Marc Newson, Design Museum
As one of the world’s leading designers, the 41-year-old, Australian-born Marc Newson has shaped a host of products for a range of companies from Idée and Alessi, to corporate giants less known for being aesthetically adventurous, such as Ford and Qantas.
Everything — watches and phones, lights and seats, cars and planes and, in one notable instance, vibrators — seems to have been given the Newson touch. That touch, which has been à la mode since the early Nineties, is one that was first shaped by his early influences: modernist architecture, surfing and the kind of Utopian, futuristic vision of the Fifties and Sixties that foresaw a world of bubble cars and pod-like skyscrapers.
Later it was honed in Japan, where Newson worked for a while, with its odd mix of pure modernism and ultra-commercial kitsch. The resulting aesthetic is bright, colourful, shiny and superficially simple, in love with curves and synthetic materials — a kind of commercial aesthetic paradise in which all products look happy.
The Design Museum’s exhibition provides a chronological walk through an array of Newson pieces, from his early sculptural furniture, including his breakthrough piece, Lockhead Lounge from 1986, a curving, bulbous, metallic update of the chaise longue, to Kelvin 40, a retro-looking, concept two-seater plane developed for the Cartier Foundation in Pari this year. In between sit bottle-openers and soap dishes, images of Newson-designed restaurants such as Coast in London and a prize-winning concept car for Ford.
While the display matches the work for its simplicity, it provides no wider context and, inevitably, with the work of such a popular and populist designer as Newson, you are likely to be familiar with many of his designs.
It would have been interesting to have seen an attempt to explain why such an aesthetic — of which Newson is a leading exponent and not inventor — has become so popular with producers and consumers. That explanation might have looked at the link between Newson’s preference for curves and the ubiquitous rise in social informality, or the connection between the playfulness with which he invests his products and the birth of a generation who have emotional relationships with mass-produced products. But at least the products were spared the in-depth analysis, which would have only left them depressed.
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