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Contemporary Design Gallery Opening At IMA 

You email, Instagram, Tweet, text, bank and call--all with your iPhone. But when was the last time you really looked at it? Go ahead, pick it up and turn it around in your hand, notice the weight of it in your palm and the lines running evenly around the trim. These are all elements of design and well deserving of a showcase in the new Contemporary Design Galleries at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

This 10,000 square foot collection contains some household names, such as Apple and Dyson and you may wonder, what are a phone and a thing that sucks up dirt doing in Indianapolis' largest art refuge? Charles Venable, CEO and curator for the show, is glad you asked.

James Dyson, 2003
  • James Dyson, 2003

"We tend to think of museums in a very traditional way, in terms of what should be in them and what is in them," says Venable. "Vacuum cleaner, laptop computers, iPhones--there are lots of pieces of technology that are, on one hand, beautifully designed and incredibly important in terms of our lives. We use these things every single day."

Innovations you might have around your home are far from the only ones in the 430-item collection. Boasting works from more than 100 designers, representing 20 countries, the collection features a wide variety of styles, including works from artists such as Philippe Starck, local architect Michael Graves (designer of the Indianapolis Arts Center) and husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames.

click to enlarge Michael Graves, 2007
  • Michael Graves, 2007

"Graves is of particular interest to the IMA," says Venable. "He is the most famous architect who was ever from Indiana. Given that he is a hometown boy, I guess you could say, we have worked on collecting quite a lot of material from Michael Graves." Pieces with Graves' name attached range from watches to lighting fixtures.

In development for five years, the debut of the Contemporary Design Galleries on Nov. 21 will  be the culmination of all the hard work of IMA staff, donors, Venable and Craig Miller, former curator of design arts. He was, according to Venable, the driving force behind much of the collection.

The space will be broken down into two smaller entry rooms. The first showcases a rotating selection of pieces. Venable estimates it will change about every six months. The second room is a buffet of time-selected items from 1945 to 1980, and each will provide a context of design during the time it was created. The largest room will be an open setting, allowing viewers to move through it at will.

"Most of us think very linearly," says Venable. "We think things from 1983 should look different from 1985 and even more different from 1990. The thing that is so interesting when you walk into these galleries is that most of this stuff is very contemporary. But because they are from different designers and manufactures there is such a wide range of material."

Michael Graves, 1983
  • Michael Graves, 1983

But why are most of the designs from post '80s? Once we flip through a timeline (sorry, it looks as if we do need to be linear for a second) 1980 is an obvious cutoff point.

"That is right around when you have a reaction against modernism, very sleek, functional, unornamented design," explains Venable. "That was considered basically good design for much of the 20th century."

To put it in context, Michael Graves was known for his shapes and patterns, all making strong statements against modernism. After 1980, designers could pursue modernism if they wished, but they could also take on the more ornamented designs and still be able to sell their work.

click to enlarge Patrick Jouin, 2004. Made by a 3D printer.
  • Patrick Jouin, 2004. Made by a 3D printer.

"It is amazing when you see it, walking through the gallery," says Venable. "The range of objects, the range of expression."

There are beautiful pieces in the show, but aesthetics weren't the foremost thought. "We have been picking out designers specifically because they are doing things differently," says Venable. With a chaise lounge made of cardboard and a chair that was constructed using parts created by a 3-D printer, "differently" is something of an understatement. Not just pushing the bounds of furniture design, these pieces in particular even bring into question the definition of a chair, and that is the discussion Venable is after.

"It is very rare that you go into a home in the United States where there isn't a chair," says Venable. "I think people are very familiar with these objects and most of us take them totally for granted. They are not like a painting--that might be a little more rare to have in your home, that people seem to have more respect for. Design objects, everything from the phone we are talking on, or the chair I am sitting in--a lot of people would just assume there is a phone and a chair. You use them every single day and you don't think so much about exactly what they look like, what was the process to make that object. Is the phone I am talking on one of the best designs or the worst designs? You don't even think about it. What I am hoping will happen is that when people come into our galleries, people go 'gosh, I love that, or I hate that,' and go back to their home or office and not take so much for granted."

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Emily Taylor  /  IUPUI

Emily Taylor / IUPUI

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Emily Taylor is currently in her last year at IUPUI where she is studying Journalism, Philosophy and Political Science. She is a freelance writer in the Indianapolis metro area where she lives surrounded by her books, far too much coffee and a mangy mutt named Blissful.

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