Paola Antonelli is an Italian author, editor, and curator. She is of Lombard ancesty. She is currently the Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture & Design as well as the Director of R&D at The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. She was recently rated one of the one hundred most powerful people in the world of art by Art Review. Although a recipient of a laurea degree in architecture from the Politecnico di Milano university in 1990, she has never worked as an architect. Antonelli has curated several architecture and design exhibitions in Italy, France, and Japan. She has been a contributing editor for Domus magazine and the design editor of Abitare magazine. She has also contributed articles to several publications, among them Metropolis, the Harvard Design Review, I.D. magazine, Paper, Metropolitan Home, Harper's Bazaar, and Nest.
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I'm on Twitter at [@curiousoctopus] (https://twitter.com/curiousoctopus).
Hello! I’m a long-time observer of AMAs, but I’ve been so looking forward to yours that I made an account and prepared my comments in advance. I’m a university student of Curatorial Studies in Toronto, and I’ve been interested in the art world forever, but torn because it’s seemed a difficult field in which to effect real change. You were named one of the most powerful people in the art world by Art Review, so my question is,
Do you ever feel like you’re not big enough for the world’s problems? How do/would you deal with that?
When I began curating, I held a series of small shows that focused on light, colour, technique, etc., and they were cute but insignificant, and in retrospect they almost feel like a waste of time. And I’m seeing a lot of shows now for Ai Wei Wei, Basquiat, Damien Hirst, that achieve significance but sometimes float over the heads of anyone not invested in the art world.
I’m working on a class project developing a fake exhibition, but it’s almost painful to try and pick a subject. When given the choice, why would we want to do anything other than bring awareness to acts against humanity, or racial inequality, or natural disasters? But how can that exhibition reach a large audience if the audience would rather look at still lifes or nice landscapes? How does your work in curating design fit into a world obsessed with gun violence, internet freedom, North Korea, Israel/Palestine? Do you see it as a sort of trickle-up effect?
You’re an amazing curator, an inspiration to people aspiring to significance, and I’m sorry for burdening you with so many rhetorical questions! My only real question is the first one, and I hope you have the time to reply to it.
Thanks so much,
I DEFINITELY am way too small to tackle the whole world. But I try to do my little part. Ie in this online project on Design and Violence: http://designandviolence.moma.org/archives/ I hope it will inspire you. Did I answer your question?
Why, of course I am going to toot our own horn--but it is the truth: Jacob Lawrence's Migration series: http://press.moma.org/2014/12/one-way-ticket-jacob-lawrences-migration-series-and-other-visions-of-the-great-movement-north/
Reddit seems like an interesting forum for serious design talk, but let’s give this a shot…
Often times people view museum curation as a retroactive interpretations. In what ways would you say that the MoMA is fostering interest in future technology, design and architectural concepts through its curatorial process?
Also, I once had Barry Bergdoll as a professor about 4 years ago, if you happen to run into him, please tell him hello!
When you deal with contemporary issues, there is not much retroactivity you can rely on, but you can certainly learn from the past to extrapolate hypotheses for the future.
Hi Paola - thank you for doing an AMA!
You made waves when you brought video games to the MoMA. Do you have a favorite video game (regardless of if it is in the collection or not) - and why?
YES! It is Tempest: http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=169922 I love it because it is done with simple vector graphics and yet it is so amazingly complex and expressive.
Has there ever been an object that you considered too absurd to acquire? What was it?
Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands! The world is full of absurd objects that will never make the cut, at least until I am around.
I can tell you about an object that I want to acquire even though it is too big. Some people think it would be absurd. a 747. I do not want to have it here physically, I want it to keep on flying, still used by an airline. It would be a remote acquisition.
I saw you speak at VCU several years ago as and was so excited to see that you're doing an AMA! I would love to know what your job entails on a day-to-day basis. In addition, what advice would you give to art history students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in curating?
Every day is different, that's the truth. Some days are chockfull of meetings, others are 'contemplative?' not.
I travel a lot, and love it.
Re: career in curating, I recommend internships. They are the best way in. Although I am very well aware that unpaid internships--so typical in non-profits--are a contributing factor in the difficulties many emerging professionals find in pursuing their careers.
I was wondering how you enjoy working with Klaus Biesenbach?
In what direction do you think art will go in the coming years?
Can't wait to see the new exhibitions!
I have never worked with Klaus on a project but I love him as a colleague--also because he likes to go out on a limb like me.
"Because curating design is tightly connected to culture and technology, my curatorial stance has had to evolve with technology." Do you see learning code and web page construction reflected in design profession?
Absolutely. Learning at least the rudiments of coding is a matter of literacy--I am trying to learn some myself.
In the film Objectified, you mention that the future of design for designers are to be seen as resources for policy makers or anyone who wants to translate the complex to reality. You saw them almost like the philosophers of old.
in 2015, are we getting closer or farther to that ideal in your opinion? And how can we make those inroads?
I wish I could disclose my latest biiiiig effort: just yesterday I finished a sci-fi short story that paints a world in which designers rule. That is in the 2060s. In the meantime, we are getting there, bit by bit.
First, I want to say that I love MoMA and I love the architecture and design department. But part of me can’t help but wonder if there is a better way to curate objects of design. In the gallery, the objects always seem to be floating in space, devoid of the context that makes them relevant. Do you see this as a discrepancy? If so, how do you imagine this can be addressed? Would you ever consider an alternate approach to curating, such as furnishing the gallery as if it were a home?
The first show I ever curated at MoMA--oooops, 20 yrs ago--was called Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design and people could touch the objects. That would be the ideal situation, context, experience, use... There are so-called 'period rooms' in some museums, and I love them, but they work best for historical--even recent history--environments. Done w/ contemporary design, they might look like a showroom.
Always trying new things, though, and open to suggestions.
What's the last item you acquired for MoMA and why? And what was the last item you acquired for yourself?
Last item for MoMA, the organs-on-chips by WYSS Institute and the Creative Commons logo, and much more, look at this post from this morning: http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2015/03/04/is-this-for-everyone-new-design-acquisitions-at-moma
For myself, mmmm, a manicure...
Hello! I'm a big fan. I'm currently interested in design solutions that address aspects of mental illness in addition to medication and therapy. I know that you have done great curatorial work on a lot of timely and pressing issues. Has design for mental illness been on your radar, and if so, does anything excite you?
I organized a show called SAFE: Design Takes on Risk in 2005 that had several pieces addressing mental illness, these were introduced into the collection: http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=28353
Also, MoMA has an amazing program for people with Alzheimer, which you might be interested in: http://www.moma.org/meetme/
If you weren't a curator at the MoMA what would your ideal job be?
A production designer for movies. Or a window dresser. Like Simon Doonan.
Hello! I have been following your work and thoughts on design, particularly digital objects, closely since the Applied Design exhibition launched. In my post-museum studies MA research, I have investigated heavily into the aesthetics of digital interaction particularly in relation to new materialism theory.
My first question for you is what examples of digital interactive design have you found to be the most compelling? Specific or general?
My second is if you have any advice for someone looking to get their first professional break into the museum world with this kind of interest or the digital humanities in general?
Thank you! - Justin
The video games that we collected for MoMA were considered as great examples of interaction design (http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/11/29/video-games-14-in-the-collection-for-starters/). I also love the interface of the Metrocard machines in the NY subway.
What movements or trends in design are you most interested in following in 2015? What would you like to see more of?
I am really interested in synthetic biology and biodesign. I have been obsessed with it for a while, ever since I was preparing the exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind, which was all about design and science working hand in hand. http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2008/elasticmind/
Also, would you name three people that we can follow on Twitter that you currently find fascinating?
Six! @brainpickings @alicerawsthorn @greatdismal @johnmaeda @SlaughterAM @notrobwalker
You have brought many things to the MoMA from the tech world -- from video games, to keyboard symbols, coding interfaces and the like. It would seem - at least on the surface - that many of these were created by non-"designers". On the other hand it seems like design education does not stress technology. How can the gap be bridged between the two?
The best design schools teach that design and technology live in symbiosis and need each other. Engineers are designers, they are just trained in a different way.
MOMA recently added video games to their collection. Is there anything else that you think should be viewed as art that is not considered as art today?
Ciao! Please remember, I curate design, not art. Still, I am dealing with many typologies of objects that some people have trouble even considering as design. The @ sign, for instance (http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/03/22/at-moma) or scent (http://designandviolence.moma.org/violence-by-sissel-tolaas-and-nick-knight/).
What was it like when the MoMA hosted Jay Z's performance art piece?
What book of architecture or design do you consider a must-read?
Alice Rawsthorn's Hello World (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/10/hello-world-alice-rawsthorn-review)
Are you pro-skeumorphism or anti-skeumorphism?
Why are you not just titled a Curator of Design, rather than Architecture and Design. It doesn't seem like Architecture, or the physical world, is of much interest to you.
Also, how do you feel about the New Museum Triennial, which acts as a counterpoint to much of the (as Jerry Saltz may say) cynical marketing going on at MoMA. Your embrace of video games seems in line with Bjork, as is the expansion of the MoMA to include more performance spaces i.e. more crowd pleasing digital/celebrity/branding tie-ins.
Ciao BWH. I will also answer the first part. I am an architect by training and I consider architecture a branch of design--I know it might sound blasphemous, but it comes from having studied architecture at the Polytechnic of Milan, with high dose of theory piped into my veins!
The physical and the digital world are coming together and I confess to being partial to the digital lately, at all scales, architecture and design.
When will MoMA acquire a brand identity? Might I suggest the 2012 Olympic Games by Wolff Olins over Coca-Cola?
We are working on a selection of brand design examples, you put your finger on it. I highly doubt the 2012 Olympic Games' will be part of it--I actually concur with NYTimes critic Alice Rawsthorn about it (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/29/arts/design/29iht-Design29.html)
You have three tokens.
From the entire collection you curate if you were able to save any three items from the effects of ageing/wear and tear which items would you grant this immortality to.
Taking the current social and political upheaval into context do you think artists and designers of this generation are currently representing the state of affairs that we are seeing globally? Do you foresee any trends to more socially/politically design practices.
What is your personal definition of what "art" is?
Have you ever regretted allowing something to become part of the Moma collection?
(Thank you for the AMA, love the work and really inspired by one of your ted talks that I stumbled upon a few weeks back)
I'll take your 2nd question. I see artists and designers becoming more and more politically involved because the world demands it. It is a very heady moment. There are great resources to find out more about this, from our own Design and Violence site (http://designandviolence.moma.org) to Creative Time Reports (http://creativetimereports.org)
How hard is it for unknown artists to get their work displayed at moma?
I actually work with designers and architects, and very often they are not well-known--yet. Many of us curators trot around the world looking at new work, in all disciplines.
But I guess the real answer is, it is a matter of luck and perseverance, as usual. Being in the right place at the right time.
Ciao Paola, what do you think of Dunne & Raby recent departure from the RCA Design Interactions course? I saw your tweet and considering the attention you offered to DI @ moma in the past I would be curious if you could tell us about what are your feelings…
They have seriously changed the course of design, I really meant it. I do not think that in the future designers will accept to be called simply 'problem-solvers.' Their job will be to frame the best questions and help us all provide answers.
I could go on for hours, maybe in a different setting. Tony and Fiona are superstars.
I am finishing a PhD in art history and am looking beyond the academic profession. I already have some curatorial experience and have done various work in the gallery/museum world. As a curator at MoMA, I wonder what you look for when hiring young aspiring curators/employees; are PhDs relevant anymore?
I do not have a PhD and could have never gone through the gauntlet, I am a chicken. I know a few PhDs and despite that, they are still good curators! I am kidding.
I personally think the person makes the title, and not vice versa, but I think that the PhD has become almost a requirement for higher-level curatorial employment. Hang in there, finish as soon as you can and jump in.