It’s remarkable to see a living designer getting a show at the Victoria & Albert Museum. We expect retrospectives on the likes of US great Frank Lloyd Wright and Britain’s Victorian all-rounder William Morris, to whom the museum owes its heritage. But shows such as Ron Arad’s Before and After Now are rare, more usually seen at the Design Museum or the Lighthouse in Glasgow and, therefore, not perceived as quite as “public” as a V&A event.
But then Arad is a remarkable man, who has shown there’s no greater publicity than simply “doing it”. International stars are not made by marketing teams. It’s sheer talent that brings lasting acclaim, and – in Arad’s case – a natural entrepreneurial bent that causes them to tread where others don’t dare, into retailing, manufacturing or whatever. Arad’s One-off shops helped mark his card, putting him into the consumer arena, as well as elevating him (albeit at that time as a bit of an upstart) among his design peers.
It also helps to be in the right place, with the right people. Contributing to Arad’s position is his long-standing collaboration with German lighting artist/ designer Ingo Maurer. Both men have a singular talent for mixing art with production. Their joint installations have, over recent years, been “must see” attractions at such events as the Milan Furniture Show. It’s canny marketing, but it’s an approach driven by strength of personality rather than a meticulously constructed strategy.
… and pass it on to the next generation
One thing played down in Hugh Pearman’s profile of Arad is his professorship at the Royal College of Art. Brought in the late 1990s to head up the furniture course, he was then also awarded the industrial design chair and has since combined the two courses.
This move reflects Arad’s fascination with materials, form and processes – whether it’s a chair or a mobile phone, they’re equally important. But the power he has been given stems from the belief of RCA rector Professor Christopher Frayling that “masters” fire up students’ creativity. The RCA owes its architecture head, Nigel Coates, and in-coming graphics professor, Dutch star Gert Dumbar, to this view.
The appointments have brought the college fantastic profile – they not only give students tuition from gifted practitioners; it is also shrewd marketing on the part of the RCA. The students love it. But the jury is still out as to whether the best work is being achieved by these high-profile part-timers. We welcome your views of the various RCA degree shows opening this month.