Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design – the first-ever retrospective on the late designer, author, activist and CalArts administrator – opened at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, on Sept. 29.
A former dean of the CalArts School of Design (now part of the School of Art), Papanek (1923-1998) was one of the 20th century’s most influential pioneers on ecologically minded, socially responsible, and human-centered design. His 1971 book, Design for the Real World, has been translated into 23 languages and remains one of the most widely read books about design ever published, arguing for inclusion, social justice and sustainability in the field.
Featuring drawings, objects, films, manuscripts, prints and many pieces that have never before been publicly shown, the exhibition provides an in-depth look into the designer’s life and work. It also includes the work of his contemporaries and current work from the areas of critical and social design, demonstrating Papanek’s lasting impact.
Organized into several parts, the exhibition examines Papanek’s biography; the main themes of his work – his critique of consumerism and his engagement with social minorities and the “Third World”; and a selection of contemporary works showing the influence of his ideas on 21st century design.
The exhibition also features 10 pieces on loan from the School of Design Records Collection and the Publications Collections within the CalArts Archives. According to Institute Archivist Kathy Carbone, Vitra curators chose materials – including posters, broadsheets, books and correspondence – created by and about the designer “that explore how Papanek understood design as both a powerful political tool and force for social good.”
Born in Vienna in 1923, Papanek emigrated to the United States with his family in 1939 following Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller, Papanek launched his career as an industrial designer in the 1960s, arriving at CalArts in 1970, and going on to author a wealth of influential design publications, lecture at universities around the world, produce music and television, and apply socially responsible design to projects with UNESCO, the World Health Organization, NASA and others.
Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design will be on view through fall 2019.
Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design
Sept. 29, 2018 – Oct. 3, 2019
Vitra Design Museum
Weil am Rhein, Germany