The exhibition at Vitra Design Museum in Germany revives 20 iconic interiors. It's an ambitious task, writes our correspondent, but one that's ultimately successful.
Though its building is comparably small in size, Vitra Design Museumâ€™s exhibitions are never lacking in ambition. Placed inside a twisted Frank Gehryâ€“design building from 1989 on the Swiss-German borderâ€”his first building in Europeâ€”the museum is grounded in the legacy companyâ€™s vast collection of about 7,000 pieces of furniture, which also encompasses the estates of the Eameses, Verner Panton, Alexander Girard, and George Nelson. Thematically the museum focuses on interior design and architecture and never misses an opportunity to include Vitra designs and products in its exhibitions. In this regard, Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors, the museumâ€™s newest exhibition, is no exception.
But Home Stories is nonetheless led by a bold and fascinating conceit: selecting 20 â€śvisionary interiorsâ€ť from 1920â€“2020 to represent the â€śhistory of the home,â€ť where, as curator Jochen Eisenbrand puts it, â€śimportant societal, political, urban, and technical shiftsâ€ť are reflected. This is as major an undertaking as it sounds and one thing is certain: After a visit to the exhibition, your head will spin.
The survey unfolds backwards in time, stretching from some small-sized, pastel colored contemporary refurbishments (an apartment in Madrid by Elii, and a community housing in London by Assemble) to eye-blindingly colorful explosions of Postmodernism (Memphis Group) through Verner Pantonâ€™s â€śPhantasy Landscape,â€ť and into Claude Parentâ€™s â€śobliqueâ€ť apartment in France and Andy Warholâ€™s â€śSilver Factory.â€ť Youâ€™ll know youâ€™ve reached the end of the exhibition when you encounter the classics of early Modernism. There, Mies van der Roheâ€™s Villa Tugendhat and Josef Frankâ€™s Villa Beer demonstrate that the 1920s held multiple Modernismsâ€”and Elsie de Wolfeâ€™s Villa Trianon, where ornament is laid on thick, augments the argument for a more complex telling of interior design throughout the century.
To include all this in its limited space, the curators had to reduce all 20 interiors to their coreâ€”each is represented by one large image on a wall, foregrounded by a podium holding a handful of related pieces of furniture and sometimes a model.
Does the curatorial strategy work? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, reproducing a genuine sense of atmosphere for any of these interiors is near impossible. (Isnâ€™t â€śhomeâ€ť all about the sense of the spaceâ€”its acoustics, smell, and feel?) On the other hand, the exhibition creates some important, original, and fun connections between ideas and places. The Smithsonsâ€™ House of the Future, for example, is directly adjacent to the fictitious Villa Arpel from Jacques Tatiâ€™s satirical and highly anti-modern film Mon Oncle. Elsewhere in the exhibition, a single viewpoint combines Finn Juhlâ€™s house in Denmark (1942) and Lina Bo Bardiâ€™s â€śCasa de Vidroâ€ť in Brazil (1950) with Bernard Rudofskyâ€™s Nivola House-Garden in Long Island (1950)â€”early examples of dissolving the boundaries between indoor and outdoor, through a global perspective. The exhibitionâ€™s 300-plus-page catalog is also recommended; it richly documents all 20 interiors, amounting to a history of 20th-century interior design, with contributions by Alice Rawsthorne, Jasper Morrison, and Joseph Grima, and with interviews with the likes of contemporary figures such as Apartamento founder Nacho Alegre and designer Sevil Peach.