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Norm = Form
8 May 2010 - 15 August 2010
We all have our own personal style, reflected in the clothes we wear, the furniture in our homes and the cars we drive. Such choices seem to be abundant and individual, but never before have so many of the products around us been basically so identical. And it’s just as well they are, because otherwise we could never afford to buy a pair of jeans or a piece of furniture. Right from the start of the industrial era, designers have fought to achieve the benefits of product standardisation. In this exhibition, the Gemeentemuseum joins with the Design Den Haag Foundation to reveal the extent to which social and statutory norms have led, in the space of little over a century, to the design of products which are affordable and accessible to us all.
When we go to buy clothes, we expect to find a range of different stock sizes: small, medium and large. But how does such a sizing system come about? The average sizes we know today are the result of large-scale population surveys conducted over the last century. In the 1920s, August Lingner (inventor of Odol mouthwash) introduced life-size glass models of the human body, showing the muscles, tendons and nerves and approaching man as a machine. This marked the start of a systematic quest to determine the dimensions of the average human being: the size of feet, hands and heads. It was this quest that led to today’s standards for the size of trousers, the height of kitchen cabinets and the depth of sofas.
Stock clothing sizes have always been based on Western data for populations around the world. Now, these are proving inadequate for certain markets, for example in Asia. This is the reason for the vast survey known as Size China. As part of this project, the heads and faces of innumerable Chinese men and women have been measured in order to establish various average dimensions. Based on the resulting data, aluminium heads have been created which manufacturers around the world can order for use in producing sunglasses, hats and motorbike helmets to fit consumers in the growing Chinese market.
As well as these prototypes for the average human being, the exhibition will include countless examples of everyday objects: we see them around us all the time but probably never stop to consider that their design is based on all sorts of official standards and regulations. Among the examples in the exhibition will be the Aquila fitted kitchen designed by Kho Liang Le for Bruynzeel in 1965. The modular, off-the-ground kitchen may look like nothing more than a clever example of aesthetic design, but is actually planned on the principle that everything must be exactly within reach and at the correct working height.
A final important influence on standards is the consumer. It is the culture consumers live in that decides the success or failure of any given design. Examples on display will include garments like T-shirts and jeans which have continued to be produced virtually unchanged down the years. A pair of jeans from Levi’s 1999 Vintage collection harks back to a model from the 1980s, in turn based on the original working man’s trousers of the 19th century. At the same time, this evergreen favourite is constantly updated by adding pockets and other features to conform to the tastes and fashions of the day.
Norm = Form reveals the role of designers in the standardisation of products. Initially, they were against it, because it seemed to limit their creative freedom. But gradually they came to see its advantages: low prices, smart houses and products, and the possibility of serving large sections of the population. The exhibition will include designs by Charles Eames, Herbert Lindinger, Ettore Sottass, Pierre Paulin and Kisho Kurokawa, and objects on loan from world-class institutions like the Centre Pompidou. It will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue authored by Timo de Rijk.
A wonderful exhibition, highly recommended, however, inside the building, no photography is allowed, unlike in the Design Musum in London, there we could photograph inside, as long we did / do not use any flash photography.
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