Bloemink helps to blur lines between art, design
When Barbara Bloemink became curatorial director of the National Design Museum – a New York landmark commonly known as the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution – it was an interesting appointment. Bloemink had virtually no background in design but was heavy with advanced degrees in art and positions at significant art museums.So for Bloemink’s first exhibition at the National Design Museum, it was an interesting, but perhaps not surprising one. Art≠Design: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread, which opened last fall, focused on the intersection of art and design, mirroring Bloemink’s career juncture at the time. The exhibit, featuring tables, lamps, beds, chairs and more by names known mostly in the art world, was meant to provoke the conversation: What differentiates art from design?Art≠Design opens at the Aspen Art Museum with a reception from 6-8 p.m. today and runs through Oct. 2 in both galleries of the museum.”Everybody who knew me wanted to know: Why do you want to go into design?” said Bloemink, whose career highlights include serving as founding director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City and of the two Guggenheim Hermitage Museums in Las Vegas.The answer to that question addresses also the issue at the heart of Art≠Design. To Bloemink’s way of thinking, there is no valid distinction between the two, at least not any longer, and working with design is essentially the same as working with art. In fact, Bloemink is working with a similar set of artists in the current exhibit – Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, Richard Tuttle and others – that she would come across as an art museum curator.”What is the difference between design and art? That’s a silly boundary. It doesn’t make sense,” said Bloemink, seated at “Nature of the Gun,” an oddly proportioned wood and leather cushion table and chair installation. “Is animation done on a computer artwork or design? If Cindy Sherman is photography, why is she included in contemporary art shows?”Not so long ago, there did seem to be a great divide between the two. In the early ’60s, influential critic Clement Greenberg reviewed the first show of minimalist art, at the Jewish Museum in New York. Greenberg was dismissive, categorizing the work as design, furniture, not art. Cowed, the group of young artists hid their even more design-oriented work from the public eye. As a consequence, some 95 percent of the ArtDesign show, by Bloemink’s estimate, has never been shown in a museum before, despite the stature of the artists included.Bloemink says the globalized nature of the world has blurred the lines between art and design. Just as musical borders are rendered meaningless by, say, Béla Fleck & the Flecktones mixing fusion and bluegrass, Scott Bruton’s curvilinear steel chair, Sol LeWitt’s colorful folding screen and Judd’s copper armchair erase distinctions between art and design. Whatever differentiates the two isn’t very much at all and is getting smaller. “The younger generation doesn’t care how things are defined,” Bloemink said. “I think because of things like computers and the Internet, they don’t see the world as categories anymore. We’re racial mongrels, and we’re so many different cultures. The cultural and ethnic mixing makes strict definitions impossible and overly rigid and no longer accurate.”In some ways, contemporary art was the last half of the 20th century. I think design is the art of the 21st century.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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