paola antonelli. interview with the curator of design department of moma, new york ..........................................................................................................................................
paola antonelli joined he museum of modern art in 1994 and is a
curator in the department of architecture and design. her first acclaimed
exhibition for MoMA, mutant materials in contemporary design (1995), was
followed by thresholds: contemporary design from the netherlands (1996),
achille castiglioni: design! (1997- 98), and projects 66: campana / ingo maurer (1999),
open ends and matter (september 2000 / february 2001). her
most recent exhibition, workspheres (2/8 - 4/22/2001) was devoted to the
design of the workplace of the near future.
the recipient of a master's degree in architecture from the polytechnic of
milan in 1990, paola antonelli has curated several architecture and design
exhibitions in italy, france, and japan. she has been a contributing editor
for 'domus' magazine (1987-91) and the design editor of 'abitare' (1992-94).
she has also contributed articles to several publications, among them
'metropolis', 'the harvard design review', ' I.D. magazine', 'paper', 'metropolitan'
'home', 'harper's bazaar' and 'nest'.
from 1991 to 1993, paola antonelli was a lecturer at the university of
california, los angeles, where she taught design history and theory.
she has lectured on design and architecture in europe and the united states
and has served on several international architecture and design juries.
paola antonelli, whose goal is to make design the most loved, understood,
and celebrated discipline of the XXI century, is currently working on a book
about foods from all over the world as examples of outstanding design;
on an exhibition entitled emergency; and on trying to get a boeing 747 into the
collection of the museum of modern art.
we met paola antonelli in milan on september 2000
what is the best moment of the day?
when I get home after work and lie on my couch and read.
what kind of music do you listen to at the moment?
I bought cds of records that I already had:
the pretenders, blondie, the clash, and lots of hip pop.
do you listen to the radio?
yes, the morning when I wake up.
what books do you have on your bedside table?
I have had the same book by my bed since I was 20:
'the way of the samurai'.
do you read design magazines?
definitely, for work.
where do you get news from?
'the economist', 'the new york times' site and 'the new yorker'.
do you notice how men dress?
do you have any preferences?
khaki pants and a white shirt.
what kind of clothes do you avoid wearing?
I hate blouses which are coming back in style which were popular in the
'80s, the ones with puffy sleeves and a sewn on scarf. they make me sad.
do you have any pets?
no, I would like to, but I travel too much.
where do you work on your designs and projects?
who would you like to curate an exhibit for?
karl lagerfeld and elio fiorucci.
which of your projects have given you the most satisfaction?
probably the exhibit on mutant materials at moma in 1995,
because the public enjoyed it so much.
do you discuss your work with architects and designers?
yes, all the time.
describe your (curating) style like a good friend of yours would describe it
I think that my shows are deep and serious but also fun,
they are a pleasure visually and people enjoy themselves.
is there any architect or designer from past you appreciate a lot? achille castiglioni, carlo scarpa...
and those still active, are there any particular ones you appreciate? the dutch hella jongerius, in italy ferruccio laviani, in new york karim rashid...
to mention a few, there are a lot!
how do you go about planning an exhibition for moma?
remember that I work in a modern art museum, and within a department among
many others. so 80% of the people who see my shows are really visiting the
museum to see picasso or magritte, and they happen upon my show and my job
is to captivate them.
I try to do exhibits that talk about what good design is
and I try to create pleasant installations so that people want to stay in the gallery.
I try to choose subjects which are of interest to a wide public and
which also take part in design criticism.
I always try to communicate with 2 different types of public:
to a public of experts and to a public of non-experts and I usually use
children as my point of reference, so I always use lowish tables and I
always try to imagine how a child would see and make use of the exhibit...
how has the internet effected museums?
museum sites do not only contain the museum's exhibition calendar,
there are projects commissioned by museums specifically for the internet.
I think museums should consider their sites to be more than just means for
information, they are almost physical extensions of the museums themselves.
are more and more virtual exhibitions possible in your opinion?
or do you think it is vital to have the physical object on show?
often exhibitions need to display physical objects.
it would be possible to plan a show without them, for example,
design deals with more than just physical objects.
or if you are talking about very well-known objects,
i tis not imperative that they physically be on show...
a boeing 747, or a bicpen...
on the news broadcast they said that italians are afraid of unemployment,
criminality and pollution. what are you afraid of regarding the future?
pollution is a huge problem, criminality has always existed.
'achille castiglioni: design! '
exhibition at the moma, new york, 1997- 98
courtesy the moma.
'project 66: campana / ingo maurer'.
exhibition at the moma, new york, 1999
courtesy the moma.
'workspheres', (image from the catalogue)
exhibition at the moma, new york, 2001
courtesy the moma.
the questionaire of marcel proust (1871 - 1922) ........................................................................................... (in age of fourteen proust was given an english album "confessions : an album to record thoughts, feelings".
seven years later marcel proust published this questionaire)
in the literary salons in nineteenth century paris, this parlour game was a popular amusement.
for designboom paola antonelli has answered these 'old fashioned' questions. ....................................................................................................................................
the main lineaments of my character. -
a quality I desire in a man. patience.
a quality I desire in a woman. loyalty.
what I appreciate most among my friends. loyalty.
my principal defect. fear.
my favourite occupation. reading and watching movies.
my dream of felicity. just to be able to be serene and have energy. I like my life.
what would for me be the biggest misfortune. cancer.
whom I would like to be. if you want to know who my role models are, there are many.
to tell you the silliest, madonna, isabella rossellini, and michelle pfeiffer.
to tell you the most serious, normal women I work with who manage to have
children, a job, going to the gym, and having friends all at the same time.
that seems BIG to me.
were I would like to live.
either in new york (where I am now), or in hong kong, naples, madrid, los angeles.
the colour I prefer. orange.
the flower I love. fresia.
the bird I prefer. I love sparrows, these really small and fierce birds, really tiny, that come and eat your
crumbs at cafes in the cities. not the pigeons, mind you.
my favourite authors. there are too many. murakami is one. and then ridley scott is another.
brian de palma. but also italo svevo.
my favourite poets. I do not read poetry
my heroes in fiction. none, really, that I can think of. I do not identify well with male characters.
my heroines in fiction. I had made up my own when I was a teen-ager. I was paula nelson,
the fifth beatle.
my favourite composers. mozart, verdi, puccini. quite standard tastes in classical music, I am afraid.
and ryuichi sakamoto among the contemporaries. and the beatles, of course.
if you are asking me about 'normal' music, many many, from the clash and
pretenders to lauryn hill and nirvana. and blondie, offspring, pj harvey,
no doubt, stevie wonder, mary j blige.... I could go on for a while.
my favourite artists. rothko, pollock, raffaello, feininger, redon, klee (only some pieces),....
once again, many. I do not like surrealism in any form, painting, sculpture,
my heroes in real life. they are all imperfect, mind you, but i.e. madeleine albright.
people who have been able to deal with really big matters and loose it.
and then, as I said before, I am in endless admiration of so-called normalcy,
of people who are able to build their own life day after day,
no matter what their occupation is.
my heroines in history. coco chanel.
my favourite names.
irma, amalia, stefano, elica.
what I hate most. arguments.
the historic characters I dislike most. marie antoinette.
the military enterprise I like the most. no opinion.
the reformation I appreciate the most. no opinion.
natures gift I would like to have. constant good mood and thinner thighs.
how I would like to die. quietly, having time to say what I need to say to the people I love.
my soul's present condition. restless.
the faults I can bear. forgetfulness.
my motto. minimize the embarrassment.
'mutant materials in contemporary design'
exhibition at the moma, new york, 1995
text by paola antonelli
drawings by steven guarnaccia, 2000.
book edited by corraini editori.