A new exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum entitled 'The Essence of Things: Design and the Art of Reduction' suggests that, when it comes to design at least, there is and has always been a desire to do things as simply as possible. Featuring such diverse objects as Vernon Panton's 'Barboy' drinks trolley, a scale model of André Waterkeyn's 1958 'Atomium' structure for the Brussels World's Fair, an iPod Shuffle and a Maggi stock cube, the show attempts to show how the idea of reduction, be it visual, material, technical or discursive, can be identified across a number of authored and authorless designed products.
The organisational structure of the exhibition (the objects are displayed under a series of headings that include 'Compaction', 'Lightness', 'Geometry' and 'Abstraction') works to communicate the plurality of means of reductive expression in design. Naturally, given the current economic and environmental times we're living in, the idea of material simplification is an appealing one. If ever there was a need for a bit of the old Miesian 'less is more', isn't it now?
I put this to the exhibition's curator Mathias Schwartz-Clauss. 'The economic crisis and the subsequent professional and public discourse about lasting values and the longevity of certain designs was the initial reason we thought of this exhibition,' he says. 'Cheap economic solutions in terms of production and well as for the consumer.'
'Mezzadro' (No. 220), A. & P. Castiglioni, 1954-57 © Vitra Design Museum, photo by Thomas Dix