Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
It is not your father’s design exhibit! A design exhibit at MoMA 50 years ago would have been a study in restraint. This one, “Design and the Elastic Mind,” is more like a study in exuberance. It is also massive, essentially infinite, in scope. The entire known universe is now subject to design, from the molecular level to the deepest reaches of outer space to every aspect of our own bodies. This show, in its essence, is about the fact that we can design anything and everything. We merely have to think it and we can affect it, our ideas immediately become something we can activate and use.
This does raise one sticky question in the age-old tension between design and art. Ever since at least Kant, we’ve been told that one essential characteristic of art is its uselessness. Kant called the aesthetic realm the realm of “purposiveness without a purpose.” He meant that in aesthetics we get to explore the relationship between our ideas and what they actually produce without being held to account for it. That is the “play” of art. It’s the chance to experiment in that hazy zone between the world as it is given to us and the world as we project upon it. This sense of art as being free from the demands of use is also there in the art for art’s sake movement, and in much of 20th-century Modernism and the avant-garde. Modernism demanded to explore and solve problems in form purely for the reason that they were problems in form. “Art is art,” said Ad Reinhardt, “and everything else is everything else.” The 20th-century avant-garde wanted to monkey around at the limits of reason and sensibility for the sheer sake of it.