Examining the relationship between design and art at three New York City museum exhibitions

The legendary graphic designer Paul Rand once said, “Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.” After all, what is art without the concept of design?

For those interested in how design relates to the art world, look no further than these three New York City museum exhibitions that explore this dynamic relationship through craftsmanship, survival, and music.

Can City, Studio Swine

A still from the short film “Can City,” 2012, Studio Swine

The Spaceship, Glimpt

The Spaceship, 2012, Glimpt

Museum of Arts and Design — New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft, and Art in Latin America
Exhibition open until April 5, 2015

In key cities across Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, new ideas regarding art, design, and craft have had a great impact on the 21st century art world. These “cultural hubs,” including Caracas, Rio de Janeiro and Havana, are the focus of “New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft, and Art in Latin America,” the first-ever group exhibition in an American museum dedicated to contemporary Latin American design.

By bringing together past legacies (ie: small-town craftsmen) and new and noteworthy trends, such as digital art, “New Territories” hopes to reveal just how universal craftsmanship really is. Whether it’s through furniture design, a wall installation, or a short film, the exhibition examines what the confluence of contemporary design with traditional art says about commodification, urbanization, sustainability and more — issues that influence Latin America, and, by extension, the world at large.

Handaxe, Dov Ganchrow, Ami Drach

Handaxe, 2011, Dov Ganchrow and Ami Drach

Hansen Writing Ball

Hansen Writing Ball, 1878, Rasmus Malling-Hansen

Cooper Hewitt — Tools: Extending Our Reach
Exhibition open until May 25, 2015

The creation of tools, what many consider to be the first instance of human design, came from simple desires — a need for warmth, for food. Ideas and objects that may seem basic are actually part of a 1.8 million year old story of innovation, a story the newly renovated Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum investigates in “Tools: Extending Our Reach.”

Rather than a simple survey of the “best” designs throughout history or from around the world, “Tools” brings together 175 different objects in an effort to explore “the very intimate relationship between human beings and the instruments [they] invent and employ.” From a modern interpretation of Paleolithic hand chopper (above) to Eskimo snow goggles to a 3D printer that can operate in zero gravity, this collection unites cultures, time periods, and places from around the globe, and provides a glimpse into how humans across the ages have creatively used design.

Radio In A Bag, 1983, Daniel Weil

Radio In A Bag, 1983, Daniel Weil


iPod, 2001, Jonathan Ive

The Museum of Modern Art — Making Music Modern: Design for Ear and Eye
Exhibition open until November 1, 2015

The introduction of the first iPod in 2001 revolutionized both music consumption and the design of portable devices. In little more than a decade since its inception, Apple has updated the device from an LCD screen to a touch screen to the point where they are no longer make standalone iPods at all (the iPhone is more than enough). It’s no exaggeration to claim that the iPod marks a watershed moment in the intertwined history of design and music; but it’s not the only one.

An exhibition at the Museum of Modern art, Making Music Modern: Design for Ear and Eye, takes a look at everything from the LP to the iPod and other major developments in the relationship between music and design in the 20th century. Composed of pieces from the museum’s own collection — posters, record sleeves, animation, and auditorium design, among them — “Making Music Modern” shows just how much design has influenced our interaction with music in the past 100 years and and charts the changes in the manner in which it is performed, heard and distributed throughout the century. Such change is no surprise, but it unveils telling insights into modern culture.

Main image: Artículo 6, from the series Artículo 6: Narratives of gender, strength and politics, 2012-2014, Lucia Cuba, used with permission from the Museum of Art and Design.