NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 40


Talk To Me; Paola Antonelli and Interaction Design Exhibitions at MoMA

Takin Aghdashloo

Paola Antonelli, senior design and architecture curator of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), has become a controversial figure in the world of art in recent years. Antonelli is from Italy, a country where she believes there are only three subjects that are never missed during dinner table conversations: football, politics, and design. Since 1994, she has held this influential position in one of the worlds most prominent and wealthy art institutions. By means of philosophy and her progressive approach, she has attempted to challenge and develop society's common, superficial understanding of design. "There are still people who believe that design is just about making things, people, and places pretty. In truth, design has spread like gas to almost all facets of human activity, from science and education to politics and policymaking," Antonelli describes. Through the exhibitions she organizes and the works she buys for MoMA's permanent collection, she seeks to emphasize the significance and influence of design on the foundations of 21st century people's lives. However, Antonelli's open attitude towards design and, in particular, her interest in new media is not acceptable to some conservative art critics. The disagreements culminated in 2012 when she made way for design, particularly new forms like interactive design. In the same year, MoMA announced the purchase of 14 video games and their incorporation into the permanent collection based on Antonelli's recommendation. An announcement that in Antonelli’s words, to some people, “sounded like the announcement of the doomsday.”

In Antonelli's comprehensive vision of design, almost every human craft has gone through some kind of design. She believes a sea of design constantly surrounds us, and that designers are involved in the process of producing everything from the glass of water next to us, to the display in which this text is edited; even the editing software itself (and its interface). With this notion, design as a profession allows for "categorization" but its different forms cannot be "rated." Hence, no type of design is considered more important or high-ranking than another. This approach has led to the introduction of interactive design to one of the world's most prestigious and long-established contemporary art centers, MoMA. Antonelli sees no difference between the Eames Chair as a symbol of design in a traditional sense, and the at sign (@), Boeing 747, Verdana typeface, AK-47, and Pac-Man computer game as newly established forms of design. All are excellent examples of ingenuity in design and merit admiration. Except for the AK-47 rifle and Boeing 747, Antonelli has added all the mentioned examples to MoMA's permanent collection; in 2015, MoMA rejected Antonelli's recommendation to purchase the AK-47 rifle, since the museum's regulations ban purchasing arms. However, Antonelli is persistently trying to buy the airplane for the museum's collection.

The digital revolution and the resulting expansion and significance of interactive design in the past two decades have led to an increased focus on this type of design in many contemporary art museums through the world, including MoMA. Considering interactive design a work of art provides us with a deeper understanding of this creative discipline, and Antonelli is one of the leading figures promoting these works from merely practical instruments to works of art. Since objects and things are becoming increasingly smart and complicated, interactive design has quickly become an inseparable part of our daily lives. From smart refrigerators and cars, to ATMs, to the registration processes for public service, human experience in the 21st century is entangled with interfaces and communication with objects. We are gradually becoming used to seeing sensors or screens on objects or machines that allows us to talk to and receive a response. In 2011, this concern inspired an exhibition at MoMA entitled Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.

A collection of approximately 200 works including interfaces, websites, computer games, electronic devices, tools, diagrams, and information systems were displayed. All of these works had the following in common: they were interactive, facilitated communication, and maintained a new balance between technology and people. Antonelli describes, "Talk to Me thrives on this important late-twentieth-century development in the culture of design, which can be described as a shift from the centrality of function to that of meaning, and on the twenty-first-century focus on the need to communicate in order to exist.” In Antonelli's view, it is no longer sufficient for a designer to simply connect form and function to concept and meaning — the work must also maintain a mutual relationship with its audience. Therefore, the goal of the designer is to write the primary scenario of this dialogue. The 21st century designer must consider movement, time, behavior, action, and reaction in addition to form and function in his/her profession and work.

Before taking a look at some of the works exhibited in Talk to Me, the reader might wonder if they can be considered visual art pieces since they are displayed in a visual arts museum. But what is the difference between visual arts and design? Antonelli believes that, first, they are equally important and neither is superior over the other. Second, the work of designers is more widely viewed than those of visual artists; they engage with the world and are not limited to visual art institutions, such as galleries and museums. Finally, only the creator and his/her intention for creating the work can determine which category the work must be placed. Antonelli raises a question to challenge assumptions: "Why is a Picasso painting considered as art by some, but a video game is not? Is it just because one is made with oil paint and the other with computer code?" However, now, thanks to Antonelli, Tetris and Pac-Man are displayed only two floors above Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in MoMA.

‏Antonelli, P. (2011). Talk to me: Design and the communication between people and objects. New York: MoMA.
‏Antonelli, P. (2012, November 29). Video games: 14 in the collection, for starters. Retrieved from
‏Antonelli, P. (2014, November 5). Welcoming new humble masterpieces into MoMA’s collection. Retrieved from
‏'Everything is designed' - Luke Woods (Head of Product Design, Facebook), Paola Antonelli (MoMA) [Video file]. Retrieved from
‏Jones, J. (2012, November 30). Sorry MoMA, video games are not art. The Guardian. Retrieved from
‏Paola Antonelli: The new frontiers of design [Video file]. Retrieved from
‏Paola Antonelli: Treating design as art [Video file]. Retrieved from
‏Paola Antonelli: Why I brought Pac-Man to MoMA [Video file]. Retrieved from
‏Pearlman, C. (2015, May 14). Paola Antonelli 2015 AIGA Medalist. Retrieved from


Takin Aghdashloo

is the Director of Design and Integrated Media at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, the largest multi-disciplinary multi-venue arts centre in Canada. He is also a practicing artist whose new media installations address themes of power, politics and globalization, some of which have been shown in art galleries in Toronto and London. In addition to his role as a creative director, Aghdashloo is active as an independent multidisciplinary designer working in graphic, fashion, interior and environmental design. He is a graduate of Toronto’s Ryerson University and received his BA in New Media Art.

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