on Arad: Yes to the Uncommon! is a wonderful exhibition that retraces the milestones of Ron Arad’s exceptional career, namely the most defiant and unconventional designer around. To see it, you need to go to Vitra in Weil am Rhein, in Germany, a stone’s throw away from Basel, a trip that is definitely worthwhile for the extraordinary architecture as well as the wonderful design collections housed at the Vitra Campus.
In Vitra Schaudepot, an accurate selection of Ron Arad’s most important pieces is put on display on small irregular platforms, laid on the floor as if they were tiny jagged islands. The projects on display, such as the first readymade objects made from old car seats, the experimental work carried out with furniture prototypes in carbon fibre or hand welded steel as well as the mass-produced products, illustrate how Ron Arad defied the restrictions of conventional design, blurring the boundaries between art and design itself.
The exhibition begins on the square in front of Vitra Schaudepot, with the extraordinary compacting machine “Sticks and Stones” designed by Ron Arad in 1987 for an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This provocative piece wanted to question consumer culture and the designer’s role. Restored and now in working order, it guzzles down and presses metals – the real Landi chair by Hans Coray (!) to be more precise – reducing it into small cubes, to the public’s dismay.
Mateo Kries, who’s been directing the Vitra Design Museum since 2011, describes how “Sticks and Stones” arrived at the Vitra Campus: “When the Paris exhibition closed, the fate of this piece was still unclear. By chance, Rolf Fehlbaum (the visionary chairman of Vitra ndr) overheard this discussion. One idea was to give it to the Vuitton group, who was going to symbolically destroy the fakes of its famous bags with it, yet Ron reiterated that it was especially created for metals. Rolf Fehlbaum didn’t waste time and he offered to send a lorry to Paris to take the piece to the Vitra Campus the next day.”
Almost three decades have passed since when in 1990 the first exhibition that focused entirely on the then little-known designer was held at the Vitra Design Museum (Frank Gehry, 1989). At the time, it was the first solo exhibition ever held at the Vitra Campus, for a virtually unknown Ron Arad this was the launching pad that propelled him to stardom.
Since then, Ron Arad has become an international star and the Vitra Design Museum, by now too small to house the extensive collection of the Vitra Museum, was joined by Vitra Schaudepot, the “exhibition warehouse” designed in 2016 by the archistars Herzog & de Meuron.
In this simple and austere space, between the tall shelves of the permanent collection with the pieces that have made modern design history – there are around 400 extremely rare pieces and quite a few one-of-a-kind pieces on display as part of the 7000- strong collection – Ron Arad’s most intriguing and groundbreaking work is assembled on platforms, ranging from the “Rover” chair to the “Bookworm” bookcase, a worldwide success. A mouth-watering collection not only for design enthusiasts.
Where: Vitra Schaudepot, Vitra Campus, Weil am Rhein, Germany
When: until 14 October 2018