Arts » Art

California Dream Design Landscape

by Sura Wood
Sunday Feb 11, 2018

In their way, Californians are just as chauvinistic as New Yorkers. But where our East Coast brethren may consider their city the center of the universe, we sun-kissed folks believe that most of the great new ideas, innovations and trends - some admittedly better than others - are generated and nurtured in our free-thinking, unconventional state, then emanate outward to the rest of the world, which has to catch up or catch on.

This received truth, which has made California a magnet for brilliant people in the field, is illustrated and borne out to some degree in the series of small displays that comprise "Designed in California," a new exhibition at SFMOMA. Its focus is the "collaborative, human-centered, technology-driven" design landscape that has blossomed since the advent of digital revolution and the departure from Modernism's idealistic "good design for all" ethos of the 1960s and 70s. In its investigation of how ideas have been translated into design concepts, and the cross-pollination between what people need and yearn for and the visionaries who imagine and create products or environments that fulfill those needs and desires, the show offers more to think about than to see. It doesn't go much beyond the interesting categories it lays out, or terribly deep in terms of analysis, and in some instances, it's a little short on explanation.

It won't come as news to anyone who lives in the Bay Area and in close proximity to Silicon Valley that California designers work with a heightened social, political and environmental awareness more acute than in other parts of the country. One section includes remarkable inventions like D-Rev's Re-Motion Knee prosthetics; a star-shaped rubber "Pouff" courtesy of the miracle of 3-D printing and recycled tires; and the affordable laptop and lightweight Foldscope microscope, which have been a boon to economically disadvantage students. A miniature paper model of a Herman Miller Furniture System (1987) under glass is pretty neat, as are Lisa Krohn's futuristic "Cyberdesk" (1983), a necklace of glass and metal disks connected to a headset and eyepiece; and "The Odin," Josiah Zayner's ominously named, genetic engineering home-laboratory kit. Let's not forget the 3-D Robotics drone cruising overhead in a neighborhood near you.

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