Paola Antonelli

Design lines.

Paola Antonelli joined the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1994. She had graduated from Polytechnic University of Milan with an MA in architecture, and worked briefly at two design magazines before taking the job at the MoMA. She has since, as the museum’s senior curator in the department of architecture and design, built a formidable reputation for incisive thinking, eclecticism, and pushing the boundaries of how design is defined. Before giving a sold-out lecture at Vancouver’s Inform Interiors recently, she took a few moments to chat.

Appearances on The Colbert Report and Charlie Rose, and a widely admired Ted talk, have kept her in the public sphere to a degree, but not in any way to the same level she immerses herself in culture, every day, simply doing her job. “I get consumed. It is inspiration and evaluation,” she says. “Objects that may seem insignificant can take my attention and hold it.” There is no sense of a hierarchy for her, in which some objects are intrinsically valued above others. The exhibitions she has created, such as “SAFE: Design Takes On Risk,” “Design and Violence,” “Mutant Materials in Modern Design,” and the upcoming “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” slated for 2017, have included items which clearly push the envelope of what traditional curation can mean: items she has added to MoMa’s collections include United Nations refugee tarpaulins, a baby carriage, even an entire selection of video games such as Pac-Man, Tetris, and Minecraft. Remarkably, one of the artifacts she chose for MoMa’s permanent collection is the “@” sign, along with the story of how it came to be used ubiquitously in all of our email addresses. “It is a marvel, how one keyboard symbol came to acquire so much importance in our culture, all the while remaining below our conscious notice,” she says. “That is a fascinating narrative.”

is fashion modern
“Items: Is Fashion Modern?” Nervous System (est. 2007), Jessica Rosenkrantz (American, b. 1983), Jesse Louis-Rosenberg (American, b. 1986). Kinematics Dress. 2014. Laser-sintered nylon. Image courtesy of Steve Marsel. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Architecture and Design Funds.

Living in New York is a huge boon for Antonelli. “I am so tuned in to objects,” she declares. “Even a New York City Metro ticket is interesting. So in this city, I can just walk around the block and find so many fascinating objects.” For her, design is “where it starts. I do not distinguish too rigorously between design and art, since everything, by definition, is designed.” She travels the world, though, giving and listening to lectures, doing research, and always seeking possible acquisitions.

Is there a guiding principle, or aesthetic, she applies? Not really, she admits. However, after a few seconds’ thought, she adds: “I do believe our civilization is doomed. We will not survive indefinitely. So, when the next civilization arises, I want them to be able to look at what we have in the MoMA, and understand that we humans did a lot of interesting things. That we had some amazing qualities, even if we couldn’t, in the end, save ourselves.”


The finer things: more from our Arts section


Post Date:

June 21, 2016