The Whitney Museum of American Art by Renzo Piano, New York
The new Renzo Piano-designed building for New York’s The Whitney Museum of American Art has not been without its controversies. Scheduled to open in Manhattan’s Meatpacking district on 1 May, this opening will finalise the process of the Whitney leaving its existing Marcel Breuer-designed brutalist premises on the Upper East Side. While the Whitney’s history has been characterised by a certain wanderlust (the Piano building will mark its fourth location in a little over 80 years), the decision to leave Breuer’s celebrated 1966 design has been a difficult one, as is suggested by the six expansion plans for the site that the museum had previously authorised, each of which subsequently ran aground.
Yet there is much to look forward to in the May move. Judgment on Piano’s design ought to be reserved until it is in use, yet the essential advantage of the new site is that it will roughly double the museum’s exhibition space. Given that the museum’s original reason for moving was the spatial constraints of the Breuer site, this in itself is a victory and it ought to make for interesting viewing as to whether the Whitney will thrive in its new neighbourhood. Whether Piano’s building will surpass, or even match, Breuer’s building (a structure that the New York Times’s Ada Louise Huxtable described in 1966 as “[growing] on one slowly, like a taste for olives or warm beer”) remains to be seen, but the motivation behind the project is undoubtedly a good one.
A much-welcomed side effect of the Whitney Museum's move is that the Met now will take over Breuer's building for a seven year period (to start off with) with specific space dedicated to its reinvigorated design and architecture programme following last year's appointment of architecture and design curator Beatrice Galilee. No more details have yet been released on the Met's architecture and design programming, but the building itself is an excellent start and we will watch this space carefully.
Chicago Architecture Biennial, October 2015 – January 2016
Remaining in the USA, although skipping ahead to October, the first edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial is an event worth watching. The biennial is themed around “The State of the Art of Architecture”, a title that perhaps suggests something of the same introspection that marked Rem Koolhaas’s Fundamentals exhibition for the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennial. Yet while Fundamentals focused on “architectural elements” (to, in the minds of many critics, nostalgic and navel-gazing effect), Chicago’s Biennial title suggests a little more freedom and variety, particularly in the way in which contemporary architects interact with culture and society interacts with architecture. Given that one of the biennial’s art directors is Joseph Grima – whose curation of Kortrijk’s 2014 Biennale Interieur admirably dealt with the changing face of the home in terms of both architecture and its wider culture – there is every reason to be optimistic.
Milan Expo, 1 May – 31 October 2015
Another large-scale event worth monitoring is the Milan Expo, the latest iteration of the ongoing World’s fair series, which is due to open on May 1. The Expo is themed around “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” and given that the UN estimates that 805 million people were chronically undernourished between 2012 and 2014, it is a topic well worth exploring. The architecture of the national pavilions at such events is often thought-provoking – the 2010 Expo in Shanghai featured Thomas Heatherwick’s celebrated Seed Cathedral – yet ultimately the Expo will stand and fall on the strength of the ideas presented within these structures. With Milan’s Fashion Week and Salone del Mobile falling in the first half of the year, the six-month Expo should guarantee that attention remains on the city until the year’s close.
Meanwhile, a historical figure in architecture is due to receive much attention in 2015 – Eileen Gray. Not only will two feature films (one documentary and one fictionalised account of her life) premiere in the UK in the first half of the year, but the completion of the restoration of E1027, the modernist villa that Gray designed for the Cote d’Azur in 1929, is scheduled for September. Both Mary McGuckian's The Price of Desire and Marco Orsini's Gray Matters detail the life and career of Eileen Gray (1878-1976), an Irish modernist architect and designer whose work has only recently begun attracting the attention it deserves. The films are part of a wider growing recognition of Gray’s talents within architecture (with fellow female modernists such as Charlotte Perriand and Lina Bo Bardi undergoing a similar reevaluation) and this should be welcomed. Her furniture designs are in production with Aram Designs, while her Fauteuil aux Dragons armchair sold at auction for £19.4m in 2009.
Jasper Morrison, Grand Hornu Images, 15 May – 13 September 2015
A case could be made that, of any currently practicing designer, it is Jasper Morrison who has had the greatest influence on the direction of contemporary design. Morrison's emphasis on the “super normal” (the term he coined with Naoto Fukasawa) and functionalism in product design (coupled with an admirable prolificacy) has influenced not only fellow product designers such as Konstantin Grcic and the Bouroullecs ("One of the key figures in contemporary design is Mr. Jasper Morrison," Erwan Bouroullec has previously noted. "We can talk about Dieter Rams and people like this, but I think in the last decade Morrison made this point really well."), but also more conceptual, gallery-based practitioners. It is not for nothing that Shay Alkalay, one half of the conceptual, London-based design studio Raw Edges, has said in interview, "Jasper Morrison can be really pure. One material, beautiful shape: perfect.”
All of which – in spite of his rather media-shy public persona – makes it surprising that Morrison’s work has never been the subject of a retrospective. This will change this year with a solo exhibition at Grand Hornu Images in Belgium in May. The show promises to provide a complete overview of Morrison’s career and, in typical Morrison fashion, is simply titled “Retrospective”. It ought to make for essential viewing and a trip to Hornu for the exhibition is recommended. While Grand Hornu is perhaps a little off the beaten path, it has a fine track-record of design exhibitions from the likes of Mathieu Lehanneur and Doshi Levien. It should do Morrison and his work justice.
Architecture of Independence and Making Africa, Vitra Design Museum, 20 February – 13 September 2015
An institute with a similarly strong track record (but a higher public profile) is the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. In February and March the institute is to open two exhibitions – Architecture of Independence and Making Africa – which centre on African design and architecture. While Architecture of Independence is retrospective and focuses on the 1960s (2 February – 31 May), Making Africa (14 March – 13 September) is contemporary in tone and looks at the economic and political effects design is having in Africa. The scope of the show is dauntingly broad – to sum up an entire continent's relationship to design is a tall order by any standards – but this is perhaps the right approach when examining a topic that has previously been little discussed. The strength of the curatorial team involved – Nigerian curator, art critic and writer Okwui Enwezor and the museum’s director Mateo Kries – suggests a high-calibre show.
All of This Belongs to You, V&A, 1 April – 19 July 2015
Curatorial direction is also the reason to look forward to All of This Belongs to You, an exhibition about public institutions to be hosted at the V&A in April. The exhibition’s emphasis on civics and the role of design and architecture in public life is typical of the public-minded direction in which senior curator Kieran Long and his team have led the museum's Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital department in recent months. There is every reason to think that All of This Belongs to You will be as compelling as the Rapid Response Collecting initiative launched by Corinna Gardner (the museum’s curator of contemporary product design) in 2014.
A new master degree in Food Design at IULM Milan
Our final design selection for the year ahead is the launch of a Master’s course in food design at SPD and IULM University in Milan. The course is due to begin in March and counts among its lecturers Martí Guixé, the designer credited with initiating the discipline in 1997 with his SPAMT exhibition in Barcelona. While food design is nothing new (and has in fact somewhat faded from discussion in recent years) the SPD course is exciting for its links to industry. The course is sponsored by Pepsico and this suggests a new direction for a discipline that has, to date, been predominantly gallery-focused. Coupled with the existing BA course in the subject at Design Academy Eindhoven, the SPD course suggests promising new developments in food design.
John Galliano for Maison Martin Margiela, January
In October 2014 British designer John Galliano was appointed creative director of fashion house Maison Martin Margiela (MMM) and this stage of Galliano’s much-publicised rehabilitation will culminate on 12 January when he shows his first couture collection for MMM in London.
On the surface Galliano’s appointment was surprising. MMM, particularly since Margiela’s departure in 2008, has been characterised by its collective approach. The label refers to itself collectively as “we”, uses blank labels and, famously, all employees dress in a uniform of identical white lab coats. By contrast Galliano is a consummate showman. In his previous positions at Dior and Givenchy he has acted as the singular public figurehead and it is tempting, albeit a touch mischievous, to compare MMM’s antiseptic lab coats with the flamboyant pirate, astronaut and Napoleon Bonaparte costumes that Galliano has previously taken catwalk bows in. While MMM prides itself upon its conceptual, deconstructivist approach, Galliano has always operated more in the realms of romanticism and storytelling.
Yet despite the partnership marking a change in direction for both MMM and Galliano, there are reasons to be optimistic. Fashion critic Alexander Fury has argued forcefully for the two as being united by an emphasis on craftsmanship and focus on the history of dress while Suzy Menkes has linked Margiela’s spring/summer 2000 Homeless collection for Dior to Margiela’s passion for re-cyling and re-making. What should also be remembered is that Galliano is himself in a period of self-reflection (as well as self-evaluation and improvement) and will not necessarily tread the same ground as he did earlier in his career. MMM may prove the clean break he has been hoping for.
China: Through the Looking Glass, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 7 May – 16 August, 2015
Galliano also features in New York’s The Metropolitan Museum of Art's (The Met) spring exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass. This exhibition, due to be displayed in the museum's Costume Institute, aims to explore the ways in which Chinese imagery has influenced fashion both historically and in the present day. The show will include works from celebrated western designers such as Coco Chanel, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent, yet perhaps of more interest than the garments themselves is the context in which they will be set. The exhibition will feature filmic representations of China to illustrate the ways in which impressions of the country have been shaped by cultural narratives, while the museum’s China galleries will display traditional Chinese paintings and decorative arts, as well as fashion from the 1700s to the present day. The exhibition is curated by Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda of the Met’s Costume Institute and this approach is typical of their work. Both Bolton and Koda are highly respected within their industry and their extensive knowledge of fashion history and meticulous, research-led approach is likely to be China: Through the Looking Glass’s greatest asset.
Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty, V&A, 14 March – 19 July 2015
Meanwhile Koda's and Bolton's exhibition on Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty is being adapted for London and the V&A. It will be the first and largest retrospective of McQueen's work to be presented in Europe. When it showed at the Costume Institute at the Met in the summer of 2011 it received record visitor numbers (650,000 people had seen it when it closed) and the V&A is gearing up for more of the same.
Jeanne Lanvin, Musée Palais Galliera, 8 March – 23 August 2015
Another designer receiving some much-deserved focus this spring is is Jeanne Lanvin, with an exhibition examining her work opening at Palais Galliera in Paris on 8 March. The exhibition, curated by Palais Galliera’s director Olivier Saillard, focuses on the French couturier Jeanne Lanvin (1867 – 1946), founder of Parisian fashion house Lanvin. The exhibition, which draws on the collections of Palais Galliera and the Lanvin Heritage, ought to have strong historical interest. Lanvin was not a modernising influence in the manner of couturiers such as Coco Chanel or Madeleine Vionnet. Instead, her garments were romantic and nostalgic, frequently based around waisted, full-skirted dresses and sumptuous detailing. Yet Lanvin’s entrepreneurial spirit was undeniable and throughout the early 20th century she introduced children’s lines, mother/daughter outfits and a menswear range. The exhibition at Palais Galliera should prove a fitting testament to her career.