In 1994, as a newly hired architecture-and-design curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Paola Antonelli playfully butted heads with architect Philip Johnson over the choice of her first acquisition, Herman Miller's Aeron chair. The Italian-born Antonelli recalls that Johnson, who organized the museum's first design exhibition in 1932, mischievously asked, "Why do you want to acquire that chair? It's so ugly!" But to Antonelli, the chair, with its use of netting for the seat and its ergonomic back, was revolutionary. "I said, 'It is as wonderful and as ugly as the architecture by your friend Frank Gehry,'" she remembers. Johnson laughed, and Antonelli got the chair.
Now, 13 years later, Antonelli, an architect by training, wants to make acquisitions that are even more revolutionary. She dreams of acquiring one of her favorite industrial-design objects,the Boeing 747. The idea is that the 747sshe'd like to have threewould remain part of an active fleet but would be given a special MOMA designation. When passengers board the planes, they'll find brochures detailing the aircraft's design features. In essence, Antonelli would be creating a virtual MOMA collection.
Until her 747s get off the ground, Antonelli, whose department oversees a collection of 4,800 artifacts as diverse as a Bell-47D1 helicopter and Post-it notes, is busy preparing for her next exhibit, "Design and the Elastic Mind," set to open in February 2008. It will include an exploration of the designs that allow us to access and interpret the rapidly evolving worlds of science and technology. "I always talk about design and the real world," Antonelli says. "That's what I think people like. And I tend to be pretty timely." Or ahead of her time.
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