On 29th October 2010, a panel of top-notch professionals from the two, supposedly delineated worlds of Art and Design, came together to take on the debate of ‘design versus art’. Throughout the past four decades, the face and public perception of design has changed dramatically, mutating from the post punk, DIY rebellion of the 1970’s, to standardised mass production in the 80’s .
By the 90’s we were living in an era of globalised design and glossy finishes and with the millennium came the decade of a booming art market with design becoming increasingly recognised as a stand alone art form in it’s own right. This progression eventually culminated in the coining of the phrase ‘Design Art’ and the ‘naughties’ are the two disciplines more blurred than ever.
In the light of the Barbican’s current show; Ron Arad: Restless which showcases the works of the internationally acclaimed artist, architect and design maverick, the art versus design debate rears it’s head once more.
The panel members included Simon de Pury (Chairman of Phillips de Pury & Company), Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard of Fredrikson Stallard, dealer Oscar Humphries of Timothy Taylor Gallery, artist Pae White and Tim Marlow, writer, broadcaster and Director of Exhibitions at White Cube. In a fascinating debate lasting almost 2 hours, the panellists explored the implications of the intertwined markets for art and design, addressing the key questions.
Where do the basic differences between the two disciplines lie then?
PF: As designers we can be much more accommodating to our clients requests. If we design something in blue but they want it in red, it’s out job to design it to suit them. You have to work to make things that within people’s everyday lives – Of course it doesn’t work that way in art.
PW: Artists seem to have a greater level of freedom with their work, a sense of ‘artistic immunity’ to the rules of practicality. We’re not constrained by barriers of what is practical such as if something is flammable or how well it deals with wear and tear etc.
SdP: For me there isn’t a great difference between the two. If something is truly great, it was done by a truly great artist. Ultimately a beautiful design is just great art. Ron Arad is a great artist. Top collectors are no longer content with a master artwork on their wall; they want to surround themselves with beauty in their furniture and cutlery.
Does this not lead to a danger than anything considered good, becomes labelled as art?
SdP: I believe in a total blending of the boundaries including art, architecture, sound and design.
Where is the agenda for the new perception of design being set? Has the market had the dominant influence or is there has there been a creative change?
SdP: It’s almost certainly market led. It started with a few designers putting work into large art auctions and they made huge prices. Everyone suddenly pricked up their ears. Galleries began displaying design pieces within their walls because they realised they could make great profits.
TM: So essentially it is just very clever marketing working to push up design prices in the same way the art market boomed this decade.
Were boundaries between art and design laid out from the beginning of your train – in art / design school?
OW: Not at all – where I studied car design was seen as one of the most artistic, sculpturally orientated courses.
PF: I studied at St Martin’s and there were certainly no boundaries there. It was so free you could literally drift off and do what ever you wanted. By mixing with other students in the bar you’d get influences from all different creative courses and ideas would become meshed and interwoven.
Has ‘good design for all’ become exclusive design for the few?
SdP: I wouldn’t say so. Take Jeff Koons for example, the most expensive living artist today. HE makes unique, million dollar art works but also sells beautiful, mass produced towels available to all. There does seem to be a natural association between quality and rarity but this is not always the true case.
OH: Design is such a democratic medium, many designers are involved in a range of projects from unique or limited edition pieces to some fantastic mass produced items. It’s all about getting the right split.
TM: Artists have to make the majority of their sales through the gallery, where as designers get the best of both worlds from the exclusive to the commercial.
Does design have the potential to overtake art in superiority?
SdP: Art cannot become superior to art!
OH: We are sophisticated enough to recognise that good design is an art from. Ron Arad made room for himself in the art world and paved the way for other designers to follow behind him. As a result, the overlap between the two disciplines is ever increasing.
Is it fair to say artists are not meant to be commercial animals whilst designers are?
PF: For designers, commercialism isn’t such a dirty word but it still has low connotations. As high end ‘artistic’ designers we can’t win. We get kicked for being too arty and kicked for being too commercial.
How do you envisage this art / design relationship progressing in the next decade?
SdP: The boundaries will continue to blur to the point that they will eventually have to be rebuilt even more rigorously than before. It’s the typical cycle of history.
OH: I believe art galleries should remain first and foremost spaces for are and essentially the delineation in a good thing.
PW: Galleries are always shifting. As we move forward with the new concept of including design in gallery spaces, they seem to simultaneously be moving back with an ever increasing focus on artists who were fashionable over a century ago.
Does Design at it’s best have a moral obligation to reach out to as wide an audience as possible?
PF: Designers shouldn’t feel too panicked by the need to appeal to a huge audience, this can be incredibly restrictive. If all design worked on this basis no one would have experiment with new ways of creating beautiful designs and concepts.
Ron Arad: Restless – 18th February – 16th May 2010