I visited the new Design Museum in London last week – what a huge disappointment. The architecture of the building is quite impressive, particularly on the inside, resembling the concrete vaulting of a Modernist church. The big, wooden clad entrance is cool and attractive and there are large galleries for temporary exhibitions that I did not go in to. Here, I’m going to focus on the permanent display on the top floor of the building.
As a museum display it ticks most of my big ‘PLEASE NO’ boxes. It is what my mother would have called ‘all fur and no knickers’ – all show and no substance. It is a hymn to contemporary display design but lacks any real feeling for the relationship between object and viewer. Once again there is too little in the way of real artefacts and too much digital print clad MDF, Perspex laser cut-outs, inexplicable 3D printed objects and facsimiles.
The main theme of the display tracks the development of domestic technology, from typewriter to computer, telephone to smart phone, record player to iPod etc. It relies heavily on nostalgia rather than focusing on good design. I will try and keep my ranting to a minimum but would like to focus on one particular bugbear – the facsimile. I can understand it in Disney Land or as part of a life size reconstruction tableau but not presented as an artefact in a museum. For example, recently visiting the museum in the Monks Dormitory at Durham Cathedral I was presented with an exhibition made completely of scanned and 3D printed, plastic objects sprayed gold. I know you will say that this means we can handle the artefacts and I could go with you on this, a little – if the original objects were also available to view and compare, which they were not. In the Design museum there is a facsimile of the Frankfurt Kitchen(1926-27) designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. It is entirely made out of plywood. Not one piece of it is original. None of the doors open, the ironing board does not fold down, the ‘metal’ storage containers do not open. In the corner are facsimile of a cooker and a radiator of the same period, made as 3D drawn outlines in welded steel rod and sprayed black. There is no sense of the original materials used to make the kitchen or the colours it was painted. This is not a ‘museum’ display. One day will I go into a ‘museum’ where absolutely nothing is a real? What would be the point? I can get more information staying at home and surfing the Internet or looking at a book. I schlep all the way to a museum because I want to connect to a real artefact – be in the presence of something that has a history and is witness to another time, enjoy its materiality, textures, colour – not because I want to interface with a facsimile.