As one who spent his formative years careering down hills on a metallic-blue Raleigh Chopper, with quieter moments devoted to trying to construct a marble run that stretched from one side of the living room to the other, I can attest that the exhibition of work by Tom Karen opening in Cambridge this week seems to perfectly encapsulate an early-‘80s childhood.
As well as designing the Chopper and Marble Run, Karen, who headed up Ogle Design from 1962 until 1999, also worked on rather more grown-up projects, including the Bush TR130 Radio, the Bond Bug and the Reliant Scimitar. Hence the show – A Life in Design: A Phantasmological Collection of Work by Tom Karen at the Clare Hall Gallery, will be much more than simply a nostalgia-fest.
Karen, who is currently installing the show, says, ‘I’ve never actually had this kind of exhibition before – it will feature everything from toys and T-shirts I designed for my grandchildren to concepts for aircraft and cars of the future. There will be quite a serious section where I suggest how life could be made easier by making travel easier. The show will be a great big mishmash.’ Other delights promised by the show include waddling penguins, safety research dummies and ‘The Little Book of Bottoms’.
The gallery is also promising a special children’s day on 5 March, where children will be able to play with the exhibits. Karen says, ‘I so hate the fact that chidren aren’t allowed to touch things in exhibitions. I’ve got a lot of things that people will be able to play with.’ These interactive exhibits will include an original 1970 Marble Run, toy rockets and a dog who wags his tail and snaps at a ball when you crank his handle. ‘I’ll tolerate people cranking his handle,’ says Karen.
So time to dust off the Chopper or get the Bug out of the garage and hit the road for Cambridge.
A Life in Design: A Phantasmological Collection of Work by Tom Karen is at Clare Hall Gallery, Cambridge, from 11 February-27 March.