Charting Design Matters in a real-world 3D bar-graph

JERUSALEM – In June 1970, shortly after the Israel Museum opened, an international symposium was held to discuss the founding principles for a design department at the museum. The symposium recommended that the department focus on the present and future of design, rather than on its history; and that it prioritize mounting exhibitions over cultivating a permanent collection.

However, in the almost 50 years since, the collection that was not meant to be has grown and developed to encompass more than 10,000 works from past exhibitions, gifts from benefactors, and acquisitions by the various curators over the decades. The Department of Design and Architecture is now in charge of storing and preserving these objects: some of which are valuable design pieces, while others are important cultural and historical representations, and yet others are of questionable significance.

Photo by Assaf Evron

Curated by Dan Handel, the represents a five per-cent statistical sample of these objects. The wide variety of objects on display includes mass-produced consumer products such as iPods, unique objects such as vintage cookie moulds designed in the 1930s by Franzisca Baruch, pieces by renowned designers such as Ettore Sottsass, and works by anonymous makers.

Photo by Elie Posner

Designed by Lila Chitayat, the exhibition is organized in a three-dimensional, real-world bar chart. The objects are arranged horizontally according to function – in the categories of dine, work, play, and rest – and vertically according to production, from manufactured products to unique designs.

Visitors are invited to use the interface specially created for this exhibition to sort through the thousands of items. Indeed, a computer system is necessary to explore the complex layers of decisions, associations, and coincidences that have resulted in this collection of design that matters.

Photo by Elie Posner

The collection contains works by more than 2,000 designers, and includes 1,5000 items created by anonymous designers. Value, something we have come to expect from museum collections, is called into question here. How is value assigned to objects? Is it according to aesthetic taste, cultural meaning, historic significance, commercial worth, or even personal sentiment?

In this exhibition, we can see objects of cultural value, as even mass-produced prosaic pieces such as 1950's furniture become highly valuable as representative of a given era. On the other hand, alongside objects that are unique or significant, the collection has 540 items that are widely available or still in production, such as the Brno chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or the iMac G5. This raises questions about the rationale for collecting such items, which comes at a cost to the museum as they require climate-controlled storage, upkeep, and restoration.

The Design Matters exhibition therefore invites dialogue on the value of objects in museum collections – and on how that value is assigned.


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