The Unanswered Question
A few weeks ago, I made my way up to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum to see Design Life Now, the overview of American design that the museum mounts every three years.
This is the third installment of the Triennial series, and I found the exhibit easier to navigate this time out, probably because I've come to accept the fact that the question it asks—What's the state of design in America today?—is unanswerable. Or maybe my hang-up used to be that no matter how thoroughly we try to answer the question, we can't help but feel unsatisfied.
Now, I try not to overthink it, and I find I'm happier if I just go along for the ride.
The exhibition is best approached, I've realized, as an interesting conversation: probing, thoughtful, meandering, impulsive, frivolous. (Why is that object included while another is not? Because someone wanted it to be—which is as valid a reason as any.) The conversation starts among the four curators and continues among the objects themselves. According to co-curator Ellen Lupton, the exhibition wasn't organized by discipline or theme. "Instead," she writes on the exhibition's blog, "the show is more like life, where diverse objects and images sit beside each other in loose affiliations."
You can peruse the collection on the exhibition's Web site, loose affiliations intact, since the objects are smartly organized by tags.
But better to go in person and join the conversation yourself, literally: Visitors are invited to draw on a six-foot tall Munny Toy from Kidrobot that's been covered with chalkboard paint. This is how it looked at one point in time:
To keep the conversation lively, the museum staff erases the drawings each night.