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The Gallery Allows Us to Explore New Territory

Three Questions for Viviane Stappmanns, Curator of the Vitra Design Museum

The work of the Vitra Design Museum is dedicated to major thematic exhibitions and retrospectives on the oeuvres of important designers, which are subsequently presented at other institutions around the world. But there is another smaller exhibition venue on the Vitra Campus: the Vitra Design Museum Gallery. Curator Viviane Stappmanns tells us more about this space and its activities.

How does the Gallery complement the programme of the Vitra Design Museum?

The large-scale shows at the Vitra Design Museum are usually quite complex and elaborate. The curators of these exhibitions become fully immersed in the respective topic. They work on the project for period of several years and publish a catalogue. Following the initial presentation in Weil am Rhein, these exhibitions are shown at museums all over the world. If Frank Gehry’s building with its major exhibitions is the flagship of the Vitra Design Museum, then the Gallery, which has only existed for just under 10 years, is the small and nimble dinghy. While a large team is needed to steer the flagship, backed by tremendous energy and effort, the Gallery is perfect for ‘reconnaissance missions’. It is run by a very small team and dedicated to exploring new territory.

For example, in the Gallery we curate shows by up-and-coming artists and designers. Last year, we presented the first solo exhibitions by the Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma and the British artist and designer Daisy Ginsberg. They are both under 40 years of age and neither one had previously been the subject of a solo exhibition, but they are both characterised by a unique approach and an impressive body of work. In the Gallery, we can and should experiment, and are able to react more quickly to recent developments. It’s a place where we can experience the very latest trends in design and architecture and their interfaces, occasionally in collaboration with other institutions or universities.

And what current trends in contemporary design have you discovered through your work?

What I have noticed is that the really interesting developments occur when it is about design process itself, not the finished object. A decade ago, the focus was on the designer’s distinctive signature and the final product, but today the most exciting things happen when designers address and question the overall context of their work. On the one hand, the investigative aspect of design, the research process, comes to the fore. Christien Meindertsma, for instance, investigates and questions manufacturing processes and materials. The French design collective Collections Typologie, in turn, looks at the many objects that have been modified and enhanced in small incremental steps over the centuries. This establishes a link to current design developments, because the complex processes of digitalisation and agility make it increasingly important for finished products and services to accommodate change and continually adapt. In addition, the Gallery allows us to regard design and architecture from entirely new perspectives – such as with the Mexican duo Lake Verea, whose project Paparazza Moderna takes on the myths entwined with modern architecture.

And of course, sustainability is a major topic. In the Gallery, we want to show that it’s not just about developing more environmentally friendly materials – though this is certainly very important and something we’re addressing in our Material Lab at the Schaudepot. We also want to emphasise the need to adopt a more responsible, reflective attitude. Daisy Ginsberg, for example, encourages us to do so through her work. In addition, design processes need to be re-evaluated and reconsidered when it comes to sustainability, such as by working in a more interdisciplinary and open-ended fashion. A good example here is Julia Lohmann, with whom we are presently collaborating on the ‘Sea Change’ exhibition that will be opening in May 2020.

How should the Gallery continue to develop and refine its profile?

The field of design is increasingly about collaboration and ongoing exchange. We would like to transfer this to the conception and design of exhibitions, which has led us to focus on networking with other institutions, curators and universities on a more sustained basis. At the moment we are thinking ahead to the programme for 2021. Of course, there are countless options, but current topics relating to urban development and architecture surely merit a certain amount of attention, as there are some really interesting projects and players in these areas.


Publication date: 26.12.2019
Images: © Vitra Design Museum, Alberto Strada, Bettina Matthiesen, Mark Niedermann, Ludger Paffrath, Design Museum Helsinki, Paavo Lehtonen