Design and comics at Vitra Design Museum

After the world of discotheques, with “Living in a Box: Design and Comics”, the Vitra Design Museum looks at the intersections between comics and design.

Design and comics have much in common. Modern and in constant evolution, they are both the physical manifestations of the pop-culture we live in, of which they express desires and contradictions. On show from May 24th to October 20th at the Vitra Shaudepot, the exhibition “Living in a Box: Design and Comics” examines the dialogue that nourishes the two disciplines.

Charlotte Perriand, Ray and Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Mies van der Rho, but also Thonet and Alvar Aalto: comics’ authors have drawn them all. Some of them by representing, with gentle irony, the ergonomic limits of popular designs; like Tove Jansson who, in 1958, through her Moomins questioned the comfort of Grupo Austral’s Butterfly chair (1938). Others, such as the Italians Angela and Luciana Giussani in their Diabolik, or the Belgian Hergé in The Adventures of Tintin, by incorporating design pieces into their stories to suggest the state of mind or the social status of their characters. Some others, by celebrating their modernity, like André Franquin who, in 1959, immortalised the spirit of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair in his Spirou.

Tove Jansson, Moomin (detail), 1958. Image Solo / Bulls, courtesy Vitra Design Museum

Curated by Erika Pinner, “Living in a Box: Design and Comics” – which claims to be both playful and introspective – looks at decades of creative exchanges, juxtaposing contemporary comics from various genres – including Japanese mangas – and design objects from the collection of the museum. Furthermore, the exhibition reveals how these interactions have also inspired designers and furniture companies to create pieces that originally existed only on paper. One example is the recent collaboration between Dutch cartoonist and graphic designer Joost Swarte and Italian company Cassina. The author of a book about the De Stijl movement – En toen De Stijl (2017) – Swarte was commissioned a tribute-motif for Gerrit Rietveld’s Beugel Chair, which Cassina presented at the end of 2018. For the occasion, a limited edition silkscreen panel was also produced to pay homage to the leader of the De Stijl’s movement.

Joost Swarte, Beugel Chair, 2018. Photo Joost Swarte, courtesy Vitra Design Museum

Last but not least, the show features three of the fifty Manga Chairs designed in 2015 by Japanese design studio Nendo. Consisting of a series of abstract lines and frames, each chair – which seems to emerge from a piece of paper – recalls the formal vocabulary of mangas, from the bubbles that contain conversations to the lines that express movements and sounds.

Nendo, Manga Chair No. 47, 2015. Photo Andreas Sütterlin, courtesy Vitra Design Museum
Exhibition title:
Living in a Box: Design and Comics
Erika Pinner
Opening date:
24 May – 20 October 2019
Vitra Design Museum
Charles-Eames-Strasse 2, 79576, Weil am Rhein, Germania

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