Thursday, August 12, 2010

Patriotic Patterns: Review of Bent out of Shape at the Design Exchange

I'm not really a regular visitor to the Design Exchange, the old stock exchange building cum museum dedicated to promoting "the value of design." Part of the issue is that, for good or ill, I fall more to the art side of the visual-creativity equation in my work. Another is that programming seems to have been up and down at the museum over the past few years; my past visits have mainly been due to the museum's frequent use as a special-events venue. I understand that a lot of museums have to rely on this kind of rental income stream these days, but for some reason the DX seems dominated in my mind by that activity.

In any case, I'm glad I broke out of my usual DX mindset/stereotypes and went to visit Bent Out of Shape: Canadian Design 1945 to the Present, which is on at the museum to October 10. My review of the show is out in today's NOW. Here's an excerpt:

Who are Canada’s design superheroes? Bent Out of Shape: Canadian Design 1945-Present doesn’t quite aim to answer that question. Nonetheless, after visiting the show – which tells our industrial design history quickly in punchy, pop art style – design newbies will probably feel they’ve discovered at least a few blueprint-wielding Supermen and Wonder Women.

One of the great delights of the show is finding out about the talented Canuck individuals behind ultra-familiar objects. Fred Moffatt, for instance, won international design medals for his humble portable heaters and is revered for “revolutionizing the electric kettle.” Thor Hansen is the self-taught Scandinavian immigrant behind iconic Group-of-Seven-like textiles. Even designers of ubiquitous plastic thermoses and one-in-every-garage Noma cord caddies (Julian Rowan and b&b Design Associates respectively) get acknowledged, lending warm fuzzies to super-utilitarian stuff.

It's likely a testament to how much nostalgia and Canadiana has a hold on me that I melted inwardly a bit at the sight of that cord caddy, as well as the Thermos. Double rainbow moment? Almost! Punctum probability? Fer sure. Still, I did have a couple of criticisms of the show--read the rest of the review for those.

Also, just 'cause I'm keeping track these days, I will note that the DX admission is $10 (more reasonable than our big museums) but there are zero free hours or related free-entry public-access initiatives. This is something I'd encourage the museum to think about as it attempts to promote the value of design to a wide audience.

(Installation view of Bent out of Shape via Now Toronto and the DX)

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