Form Overrides Function
Living With Art
2 October 2016 – 4 January 2017
Louis Sullivan (1856 – 1924), American, storied architect and theoretician always insisted ‘form ever follows function’. Both European and American early modernists insisted on an ever increasing reduction of ornament and the transcendence of functionality. Ironically, in the post second world war era, this pedagogic insistence passed. Culture moved into a protracted period of relative acceptance of ornament and playfulness, partly fueled by technical advances and engineering flare. Both architecture, art and design, have moved away from this former idea and now we are comfortable with the playfulness and transcendence of intellectual and technical chicanery. Similarly, ideas that start with the readymade and the absurdity of Dada and nonfunctional thinking have coalesced to a point where form and functionality have equal billing.
Raymond Loewy pushed design principles as far as possible with his MAYA (most advanced yet acceptable) thinking – combining the strength of materials, maths and logic to produce objects that have simply never been bettered (his Coca Cola bottle so much admired, that Warhol cemented its iconic status in his repetitious silk screen paintings further confusing and conflating ideas of the readymade, the industrial and the sublime).
This exhibition does not answer questions such as, is the function transcendent to the form, or vice versa. It offers no solutions to the perennial conundrum being asked in every object. Presenting mirrors that are works of art (Douglas Gordon, Daniel Buren), wallpaper that is painting (Christopher Wool), carpets that are painting (Rudolf Stingel, Kour Pour), carpets themselves (Richard Woods, David Adjaye) and unusual materials (Max Lamb). The question is simply asked as no easy answer is available. The questions are only more insistent and less answerable; furniture that is useful but whose form is elliptical (Zaha Hadid) and furniture whose form is not useful but is undoubtedly furniture (Erwin Wurm), only contend to elide the two paramount questions into an unanswerable sphynx-like problem.
Artists making useful objects beg the question should we be using them and what does this do to their value; plates, glass, napkins (Xu Bing, Douglas Gordon, David Adjaye). Artists making functional but exuberant forays into design (Joana Vasconcelos, Richard Woods, the Campana brothers) confer on their objects the status of sculpture while continuing to demand daily usage. The point of this exhibition is simply to enjoy the creativity of these forays across boundaries, and to celebrate the success with which these artists, architects and designers, step across the line that their modernist forbears in the Bauhaus, and other important design schools would simply not have tolerated.