Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami Beach, on the occasion of the opening of Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami, inaugurated an extremely original exhibition with the provocative and sort of “localist” title “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”: a journey through the history of French design from the 1940s up to today.
In a few rooms, the exhibition was divided in nine sections or subjects with a total number of 150 items coming from the collection of CNAP (Centre national des arts plastiques). The sections, divided according to themes, people or contexts, aimed at connoting the “Frenchness” of design, taken into consideration not only for its aesthetic and functional value, but also for the socio-political one. It is, in fact, undeniable that many everyday objects changed the habits and the way of living of French people, but not only, and that designers such as Philip Stark, Roger Tallon and others took their inspiration from a vision of housing with strong ideological connotations.
The space dedicated to each section was limited by a setting expressly created for the exhibition, formed by three wooden modules shaped as a Greek fret and paintings with the colors of the French flag. An homage not only to France, but also to its greatest architect Le Corbusier, who, in 1943, created a measurement system called Modulor based on the human body and mathematics. This system was used for all his creations and was applied to all chairs and tables and to the Citè radieuse.
Captured in this emblematic setting, the contexts, recreated in the exhibition with great fantasy and cleverness, presented the objects that made French design famous, either in luxury products (Kelly by Hermès, for example), and in everyday products, provocatively transformed by geniuses such as Starck, Sidet, Massaloux and realized by Thomson (dream products), or those regarding the working environment (school, office). Some of these sections were dedicated to the designers considered as essential models of “Frenchness” as Roger Tallon, Philippe Starck or Matali Crasset, who belonged to three different generations.
The youngest one, but already famous for her cooperation with Alessi, is Crasset, whose best characteristic is the ability of putting together different worlds and transforming them in a new vision of living. The use of cabas Barbès, shopping bags with a large diffusion in the popular areas of Paris (from the name of the neighborhood Barbès-Rochechouart) and produced by a store for emigrant communities, is particularly original. These bags, filled with polyurethane foam and piled as chests of drawers or transformed in guest beds, take a new identity and use. An example of how design can transform and reinvent the everyday world.
Therefore, the result was a light and provocative, exhaustive and original exhibition, giving space to further reflections on the role of the designers in contemporary society.