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Designing the Future

News typically doesn’t get blended in with art. Nor does the information in a lot of paintings, sculptures or other forms of art usually incorporate statistical or cerebral information. But an innovative new exhibit on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan does just that. Yesterday, my info graphics professor took six of my Columbia J-school classmates and I on a "field trip" (yes, in grad school, we still get to take field trips!) to the MoMA in Midtown Manhattan to check out one of their seasonal exhibitions, Design and the Elastic Mind. Modern art museums haven’t really been my thing in the past. The most modern art form that I tend to fancy is impressionism. Yet, this exhibit blew me away.

Most of my classmates and I huddled into the first room off to the right of the entrance. Though the room was a bit dim, thanks to the darkly painted walls and slowly depleting light from the tiny skylight, the designs of computer-simulated origami from the early 1990s and sketches playing with DNA jumped brightly off the walls. Before departing the enclave, a trio of enlarged black and white sketches done by British children caught my eye. In No Robots Please (2007), Alan Outten, the designer, asked a group of British schoolchildren to draw future artifacts. My personal favorite was the future antique: the iPhone – makes me wonder why I have mine now if it’s just going to be chucked in a time capsule.

The really brainy stuff is in the back, maybe so as to not scare anyone away. Along a dark painted room with little light, except some from a giant neon green light sculpture shaped like a tree and a few LCD screens displaying digital games of chess, there are several projects incorporating statistical and analytical information with cutting edge design. One that immediately stood out was a giant black canvas that from far away looked like random words lighting up and bright lines flying from word to word. As I got closer, I realized the text was from Alice in Wonderland. TextArc (2002), by W. Bradford Paley, uses the rubber band effect, pulling the words in certain directions based on their placement within the story as well as the text being larger or smaller, depending on their importance and/or repetition. (An algorithm was used to eliminate nonessential words like articles). Naturally, "Alice" was in the heart of the diagram, with "Queen" far off to the left and "mouse" far off to the right.

With only an hour and a half at the exhibit, I didn’t get to see much else, thus I absolutely must go back again and check the rest of the show out before it closes on May 12. Lucky for me, a friend from Philadelphia is visiting in a few weeks, and I intend to make this our first stop on her New York tour.