing exercises, which despite causing much mirth and giggling, really do help focus learners on their design problems!

I was at the exhibition with a group of young people who are learning about design context at the moment. I think it was hard for them to see such a lot of expressionistic items such as “random” mixed media assemblage, wonky puppets and crazy theatre costumes without thinking “my little sister could do that!” If you do not understand the background reasons for Bauhaus work, or recognise the avant garde nature of their output compared to other art and design of the time, it is hard to see how the Bauhaus was so important and radical. However, once it was explained that mixed media assemblages were experiments to test new materials, like perspex, to see how they could help society – just happening to be pleasing art in their own right – all fell into place!

All of our art and design education is based on what the Bauhaus taught. They belived that students should have a hands-on training, exploring where they could gain skills and what pathways they should take. Everyone completed a foundation year first before branching off into specialisms. The direction of the courses were very much about industrial production, though no art or craft discipline was considered better than another (except their beloved architecture). Which is probably why some of the metal work and textiles are so superb and desirable in their geometric simplicity.

The typography, packaging and magazine spreads, especially from the latter Constructivist period, were great to see and remain inspiring and contemporary getting on for a century later. But looking at plans for Chicago skyscrapers having just walked under the shadow of the awful Shard, did make them seem dated and tiny. The Shard is the bad legacy of Modernism! Yes, I expect the Shard is Post Modern, but this new Eye of Sauron tower is still ugly!

The Bauhaus show only runs for about another fortnight, but is well worth a visit. If you are at all interested in either graphic design, product design or art education, you will not want to miss out. The over-riding feeling of the exhibition was that being a Bauhaus student must have been a great laugh.

The James Bond show was also pure fun. Areas were divided up to give you the feeling of being in the film, with the Casino section being particularly fascinating. On display were a range of set, prop and costume designs, with many of the costumes and gadgets also present themselves. The golden gun (assembled from a pen, cigarette case and lighter), Martini glasses full of diamonds, briefcases full of money, spy equipment, Jaw’s teeth, under-water sports car and many other vehicles were amongst the life sized or model gadgets on display.

Video interviews with production teams helped viewers to understand the design processes. Big screeens also rotated action from the films, and this really highlighted two things – how formulaic they are, but also how the latter ones are more dark and have less humour.

My only complaint about this massive show was that the costumes were displayed on grey felt, faceless dummies which looked a bit like mutated Teddy Bears, rather than sophisticated spies, casino-goers and villains. But we came out of the show really geared up to watch a Bond film. Anyone intersted in set and costume design and storyboarding should really get along ot the Barbican show because it is very useful and glitzy as well.

It is a pity that no photos are allowed to be taken inside these exhibitions and despite several requests to the Barbican press office I have not been able to get any images for you guys to see.

Meanwhile GDP is working on a range of theatre and movie-related design projects, exploring set and costume design, storyboarding and location scouting. And we have a sport and dance based project, Move, coming shortly. More news on these soon. If you can’t wait please contact us at info@thegraphicdesignproject,com

Image credit: Courtesy of Audi AG via the Design Museum Press Office,  Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro, Photo by Bernhard Spottel

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