legacy of controversial designer challenged
in new parsons exhibition

The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design
in Collaboration with the University of Applied Arts Vienna presents

How Things Don't Work: The Dreamspace of Victor Papanek

How Things Don't Work

Exhibition collage of references from the lectures of Victor Papanek (Photo courtesy of the Victor Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna/Collage courtesy Manuel Miranda Practice)

NEW YORK, September 14, 2014—The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center’s (SJDC) Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery at Parsons The New School for Design launches its new exhibition, How Things Don’t Work: The Dreamspace of Victor Papanek, with a public reception on September 25, 6:30-8:30 pm.

The exhibition—a collaboration between Parsons The New School for Design and The University of Applied Arts, Vienna—was co-curated by Alison Clarke, Director of the Victor Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts; Jamer Hunt, Director of the Transdisciplinary Design graduate program at Parsons; and Fiona Raby, Professor of Industrial Design at the University of Applied Arts.

How Things Don’t Work: The Dreamspace of Victor Papanek juxtaposes previously unseen materials reflecting the life and creations of Papanek (1923-1998), one of the earliest advocates of socially and ecologically responsible design, with the work of emerging designers from Vienna, London and New York City. By bringing his work into conversation with a contemporary, speculative approach, the exhibition challenges Papanek’s legacy and its relevance to the contemporary design landscape.

“The exhibition provides unique insight into one of 1970s’ most controversial design figures, while confronting his legacy in ambitious and unexpected ways,” the curators said in a joint statement.

The exhibition’s four sections combine video, digitized slides and prints that create a kaleidoscopic “dreamspace” that prompts viewers to consider how they might design themselves out of their dystopian present.

Papanek—an Austrian-born designer, philosopher and educator—was a forerunner of sustainable design, speaking out on the subject in his books and lectures, and creating his own products, including a taxi for people with disabilities and a manure-powered pig farm.

He was equally vocal in his denouncement of his fellow designers. “Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today,” Papanek wrote.

Though Papanek’s words still resonate today, the context for design has changed dramatically. Globalization and the rise of information technologies have created both opportunities and challenges that did not exist when Papanek was first practicing. Moreover, innovations in computer, biological and financial systems have collided with a looming environmental catastrophe to upend the core presumption of design as a social good.

“The critical and imaginative encounter staged by this exhibition reflects our mission to provoke an active and ongoing dialogue on the role of art and design at this time,” said Radhika Subramaniam, Director/Chief Curator of the SJDC.

Works from the Victor Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts will be on view, as will contemporary creations from design studios Superflux and The Extrapolation Factory; Jacqueline Cooksey and Benjamin Winter; Zoe Hough; Ashley Graham, Colleen Doyle and Chisun Rees; Lana Porter; Sacha Pohflepp; Daniel Riegler; June West, Rachael Fried and Joseph Wheeler; Lillian Shi Tong, Selim Budeyri and Martin Storkholm Nielsen; Alexandra Fruhstorfer and Lisa Hofer; Jennifer Morone; Kelly L. Anderson, Rachelle Tai and Leah Cabrera; Yosuke Ushigome; Irene Posch and Ebru Kurbak; Christopher Taylor Edwards, Gulraiz Khan and Dongin Shin; Alexandra Fruhstorfer; and Katharina Unger.

The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center is an award-winning campus center for Parsons The New School for Design that combines learning and public spaces with exhibition galleries to provide an important new downtown destination for art and design programming. The mission of the Center is to generate an active dialogue on the role of innovative art and design in responding to the contemporary world. Its programming encourages an interdisciplinary examination of possibility and process, linking the university to local and global debates. The center is named in honor of its primary benefactor, New School Trustee and Parsons Board of Governor’s Member Sheila C. Johnson. The design by Rice+Lipka Architects is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects. For more information please visit www.newschool.edu/sjdc.

Parsons The New School for Design is one of the leading institutions for art and design education in the world. Based in New York but active around the world, the school offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the full spectrum of art and design disciplines. Critical thinking and collaboration are at the heart of a Parsons education. Parsons graduates are leaders in their respective fields, with a shared commitment to creatively and critically addressing the complexities of life in the 21st century. For more information, please visit www.newschool.edu/parsons.

The Victor J. Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna was founded in recognition of Austrian-American émigré Victor Papanek’s (1923-1998) contribution to design thinking and education. It presents biennial symposia, lectures and events related to critical thinking around the social role of design. The Foundation holds the archive of the designer’s life and works, and his extensive library. For more information, visit www.papanek.org and http://www.dieangewandte.at

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