This new retrospective at the Barbican Centre brings together all of Arad’s most recognizable furniture and product designs plus a large number of seldom seen and new pieces. Together with examples of architectural and lighting projects they make up the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to a living product designer that I’ve seen.
Those familiar with his career so far will not be surprised to hear that the show is dominated by furniture. Dozens of chairs in myriad shapes and materials tell the story of an adventurous graduate exploring possible ways to create new forms using found objects, raw concrete and welded steel, gradually building a reputation, working on grander, more complex designs and eventually becoming a master of his craft dealing with commissions ranging from buildings to crystal chandeliers.
Starting on the upper floor the work is presented chronologically and subdivided by materials and manufacturing processes with many being accompanied by a short film describing the techniques used to create these seemingly impossible forms. The films help to add a human touch to what is otherwise a generally dry presentation; the objects really being left to speak for themselves. Fortunately Arad’s great strength is the ability to communicate his ideas and personality through his work and there is much here to marvel and smile at. In particular the early works – massive welded volumes produced in limited editions – have an incredible sense of and immediacy and passion which becomes rather diluted as you move downstairs to view the slicker, more refined furniture designed for mass production by companies such as Moroso and Driade. Here though, there is the chance to take seat on the new Do Lo Rex sofa system or a number of other recent designs providing an ideal spot from which to watch others enjoy a game of table tennis on a concave aluminium table.
Nearby is a collection of prototypes and rejected concepts, some of which are covered in test finishes or scribbled notes with instructions for changes to be made providing the kind of insight into the designer’s thought process that I would have preferred to see more of. For sheer spectacle the sight of a round bookcase called “Reinventing the Wheel” rolling along a custom made track is memorable and fun and an example of the sense of humour and wonder that makes Arad’s work so accessible. Overall the show provides a thorough if not particularly in-depth overview of the career of a creative maverick whose relentless exploration of the limits of technical possibility warrant the granting of such a show. Perhaps the same story could have been told with half the number of objects but Arad fans wont be disappointed.
Until 16 May 2010