The six sequences of ADAM’s collection, part 4: Design as a Trojan Horse

In our six-part series, we take a detailed look at the design collection housed in ADAM – Brussels Design Museum through the time-stamped sequences it uses in order to provide a more linear reading of its extensive selection, spawning mid-century innovations to current day creations. For the fourth instalment, exhibitions director Arnaud Bozzini discusses a shift in the expectations of design from the late 1960s onwards, through the lens of the radical work of Joe Colombo. Particularly, as he was grappling with political dissatisfaction and the nature of being a designer in America.

ADAM- Brussels Design Museum’s unique permanent exhibition The Plasticarium Collection is now on display – definitely a must see.

In the late sixties, among vibrant talks of building a different society, the design world was challenged just as much as other creative disciplines. The wish of the curatorial team is to show in this section, Design as a Trojan Horse, the meaningful role of Joe Colombo in that revolution. How could one be a designer without becoming a puppet of capitalism? Joe Colombo reacted to the public and commercial success of his Universale chair not by pursuing further his functionalist ideal, but by forcefully breaking from it. In 1968, in order to escape the diktats of market forces, he repudiated his entire industrial output and drew up the Antidesign manifesto.

Studio 65, Capitello, 1971

The idea of a design capable of adapting itself to every situation, and thus avoiding obsolescence.

A piece as the Capitelo chair is a very good example. Made by Studio 64, this chair gives us an ironic  look at our society: made in soft plastics, this broken top of Corinthian colonne symbolizes the end of the capitalistic era. He used that piece to challenge the role conventionally assigned to designers and proclaimed their supremacy over architects and urban planners. Above all, he aimed to uphold the idea of a design capable of adapting itself to every situation, and thus avoiding obsolescence. During the same period, the members of Radical Architecture invented Controdesign. They accused designers of being incapable of conceptualizing any form of political engagement in their work. Their strategy consisted of using design to infiltrate mass production chains. Antidesign and Controdesign were the two forms of protest operating in the realm of design between 1968 and 1973.

Studio Grupo 14, Argine, 1970

Creative attitude about what design should be in these early seventies was questioned.

A part of this work and creative attitude about what design should be in these early seventies was questioned in New York. Considered as the major events in the history of design, the exhibition Italy : The New Domestic Landscape, Achievements and Problems of Italian Design, was inaugurated at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on May 1971. Criticized as the swansong of Italian design, the show was curated by Emilio Ambasz who was then 28 years old. Ambasz conceived two sections, distinguishing between “objects” – which is the part that we wanted to feature in our permanent exhibition – and “environments”. The notion of an “environment” is a characteristic feature of the 1960s-1970s. It takes such varied forms as the “Mobile Human Space” of the Kar-a-Sutra by Mario Bellini (born in 1935), Joe Colombo’s Total Furnishing Unit or the Untitled project by Ettore Sottsass Jr. (1917-2007). Each environment was also the subject of an experimental film directed by the designer concerned – don’t miss one of these films shown here.

ADAM- Brussels Design Museum’s brand new permanent exhibition The Plasticarium Collection is now on display.