New exhibit illustrates 25 years of design

— Mention the word "design" and people think of architecture, fashion, perhaps furniture -- forgetting that design also applies to toys, book jackets and even a humble garlic press.

It's a mistake that a new show at the Museum of Arts & Design seeks to remedy. "U.S. Design 1975-2000" features more than 250 of the most influential works by leading American designers whose styles matured after 1975.

The best known are Frank Gehry, the megastar architect who designed the titanium-wrapped Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, and Michael Graves, an acclaimed architect and designer whose works include the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels in Florida.

But in this show, their work is represented by much smaller, common objects -- with exceptionally unique execution.

For Graves, that means an octagonal silver ice bucket, delicate glass egg cups, bright-patterned textiles and a plastic and metal garlic press that is part of an inexpensive houseware line he designs for Target.

Gehry is represented by a plastic and wood lamp with a glowing fish on top and his "bubbles chaise lounge," a chair made of corrugated cardboard.

The exhibit is not meant to be a survey of everything that has happened in American design since the 1970s, according to R. Craig Miller, curator of architecture, design and graphics at the Denver Art Museum, which organized the exhibit and where it premiered last year.

"It focuses on ideas that we thought were major, that really helped to shape American design in this quarter century, and also ideas that were internationally significant," Miller said.

Besides works by Gehry and Graves, objects on view include furniture, computers, lamps, wet suits, magazines, sunglasses and tableware.

Highlights include:

  • A lamp made of gently bending tree branches.
  • A set of alphabet blocks with letters in six different languages.
  • An annual report for a reinsurance company that livens up a boring subject through the choice of typeface, photos and white space.

The show runs through Nov. 2 at the Museum of Arts & Design. It will then begin a two-year tour, including stops at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tenn., and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.


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