24 January 2014

Paul Smith and more at the Design Museum

The Design Museum in its current location, somewhat to the east of Tower Bridge, is a little off any of my normal routes so I have only been there when I have had another cause to be in that area, i.e. a theatre.

This time it worked well as the show that I was going to see was not enough to get me to go to that part of London by itself but when combined with the museum the two made a good bill.

The main show at the Design Museum was Hello. My name is Paul Smith. I was only mildly interested in this as a topic but I had faith in the museum to make a silk purse from a sow's ear, if necessary, so it seemed a reasonable thing to go and see.

My expectation was rows of men's suits which just goes to show how little I knew of Paul Smith or his work beforehand.

The exhibition was as much about Paul Smith's life and working methods as it was the actual works.

Part of this was a mock-up of his main office in Covent Garden which looks like a burgled garage but which is actually a collection of colours and shapes that are used to inspire.

That approach to design, taking inspiration from anywhere, meant that there was not a uniform style to his works but there were some themes, such as stripes. These appeared on clothing, either as the main theme or as little flashes, and also on a range of other items, including an original Mini.

What surprised me was the range of things that Paul Smith put his name to and clothing was a small part of the exhibition. There were lots of things to do with cycles, shoes, pottery and even a Dunny.

There was also a feature on his shops around the world. He has taken the exact opposite approach to that of Apple etc. and every shop is deliberately very different.

There was some clothing, of course, and while I liked some of it there was more that I did not see the point of and there was nothing that I could identify as a Paul Smith style or meme.

One of the more interesting rooms was a large room full of prints, pictures and photographs from Paul Smith's private collection.

As elsewhere in the exhibition, these said more about the man than his work and given my views on his work it is probably not surprising that I found this room one of the more interesting.

Here there were some repeating themes among the chaos, such as the several photographs and drawings of airplanes.

The Paul Smith exhibition occupied the first floor of the Design Museum which is a reasonable but not large space. It took me about an hour to get around and that included a couple of stops to watch videos, I especially liked the one on the show during Paris Fashion Week in 2013 though that did nothing to convince me that bright pink trousers are a good idea.

With some time to spare I headed up to the second floor and the exhibition on Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things which used objects from the museum's collection to tell the stories of familiar objects like the anglepoise lamp, road and rail signs and plastic chairs.

There was much to enjoy here with dollops of good design mixed in with interesting stories and a dollop of nostalgia.

I loved the Imperial Airways map for its historical view of the British Empire and, in particular, for the detailed route map across Africa where Dad flew in the 1950's.

Closer to home there was a display on the early days of modernism in London which featured the Finsbury Health Centre (Lubetkin, 1938) and Highpoint in Highgate (Lubetkin, 1935).

Included in the display was furniture and other items from one of the flats as it was originally. Lovely stuff.

Also in this exhibition were other icons such as a Sinclair C5, a telephone box, an Apple iMAC G3. These were all good things to linger over.

The final exhibition, also on the second floor, was In the Making which, as its name suggested, showed the making of a diverse range of objects including a tennis ball, a coloured glass marble, a London Olympic torch, a cricket bat an a £2 coin.

There was a short film showing the part of the manufacturing process for each and there were eight showing at once so it was easy to watch the more interesting ones and skip the rest, but I think that I watched all of them at least once.

In the display section was an example of each of the objects as they were during that stage of the manufacturing process shown in the film. For example, there was a column of glass with coloured paint in where a marble had been formed at one end and was almost ready for separation.

This was a small but engaging exhibition and between them the three exhibitions kept me in the Design Museum until the staff started to ask people to leave as it was closing time. I could ask for no more.

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