Documento senza titolo


Marianne Aav


New York’s Museum of Modern Art has reopened in enlarged premises, and both the architecture of the building and the display of the art exhibits have received a great deal of praise in the media. The Museum’s design department, however, did not fare as well. It was criticized for having lost its core concept. One critic said that a jumble of objects had been put on show without any underlying idea, with even less style than in the MoMa shop.

Although the criticism is so sharp that one can assume that it stems from tensions within the field, we can also view it as a broader problematization of the mission of museums of applied art and design. What is the purpose of such museums in today’s world? Has it changed from the founding of the first of these museums in the 19th century? Is the prime function of these museums to enlighten the public, to support national industries, or to offer the public experiences and entertainment – or perhaps something else? Who is served by museums of design? The public, the interest groups of the design world, or foreign tourists? How should such a museum establish a distinct profile nationally and internationally among other museums? These are questions that people working in museums must continually address. In the following, I shall try to sketch some ideas about the problems of design museums with reference to two museums distinctly different in profile.

The Finnish Museum of Applied Arts was established in 1873 upon the initiative of Carl Gustav Estlander, professor of aesthetics at the University of Helsinki. This venture had the same ideological as London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, developed by Henry Cole. The plan was to create a collection of models and teaching materials to support the work of the School of Crafts established two years previously in Helsinki and to provide information about design by displaying examples of good design to the public and especially to those working in the field. The history of the museum is interwoven with events of fundamental importance for the development of design, and the museum has retained up to the present day close and active relations with the national design field and its progress. Since the outset, Design Museum has worked to arouse interest in the aesthetic standards of applied art and design. It should also be remembered that activity in this sector was a result of Finland’s gradually emerging industrial culture and the spread of nationalism. Particular impetus for developments came from the fact that Finland was a small country seeking an independent role in the international community.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

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