Sunday, May 30, 2010

Can Retro Design Be Great Design?

It appears that Spyker (the high-end Dutch sports car company) is making plans to develop a car based on the original Saab 92 (1949-1956). If you've been following the tales and travails of the Saab brand you'll recall that Spyker saved the car maker from almost certain liquidation after GM cut the Swedish niche-brand loose last year.

Having been a Saab loyalist for nearly 20 years, I'm thrilled by the idea of a resurgent Saab entering the market with a new direction and focus (most Saab fans look on the GM years as time lost in the wilderness). And while I've always understood the 92 to be a lovely little post-World War II car (and quite innovative for its time), it raises an interesting question about what constitutes great design. Namely, can retro design be great design?

It's a question worth asking since we're clearly living in a time when re-manufacturing the past has become a common practice. Whether it's cars (like the MINI Cooper, VW Beetle, and Fiat 500), cameras, bicycles or appliances, designers are looking back to classic mid-century forms as they develop many of today's newest products

I remain conflicted on the question. Part of me recognizes the challenge of re-imagining something like the Fiat 500 for a modern audience, but part of me also knows that design moves forward by solving problems in in new and innovative ways.

What do you think? Can these new "retro" designs ever achieve the iconic status of "great" designs in their own right, or will they always be seen as pale imitations of their predecessors?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Ohio State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition 2010

Entries into this year's Ohio State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition are due on May 22nd. The State Fair's exhibition is highly competitive and draws some of the top artists from around the state. I'll be submitting three paintings this year and crossing my fingers that something gets accepted. Here's a sneak peak at one of the entries.

"A Pennsylvania Landscape (after Keiley)"

This painting is part of a new series that's moving away from the tornado paintings I've done in the past. I'll admit I'm a little nervous about the change. The tornadoes were a known quantity and usually well received. I'm not sure I can expect an identical response with these new works. While they don't invite the same immediate or visceral response the tornadoes did, they've got a conceptual underpinning that I'm really excited about.

Also, if you've been paying attention to my blog, you'll recognize "A Pennsylvania Landscape (after Keiley)" as the finished version of the painting I was working on when I made this post.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do Museums Still Need Objects?

I've been knocking this question around ever since I attended the panel discussion "Do Museums Still Need Objects?" at the Wexner Center in March. The program featured author and historian Steven Conn (discussing his book of the same name), as well a panel of Central Ohio museum administrators (David E. Chesebrough of COSI Columbus, Burt Logan of the Ohio Historical Society, Nannette V. Maciejunes of the Columbus Museum of Art, and Sherri Geldin of the Wexner Center).

The presentation offered an interesting look at the history of museums in the United States, and also provided some unique insights from the panelists regarding their respective institutions. I'd recommend that anyone affiliated with museums watch the video.

From my perspective, I was a little surprised that no one paid more attention to the effect that Web 2.0 might have on how we respond to museums, objects, and collections. See, I've always been of the mind that the conversations created by art and objects are at least as valuable as the things themselves. In that regard, the thing itself need not always be present.

For example, around the time this panel presentation was taking place, the Ohio Historical Society's Collections Blog was posting a countdown of the "Ten Most Embarrassing Moments in Ohio History" . The posts provided food for thought, highlighted the kind of appreciation for history that's at the Society's core, and generated more than a few comments. It was all done outside the physical museum, and all without direct contact with any objects. I think that kind of thing is worth paying attention to.

As the web allows for more participatory engagement (and 3D imaging becomes more common), physical proximity to an object or collection will matter less and less. "Stuff", or at least museum stuff, will become what they call "geographically neutral". Of course there's still something to be said for being in the presence of a singular object, but it's not something that's always critical to the conversation.

I guess when it comes right down to it, I don't have to stand next to a Thomas Eakins painting to know what it means...though sometimes it is nice.