Though I suppose that I should have been contemplating the politics of mass-production, the shifting cultural priorities of form and function, or the symbolic value of mid-century design in our contemporary market, but instead, I was just thinking: wow, I wish I owned that record-player.
SFMOMA’s Architecture and Design department has brought the exhibition Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams to us to prove, seemingly, that yes, Dieter Rams is the reigning zen master of design. A collection of objects—many designed by Rams for Braun—populate the surfaces of clean tables and vitrines grouped in the center of the A+D galleries, while so-simple-they-almost-seem-pithy quotations from the designer’s ten principles reverberate on the surrounding white walls. “There is no longer room for irrelevant things. We have no longer got the resources. Irrelevance is out,” he tells us; and, “Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”
Rams’ objects adhere to these principles: formed in subdued hues of grey, white, brown, and red, these objects are simple—minimal, even—and have become icons of 20th-century design. The exhibition, like the objects contained therein, is simple, but nonetheless worth a visit. Approaching it with the least thoughtfulness possible, Less and More is a well-laid out collection of beautifully clean design objects, ranging from radios to space-aged blow dryers.
With a little more though, the exhibition can stir up questions about the role of design in the museum—why do museums collect and exhibit it? What are we to draw from these shows other than the appreciation of the amount of thought that goes into the objects we use in our daily lives? At times, departments of architecture and design seem less concerned with polemics than the more contentious fields of media, sculpture, or photography (though listed this way, none of these fields seem terribly radical). But certainly, there is more at stake in the architecture and design wings of modern museums than meets the eye. What we may see as time-capsules, in retrospect, once functioned as showrooms of “modern” design aimed to influence the tastes of the museum-goer-consumer—a platform that is not without ideology. While Less and More may not rival the Museum of Modern Art's Good Design series that ran in the 1940s and 50s, shaping our collective vision of America’s mid-century, but remembering the precedent can surely lend a richness to this show of Rams’ work.
—Liz Glass, a writer living in San Francisco
Top Image: Dieter Rams, FS 80, Photo: Koichi Okuwaki . Courtesy of SFMOMA - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art