Opening last week was a highly awaited retrospective by British designer and architect Ron Arad; for the next three months the Barbican will become Arad's very own design wonderland for the enjoyment of anyone who might be wanting more from inspiring design than an attractive chair. Swide's very own London contributor reports on a memorable visit.
Restless isn't Ron Arad's first solo exhibition - he has after all had solo exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the MoMA in NYC - though Arad himself reckons that setting up at the Barbican has been his most pleasurable experience to date.And upon entering the Barbican it is instantly clear why: Arad was pretty much allowed to let his mischievous personality and playful imagination run wild.
On the lower floor you can play on Arad’s own custom-designed ping pong table, relax in an uber-comfortable sprung chaise or test-sit some of Arad’s other chairs and sofas. A number of pieces are animated: big spiraling shelves seem to be flexing and swaying of their own accord, but most impressive are the two huge circular bookcases (Arad's own special take on the wheel) that spin around steel beams every half hour, thus filling the space with unusual mechanical sounds. One walks away with the raw taste of an exhibition that is literally restless.
Restless is organised on two levels: the upper level is divided in eight individual galleries by LED displays, which offer an intriguing contrast between advanced technology and very industrial pieces made of patinated steel which have more than a little raw feel to them.
The lower level is arranged more casually, with less of a formal art exhibition feel to it, though it is also more packed and "busier"; one needs quite a lot more time to take everything in. Presented on that floor are models of Arad’s architecture projects, lighting instruments, yet more chairs and various pieces of furniture; the original large-scale versions of the bookworm bookcases, later recreated by Kartell in a more living room-friendly format, are simply stunning.
Guiding the visitor throughout his works is none other than Ron Arad, thanks to a clever used of media: videos narrated by the man himself to give an insight into his design process, as well as behind-the-scenes explanations broadcasted in stereo for everyone to hear. Without the usual headphones one really gets a sense of the designer's omnipresence.
There is more to Restless than meets the eye, and much more than one would expect to find in a major retrospective. "Top-secret" works can be peeked at through peepholes, while discarded prototypes of unfinished works are there for everyone to see in a section called "Failing"; while such pieces might be less instantly appealing than some of the shinier stainless steel designs (such as the Bodyguard series) they offer a rare opportunity to experience the less glamourous side of design.
All in all the exhibition effortlessly breaches the gap between art and architecture, one-off designs and mass production, all of that without a single piece seeming out of place.
*Restless, partly sponsored by Arad fans Dolce & Gabbana, is on at the Barbican until May 16th 2010. Further details on the Barbican's dedicated site.*
With special thanks our brilliant contributor Theresa.
Source and photo credits: Theresa Williams for Swide