Common Roots proposes an idiosyncratic definition of "Central Europe", including the Baltic countries but not Ukraine and Belarus. Jacobson-Cielecka establishes the most convincing criteria as "annexation to the Eastern Block in 1945, separation from the USSR in 1989, and membership in the European Union beginning in 2004 or 2007". However, the exhibition touches only lightly on the differences between Soviet socialist republics, and makes little attempt to explain how factors like Estonia's "window on the West" or Romanian dictatorship under Nicolae Ceausescu might condition this common heritage.
The exhibition is divided into two parts — from 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and from then until today. Under dim yellow lighting, the historical products appear as anachronistic artefacts, belying the fact that several — such as Peter Ghyczy's Garden Egg Chair — are in production as design "classics", selling for thousands of euros. In this part of the exhibition, a careful reading of explanatory texts is rewarded with insight into misleading initial impressions.
At first glance, for example, the spherical mouldings and precise analogic displays of Helle Gans's Clock-Barometer evoke a heavily industrialised society mobilised for technological development. In reality, this device was first shown in the 1969 Ruum ja Vorm ["Space and Form"] exhibition of objects free from functional constraints, marking the evolution of "industrial art" into "design" proper. The technical drawings for the Clock-Barometer even appeared in a 1971 Kunst ja Kodu ["Art and Home"] magazine as a DIY project, an early alternative to an increasingly standardised domestic scene.
In fact, the display of post-communist era objects would not look out of place at a contemporary trade fair — especially given the groupings of objects by country. The decision to organise the exhibition in this manner seems questionable, given the curators' assertion that contemporary design transcends national borders. As they acknowledge, it is difficult to classify someone like Viktor Matic , a designer born near Sarajevo and raised in Croatia, Germany, and Italy, who studied in Bolzano and works in London. To put his work in the Croatian category seems overly simplistic.
If, on the other hand, there is something distinct about Central European design, then why host such an exhibition in Israel without making a connection to the many Israelis of Central European origin?
Common Roots: Design Map of Central Europe
Design Museum Holon
Pinhas Eilon St. 8, Holon, Israel