Ron Arad at MoMA: Who Needs Discipline?

Designer Ron Arad’s exhibition at MoMA is a lot about “no.” No limits. No right angles. No expense spared.

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Variations on Ron Arad’s Ripple Chair, photo by Jason Mandella


Ron Arad’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is a lot about “no.” No limits. No right angles. No expense spared.

Entitled No Discipline, this show is the first major retrospective of Arad’s work in the United States. He is well known for his creative versatility and the experimental way he fuses technology, manufacturing processes and a daring array of materials into objects, furniture and architecture.

Think carbon fiber, acrylic, polyurethane, concrete, glass, polyester, plywood, steel, leather and crystal and you only scratch the surface of his design palette. These materials are artfully shaped into forms that are extreme, mercurial and complex No platonic purity here. These designs are marginally functional, elegant at their best and bombastic at their worst. However, the creativity, craftsmanship and level of finish in every example are superb.

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Narrow Pappardelle chair by Ron Arad, photo by Bruno Scott

Many of his iconic works are on view, such as his serpentine metal bookshelf Bookworm and his sprung stainless steel Well Tempered club chair. Other highlights include Narrow Pappardelle, a beautifully lyrical chair made of woven steel mesh that gracefully unfurls from an upright position on to the floor. F7 (Interior) is a complex design that suggests an object and the mold from which it came. In an uncharacteristic display of restraint, his IPCO pendant lamp is a perforated fiberglass sphere that casts calligraphic squiggles of light on the wall.


The real gem of the exhibition is the installation design by Ron Arad. It is a wonder. At the opening, my friends and I debated the nature of the form itself. Is it a gigantic Möbius Strip? Could it be a contorted ellipse? It defied description. This twisted structure serves as a massive display that frames Arad’s objects and furniture. Small video screens serve as labels and describe what’s on view. The structure is made of Corten steel, customarily rusted on one surface and contrasted by a mirror polish finish on the other. It’s a marvel of fabrication. This muscular form is softened by the use of a delicate scrim backdrop for dramatic lighting and shadow effect.

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Installation design by Ron Arad, photos by Jason Mandella

MoMA curators Paola Antonelli and Patricia Juncosa Vecchierini have mounted an outstanding exhibition that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. It’s an “object fest” that can appeal to visitors unfamiliar with Arad’s design. In retrospect, this work is impressive but it feels oddly out of place in the world today. Its material extravagance seems in stark contrast to the present societal mood of making do with less, and risks feeling irrelevant.

Design is at its best when this level of invention, creativity and craft is harnessed to address the needs of the many rather than the indulgence of the few.

Ron Arad is an important designer and tireless explorer of form. It is exactly his kind of “undisciplined” investigation that so often shapes the more utilitarian objects of our lives. However, now is the time for “disciplined” design. If wind turbines are to cover our globe in the future, perhaps Ron Arad as an idea about how they should be designed. The exhibition is on view at MoMA through October 19, 2009.


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Ken Carbone is among America’s most
respected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity and
intelligence. He has built an international reputation creating
outstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany &
Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie’s, Nonesuch Records, the W
Hotel Group and The Taubman Company. His clients also include
celebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, The
Museum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago Symphony
Orchestra, and the High Museum of Art.

About the author

Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author and teacher. He is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, a design and branding company in New York City