Dallas Museum of Art Presents Overview of Its Modern and Contemporary Design Collections

The Dallas Museum of Art presents Form/Unformed: Design from 1960 to the Present, a new installation drawn largely from its growing collections of iconic furniture and related objects from the past 50 years.

On view through January 29, 2012, in the Museum’s fourth floor Tower Gallery, Form/Unformed reflects the vibrant transformation of ideology and style that shaped international design over the last half-century. The installation features work by such renowned designers as Verner Panton, Frank Gehry, Aldo Rossi, Ettore Sottsass, Robert Venturi, Donald Judd, Zaha Hadid, Louise Campbell, and Fernando and Humberto Campana.

From the technological and formal ideals of modernism to the influence of the handmade, the more than 30 works in Form/Unformed reflect increasingly complex and vibrant relationships between concepts of function, aesthetics, and material expression.

“Form/Unformed reveals some of the most significant and provocative design objects from the Museum’s modern and contemporary design holdings,” said Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “Several of the works on view are recent acquisitions that reflect the continuing expansion of the Museum’s decorative arts and design program to include historic American and European work as well as contemporary objects of international significance. Modern jewelry, including The Golden Fleece ring by Giovanni Corvaja featured in the exhibition, marks a new area of collecting interest, and yet is a logical expansion of the design program, resonating with the DMA’s collections of historic Greek and pre-Columbian jewelry.”

“Form/Unformed marks the first time the Museum has presented a comprehensive overview of its modern and contemporary design collections, which have grown through the addition of exceptional and iconic works by some of the leading designers of the last half-century,” said Kevin W. Tucker, the DMA’s Margot B. Perot Curator of Decorative Arts and Design and curator of the installation. “Wood, ceramics, metals, plastics, and other media have been utilized by designers to continue the exploration of the potential of design in aesthetic expression, technical achievement, and democratic production—or as precious object. By the 1960s, the dictums of modernism had already begun to yield to bold new experimentations with style, color, materials, techniques and forms that radically transformed international design in the coming decades.”

In the late 1950s, the doctrines of modernism were increasingly subject to challenges that questioned the rationale of functionalism, giving rise to a new ornamental and expressive language of design that eschewed structural clarity and traditional materials and embraced color and ornament anew. While the formal possibilities of new materials, including inexpensive molded plastics, would remain of interest, the resulting creations, often reflecting an increasing trend toward casual living, suggest less of a technical interest and serve instead as the ultimate realization of the biomorphic, organic shapes popularized in the prior decade. Scandinavian and Italian designers, among others, began to focus on works—often produced in limited numbers—that emphasized conceptual themes over concerns of practicality and function.

By the 1980s and the rise of the Italian “Memphis” group of architects and designers, led by Ettore Sottsass, material and structural issues were entirely secondary to eccentric effects of pattern, color and shape, including drawing upon stylized neoclassical motifs to produce transformed historic references. More recently, collaborative efforts between manufacturers, designers and individual makers have further blurred the traditionally held divisions between art, craft, architecture and design, often resulting in works that seem to fully deny a true function beyond serving as contemporary objets d’art.

Image: Michele De Lucchi, First chair, 1983. Memphis Milano, Milan, Italy, founded 1981, manufacturer. Metal, wood, and paint, 35 1/2 x 25 1/2 x 17 1/2 in. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Kenn Darity and Ed Murchison

Kevin Tucker will lead a Gallery Talk on Form/Unformed on Wednesday, January 12, 2011, at 12:15 p.m. For updated programming information, please visit DallasMuseumofArt.org

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