Category Archives: museums

50 Years of Design at Barcelona’s Palau Robert

50 Years of Design at Barcelona’s Palau Robert

The exhibition DELTA AWARDS – 50 YEARS OF DESIGN was at the Palau Robert between Oct 2010 and September 2011. This was a truly wonderful show to curate – for the first time ever, some 150 pieces of Spanish industrial design, many of them on loan from private collections, were shown together in a major exhibition that covered the past five decades. With over 197.000 visitors, it was the most successful design exhibitions in Barcelona to date.
The project was commissioned by the Catalan Regional Government and the Industrial Design Association ADI-FAD.

Art Deco in Barcelona

The Design History Foundation launches its teaching programme with a course on Art Deco, which will offer both an international approach to the style and sessions on its local impact.

The 18-hour course will take place between 30.09.09 and 16.12.09, at the Disseny Hub Barcelona, C/ Montcada, 12, 08003 Barcelona. Sessions will be in Catalan.

More information here.

Mariscal whirlwind

While in London I visited the Mariscal retrospective (see technical details here) and found it wonderful. The energy of Mariscal’s design reverberates through the exhibition, a dizzying display that builds on the very qualities it seeks to showcase.

It’s a fine tribute to Mariscal’s extraordinary creative zest, his enduring playfulness, and the sheer power of a vision that has created a very consistent personal world, both laid-back and vibrant.

Mariscal Drawing Life at the Design Museum London

01 July – 01 November 2009

The first UK retrospective of Spanish designer and artist Javier Mariscal will open on July 1 at the Design Museum, London. Regarded as one of the world’s most innovative and original designers of our time, Mariscal’s rich and diverse body of work spans kooky cartoon characters to stunning interiors, from furniture to graphic design and corporate identities.

Mariscal’s intense relationship with drawing and illustration is central to his career and is the basis for his designs over the last 30 years. He gave Barcelona its graphic identity as it emerged from the Franco era and in 1992 he introduced the world to Cobi, the official Olympic mascot of the Barcelona games. Sketches, designs, films and photographs will be on display alongside furniture and textiles. Mariscal will also design and paint an elaborate mural for the exterior of the museum showcasing his unique vision and signature design style.

TICKETS: Adults £8.50; Concessions £6.50;
Students £5.00; Under 12s free
OPENING: 10.00 -17.45 Daily. Last Admission: 17.15

What does Barcelona look like? – Los Ojos del Mundo

One of the few annoying features of my iPhone is the question it asks every time I want to use its camera: “Camera would like to use your current location. ‘Don’t allow’ / ‘Ok'”. Being a bit of a surveillance paranoid I routinely ‘Don’t allow’, but thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who do, and mostly, thanks to those who upload their pictures to Flickr and tag them, the researchers at MIT SENSEable City Lab have come up with a fantastic piece of data visualisation. In collaboration with Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Barcelona Disseny Hub, they have developed Los Ojos del Mundo, with two projects based on pictures taken by both tourists and locals in Barcelona: Spaces of Diversity maps Britons weaving their path in Barcelona; and Spaces of Activity tracks photos from Barcelona with tags related to ‘partying’.

So, what do tourists go for? No surprises there:

Britons who visited Barcelona in Fall 2007 stayed on the beaten paths delimited by the city’s main elements such as Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia,  with Passeig de Gracia and Rambla acting as artery. The photos also confirm their pleasure for football (Camp Nou) parties (Forum) and the mediteranean sea (Barceloneta).

And what about partying?

tags related to “partying” in Summer 2007 shows that Barcelona confines its fun to the old town (Ciutat Vella) known for its high density of tourists, the bohemian distric of Gracia and the Forum area and its music festivals.

Spaces of activity (where are the parties?) from senseable on Vimeo.

The everyday comes to Santa Coloma. Local things for local history.

The Museo Torre Balldovina, a local museum in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, near Barcelona, has asked the town’s citizens to contribute everyday objects from the 50s, 60s and 70s. These will be catalogued by the Museum and will be shown in an exhibition this fall. So far, about a hundred pieces have been collected over a few weeks, ranging from typewriters to sewing kits.

La Vanguardia has a nice video with interviews of some of the donors who explain their relationship to the objects they have given. But I can’t embed it so go watch it here.

Where is Spanish vintage design?

Lamp by Andre Ricard for Metalarte. Spain, 1973.

Lamp by Andre Ricard for Metalarte. Spain, 1973.

I find browsing through the catalogues of 20th century design auctions pleasantly addictive. I particularly enjoy the idea of many of those objects having the possibility of an extended real life out there in someone’s home, eventually. Of tables supporting piles of half-read magazines and traces of fresh coffee stains, consoles being scratched by bunches of keys every evening, lamps being turned on and chairs creaking as people sit at the dinner table. When I come across a piece of vintage furniture I really like,  a whole room seems to grow around it in my mind. A very expensive room, as many of these objects have been going for pretty steep prices – at least until fairly recently. The 20th Century Design antiques market hasn’t been immune to the global economic meltdown, although it has held up surprisingly well, especially at the higher end of the market.

The vintage design scene is dominated by five main players, in terms of where the pieces come from and the most valued historical periods. Germany (Bauhaus designers), Italy (pretty much everything), France (Prouve of course, Royère, Mategot), Scandinavia (Aalto, Jacobsen, Panton) and US Mid-Century Modern (Eames, Nelson, Nakashima). Just to name a few. Then there’s everybody else, from the Czech Republic to Brazil. And, on rare occasions, Spain.

Fase 520c lamp in TV series House M.D., episode 4x11, "Frozen".

Fase 520c lamp in TV series House M.D., episode 4x11, "Frozen".

Late 1960s lamp by Fase, Madrid.

Late 1960s lamp by Fase, Madrid.

Until very recently, Spain was as entirely absent from the vintage design scene as the vintage design scene was absent in Spain. Now both are starting to rear their heads. So far, the occasional Spanish mid-century presence in the auction catalogues is limited to a couple of recurring typologies, but they are slowly becoming established. One of them is  – to the horror of Spaniards who see nothing in them but the reminder of Francoist officialdom – the pieces by lighting company FASE, manufacturer during the 1960s and 1970s of wonderfully solid and excitingly modern-looking lamps for the desks of Spanish civil servants. Ironically, designer-anonymous Fase lamps are probably the best-known items of Spanish design in the vintage world. Not surprisingly, as some of them are truly gorgeous. They have recently found their way into the latest Indiana Jones film (on Indy’s desk, no less!) and an episode of the TV series House M.D. – Hollywood production designers know a good thing when they see it.

Sunburst gilt ceiling fixture. Spain, late 1950s.

Sunburst gilt ceiling fixture. Spain, late 1950s.

Spain, 1950s gilt sunburst mirror with scrollwork frame

Spain, 1950s gilt sunburst mirror with scrollwork frame

Another category of Spanish mid-century design that has become extremely successful abroad is the sunburst, both as mirror and as lamp. Again, to the dismay of modernity-seeking Spaniards who see them as the epitome of kitsch and the bane of dreary middle-class late 1950s entry halls. And again, I think they’re gorgeous.

But what about ‘real’ Spanish design, designer design, the kind of stuff that was getting ADI-FAD Delta prizes in the 1960s and 1970s? The stuff by Miguel Mila and Andre Ricard and Barba Corsini? Or even earlier 1930s stuff by the GATCPAC crew? There seems to be precious little of it out there.

The Butterfly chair (known as BKF in Spain) by Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy, is virtually the only well-known piece by a Spanish designer that has a solid, enduring presence in the vintage design auction world. And that is probably because it was designed in Argentina in 1938 (Bonet, a Catalan architect, had fled Spain during the Civil War and founded the Austral group with Kurchan and Ferrari) and later manufactured by Knoll in the US, becoming an iconic piece of mid-century modern furniture design.

Another Spanish piece that has appeared recently in auction catalogues is a splendid reading lamp by Andre Ricard, one of Barcelona’s best known designers and part of the generation that helped establish the profession in the 1960s. The lamp was commissioned for the library of the Philosophy Faculty of Barcelona University in the early 1970s. The Faculty relocated to new premises a couple of years ago and the Library is no more, so I’m glad this lamp made it into the auctions circuit, because it certainly didn’t make it into the local design museum collections. It’a a beautiful, elegant piece, which combines a 70s sensibility with a certain Art Deco flair (see picture at top of post). It was manufactured by Metalarte, and I have found another version of it in their historical catalogue, which was probably the inspiration for the site-specific Library lamp.


Low table lamp by Andre Ricard for Metalarte, 1973.

So – where is Spanish vintage design? A lot of it probably ended up in the rubbish bin a long time ago. The preservation of mid-century everyday objects in Spain has been hindered by the fact that they represented a material culture of dictatorship, national isolation and anonymous design, and by an institutional infrastructure (read Museums) that lacked the means and the will to look after the design heritage efficiently. But there are some truly great pieces out there, both anonymous and signed, and I’m sure we will be seeing more of them as the interest in 20th century vintage takes root in Spain. And that will be a good thing, because we can’t always rely on museum collections to take care of the past.