20 June 2019

Living in a box: Design and Comics

Has it ever occurred to you that there might be elective affinities between comics and design? If you have picked up on this subtle but enduring connection, you would have excellent powers of observation. The homes and urban landscapes that form the backdrop for characters such as Nemo, Charlie Brown and Tintin, as well Diabolik, Eva Kant, Dick Tracy and Batman are actually studded with design objects that these comic strips have helped become icons. This connection is unveiled by Vitra Schaudepot’s new exhibition, Living in a Box: Design and Comics, which brings to light the creative dialogue that has always existed between the two disciplines.

Charlotte Perriand, Ray and Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Robert Mallet-Stevens and Mies van der Rohe, not to mention the Castiglioni brothers, Rodolfo Bonetto, Jean Prouvè, Thonet and Alvar Aalto have all been cited by cartoon writers. Not just because design in the form of chairs, lights and tables is an integral part of our daily lives, and therefore also of the imaginary figures that populate illustrated stories, but especially because commonly used objects, even those designed by renowned designers, help to depict situations, places, interiors, states of mind and social situations. So when an elegantly dressed character puts his or her feet up on the pouffe of their Eames Lounge Chair, we immediately assume that he or she is a modern, dynamic person. However, when another character criticises the Austral Group’s Butterfly Chair on the grounds that it’s uncomfy, we assume that he or she can’t be that young and brilliant.

The interchange between the two arts has never been one-way, however, design icons don’t simply appear in some of the most famous comic strips, but have been sources of inspiration for scores of designers who have produced objects initially devised for the world of paper. The Spanish illustrator and designer Javier Mariscal is a perfect example of the crossover between these two fields, turning some of the objects that populated his fantastic worlds into reality – the Dùplex stool, for instance, was conceived for a beach bar in his comic Este Verano te Vas a Enamorar. The Dutch cartoonist and graphic designer Joost Swarte is another, who was recently engaged by the Italian firm Cassina to design a pattern/tribute for Gerrit Rietveld’s Beugel Chair, which the company launched in late 2018.

Curated by Erika Pinner, Living in a Box: Design and Comics, simultaneously playful and introspective, brings contemporary comics of all genres – including the Japanese manga comics – together with pieces from the museum’s collection, into which the speech bubbles on exhibit seem to breathe life. In the exhibition, aside from the evolution of comics – their language, format, audience and subjects – during the 20th century, particular attention is reserved for the Japanese manga comics, explored as a global cultural phenomenon, alongside which three Manga Chairs designed by Nendo are displayed.

The exhibition is an unmissable opportunity to recognise the rare faculty design has for lending credibility to even the most fantastic stories, characters and environments, to our dreams, in other words.

Living in a Box: Design and Comics

24th May – 20th October 2019

Vitra Schaudepot
Weil am Rhein – Germany

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