With its sixth Arts Events collection, Ikea wants to bring “art” to the people through hexagon-shaped lamps and text-covered vases and rugs. The department store insists that they blur the line between functional design and art, and describes this as a new vision for art. With naive enthusiasm, the whole thing is referred to as thinking outside the box.
Oh my! One really has to wonder if they have any kind of knowledge of design history.
Popular and affordable
Since Ikea was started in the 1940s, we have associated the furniture giant with popular and affordable design. They have been able to capture design trends over time and create beautiful, usable and inexpensive solutions for the thousands of homes. In our consciousness, Ikea means “cheap” and “ordinary” – in other words, the opposite of everything we associate with the phenomenon of art.
For even though the concept of art over the twentieth century has developed to embrace both popular cultural elements, concept, process and relational art, it is still an individual matter. And therefore poorly suited for mass production.
One thing is that everyone has the same Ikea version of the PH lamp above the kitchen table, but do we really want everyone to have the same Ikea art reflection in their head? And what really happens to our experience of a work of art when it is transformed into an Ikea product?
Ever since the formation of the modern concept of design with the Arts and Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century, the question of how to give design aesthetic value has been a major theme.
Both the Deutcher Werkbund and the Bauhausskolen were concerned with how artists could contribute constructively to the design process, and here at home we founded the Association of Applied Arts in 1918 to establish a contact between artists and industry.
The whole art-industrial movement in the 19th century was precisely about adding aesthetic qualities to new machine-made products. But for that reason no one considered these products “art”.
Will not ponder the Allen key
However, it is the word “art” that is constantly used about the products Ikea is now launching. “Art that you can touch …”, as they enthusiastically write. But what is it that the artists bring in? «Something fabulous, imaginative and commentary», Says Ikea’s creative director Henrik Most.
For example, the Japanese artist collective Gelchop has created lanterns and lamps in different sizes based on the classic Allen key that is so closely associated with IKEA. I do not see that the project is particularly artistically original or particularly user-friendly.
The pop artist Clas Oldenburg enlarged everyday objects in this way in the 1970s and at that time shed new light on the objects we surround ourselves with. It is a question of such a worn-out strategy as this manages to make us see the Allen key with new eyes.
And to be honest, I do not know if I have a great interest in imagining this object.
In general, I think it’s okay that furniture and interior elements are not so communicative. It becomes tiring if the chair or lamp is to “tell me something” all the time. I do not want my bread knife to thematize anything, I simply want it to cut bread.
Of the type of communicative projects, the German artist Stefan Marx stands out.
The text expression that forms the basis for the blanket is actually quite nice. We see that Marx is an illustrator. The letters are reckless and carelessly written, but the whole certainly has a certain strength of form.
His vase is less successful. The form itself is strangely unredeemed. It is unclear why he has given it a bumpy surface and the letters make the form experience even more chaotic.
Lack of design expertise
The lack of design expertise is evident in several of the Ikea projects. As for example with the American artist Daniel Arsham. His project is a table clock wrapped in a kind of strange porcelain shawl.
But what kind of product is this really? He does not challenge the clock as a phenomenon, does not explore alternative ways of showing time. The only thing he contributes is a kind of external scenography, which he creates around an arch-traditional Ikea watch. It really is not good design.
The uninformed approach to the concept of art becomes particularly clear when we consider the project of the Stockholm – based artist duo Humans since 1982. The starting point is in itself interesting enough; namely the impact of drones on life. But what we are going to do with the end product, I strongly doubt.
It is simply a kind of wall decoration – a frame where miniature drones are placed on safety pins, as if they were flowers or butterflies.
An actor who stands out
However, there is one player that stands out. Interestingly enough, she is also the only one with a background as a product designer. Rotterdam-based artist Sabine Marcelis has created a simple white, circular dome-shaped wall lamp with a larger incision that forms a dark slit in the white surface. Here she has experimented by folding and cutting paper, and arrived at an expression that is both sculptural and functional.
The intensity and quality of the light can be regulated by different needs. Although the lamp may not be so terribly innovative, it testifies to a sure sense of form and understanding of function. It is simply a classic solid design object. I also experience Marcelis as the only one of the artists who really explores anything.
It is not difficult to understand that you want an artistic vitamin injection in everyday design. It is also perfectly fine that Ikea wants to change the associations associated with the brand. Unfortunately, I think another project like this is directly counterproductive for both purposes. When you try to force art into an Ikea format, the result is neither art nor good design.
The whole project is characterized by a deep conceptual confusion and astonishing lack of knowledge.
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