The Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum will present a groundbreaking exhibition that explores the virtually unknown design works by
significant Minimalist and post-Minimalist artists. Scheduled to run from September 10, 2004 through February 20, 2005, the Design Art exhibition is the first by an American museum to feature functional objects by artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Tuttle, Scott Burton, Sol LeWitt, James Turrell and Rachel Whiteread, among others.
Design Art presents distinctive functional designs that share the limited palette, materials and elegant geometric and abstract forms characteristic of Minimalist and post-Minimalist art. Despite the international reputation and influence of artists on view, the majority of the pieces—including furniture, lighting, rugs and table settings—have never before been presented in a museum context. The exhibition, curated by Barbara Bloemink, Cooper-Hewitt curatorial director, and independent curator Joseph Cunningham, is the first to fully examine the conceptual framework and relationship of these functional objects to the artists' works of art as well as to their historical precedent. Design Art is intended to significantly expand viewers' understanding of these artists' collective output, and the intersection of art and design at a time when their differentiation is becoming increasingly debated, reinterpreted and blurred.
"During the past 50 years, artists from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread have
experimented to create functional works that are rigorous and significant," said Bloemink. "In the 21st century, design and art are not the same; but with the ascendance of design today, they can be viewed as equally interesting and thought-provoking aspects of an individual artist's oeuvre."
Housed in the former Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Ave., Cooper-Hewitt will present a number of the design works in the bedrooms of the residence, allowing for the pieces to be explored and examined in their intended function as domestic objects. Included in the room environments will be a number of domestic objects by Judd, Tuttle, LeWitt and others, affording an unprecedented conversation among the works, according to the museum.
In particular, the extensive designs of Judd, Burton and Tuttle will form the centerpiece of Design Art, allowing a unique dialogue between these masters of Minimalism and post-Minimalism. While the work of each artist is distinct, all three show a level of experimentation and awareness of historical precedents that connect their functional designs to their painting and sculpture as well as to Modernist design traditions.
"The intent of art is different from that of [design], which must be functional," Judd once commented. "A work of art exists as itself, a chair exists as a chair itself." Design Art presents Judd's prototypes as well as his final production pieces in order to demonstrate the artist's range and commitment to design. For the first time, the stainless steel sink Judd designed for his Spring Street home will be on view in a museum exhibition. Uniting common materials with an unrelenting simplicity of color and form, Judd achieved perhaps the most ascetic pronouncement of the Minimalist design style.
In contrast to Judd, Burton declared that all of his work was "furniture/sculpture," and therefore intended to be functional. Disturbed that the art world was becoming increasingly "elitist," Burton set out to design objects that were "intelligent to a
non-art audience." Burton distinguished himself from his Minimalist contemporaries through the use of luxurious, sensuous materials that contributed to the distinctive character of each of his furniture/sculptures. He also was among the first artists to explore public, functional sculpture and design.
Tuttle recently observed that the creation of design objects by artists is "one of the great secrets of the late 20th century, and long overdue for a museum exhibition." His design objects, like his art, are syntheses of Minimalism and post-Minimalism. With whimsical originality, Tuttle juxtaposes unusual materials, manipulates proportions and organizes space in new ways. The exhibition will feature a number of Tuttle's furniture and design objects, including a series of chandeliers, freestanding lamps and a new prototype, the Turbulence Chair.
Each of the artists' work on display will demonstrate the many permutations on the
continuum between Judd's polarizing statement that art and design are separate and Burton's view that all furniture is also sculpture. The exhibition will end with an interactive work by German artist Franz West—visitors will be encouraged to add
colored masking tape to a table and two chairs—turning the question of how we distinguish between art and design back to the audience.