Paola Antonelli is an Italian-born curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and one of the world’s foremost experts on contemporary architecture and design. She received her MA in Architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1990, and worked at the design magazines Domus and Abitare before coming to MoMA in 1994. At MoMA, where serves as curator for the Department of Architecture and Design, Antonelli has been a strong of advocate of treating design as art: she’s written that "everything is designed, one way or another.” Antonelli is known for her eclecticism, and has curated well-received shows such as Workspheres (2001), devoted to the workplace of the near future. Her recent exhibit SAFE included – among other materials – a UN refugee tarp, camouflage cream, and a baby buggy. Antonelli has taught design history and theory at UCLA and Harvard and is the author of Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design, and co-author of 2008 book Design and the Elastic Mind.
Question: When does design grab your eye?
Antontelli: You know it’s very funny. It’s like Terminator. I’m like Terminator. You know I just like (makes scanning noise) scan things. And then something (makes indescribable noise) . . . or Wonder Woman, Bionic Woman. But something (makes indescribable noise) attracts the attention and I zero in. And it’s funny because it can be millions of objects. So at that point it’s almost . . . It’s pretty rational what attracts be about that object. But usually there’s something . . . you know I go in and dig deeper. So it’s not a first impression. It’s not superficial. It’s almost as if there were communication. Sorry if I sound a little “new agey” here or ___________, but it really works that way. And what I do I spend my day without thinking, scanning things. And I already noticed your shirt. And I already noticed . . . I already noticed everything about you without even thinking. I could be a good detective perhaps, you know? And what attracts me to an object is some sort of communication that the designer already instilled in the object. Because you know what? If you notice today, the objects that are considered most interesting are the ones that are endowed by the designer with some sort of – how can I say – some sort of grabbing element that attracts more than your attention; you know that attracts really your interest. And this happens with all sorts of objects. That’s why . . . You know I was doing an interview once. I was interviewing Johnny Ive, who’s the head designer for Apple. He hardly ever gives interviews, and I was really lucky that we’re friends. But I convinced him to give an interview, and we started talking about this – about the communication that objects have with people. Because to me one of the most stunning features of Apple computers is the little breathing light. You know the little breathing light that tells you that the computer is sleeping . . . is asleep and not turned off. I mean that’s amazing! It makes you think that the computer has a heart. You know so it’s these little touches that people notice subliminally that differentiate certain objects from others.