European Design Exhibition Coming To Milwaukee Art Museum

Press contacts:
Kristin Settle            

Vicki Scharfberg

Artful question of form vs. function to be pondered October 9, 2010–January 9, 2011

Milwaukee, Wis. – August 5, 2010 – The Milwaukee Art Museum’s newest feature exhibition, European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century, opens October 9, 2010. It is the first encompassing, critical assessment of contemporary Western European design from 1985 to 2005.

European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century will present more than 250 seminal works including furniture, ceramics, metalwork, glass and product design that reveal the extraordinary creativity of 118 European designers. The exhibition defines Europe’s central role in driving design’s proliferation during the 1980s and 1990s.

 “This exhibition reminds us that great art is present in our lives every day. European Design Since 1985 makes art accessible,” said Mel Buchanan, Mae E. Demmer Assistant Curator of 20th-century Design. “Whether it is a light fixture, a vase, a chair, a vacuum, or a knife and fork, it is not just an object. These are useful and beautiful artworks that express ideas and opinions and sometimes genius.”

European Design Since 1985 features multiple works by the most influential figures of the period’s “older generation,” such as Ron Arad and Philippe Starck, who have attained the status of design masters. The exhibition also presents a younger generation of designers for the first time, such as Tord Boontje, Maarten Baas, and Hella Jongerius.

The exhibition and catalogue divide designs into two major movements, those that continue a “Postmodern” attitude and those that renew a “Modern” tradition. The two camps exemplify an ongoing dispute: what is the leading design principle, artistic concept or function?

The first theme explores the continuation of early 1980s Postmodernism, when designers opened up the parameters of high design.  Eschewing reason, their objects can be purely conceptual, highly decorative, historicizing, or even kitschy. These designers embraced handcraft, conceptual art, and ornament.
On the other hand, the second theme explores a rational tendency that concurrently swept across Europe. To designers with a Modernist spirit, like the “form follows function” school of the 1920s Bauhaus, good design comes from the integration of use, materials, and process. Their designs are usually for mass-production, but can look spare and refined, or curving like natural forms.

“This exhibition is friendly, colorful, and whimsical,” said Buchanan. “European Design Since 1985 offers a fantastic variety of objects that blur the line between fine art, craft, and design. It might differ with what some define as fine art, but you can also argue that many of these chairs and lamps are as conceptual as a bronze sculpture or abstract painting.”

European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century is organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum in conjunction with Kingston University, London. It is curated by R. Craig Miller of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and coordinated at the Milwaukee Art Museum by Mel Buchanan, assistant curator of 20th Century design.

European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century is sponsored by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Friends of Art.

European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century
By R. Craig Miller, Penny Sparke, and Catherine McDermott
This groundbreaking publication is the first critical examination of the dramatic developments in Western European design and explores the most important conceptual and aesthetic movements during the previous two decades. Sumptuously illustrated, European Design Since 1985 is essential reading for designers, architects, students and anyone interested in the relationship between design and contemporary culture.  Hardcover: 272 pages, with 300 color illustrations.
Hard cover ($65/58.50 for Members) and soft cover ($45/40.50 for Members) copies are available in the Museum Store, 414-224-3210 or   

The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Thursdays until 8 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for students, seniors and active military, and is free for members and children 12 and under.

The first Thursday of each month is Target Free First Thursday and admission is free for everyone.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine as “Best Design of 2001.” For more information, please visit


Members Opening Reception
Thurs, Oct. 7, 5:30–8 p.m.
Lecture: 6:15 p.m., with R. Craig Miller
Lubar Auditorium
Appetizers and cash bar

Member Exhibition Lecture with R. Craig Miller
Fri, Oct. 8, 1:30 p.m.
Lubar Auditorium

Gallery Talks with the Curator
Tues, Oct. 12, 1:30 p.m.
Tues, Nov. 9, 1:30 p.m.
Tues, Nov. 30, 1:30 p.m.
Tues, Dec. 14, 1:30 p.m.

Express Talks
Thursdays, Oct. 14-Jan 6, Noon

Gallery Talks in FRENCH with Béatrice Armstrong, French Institute of Milwaukee
Sat, Oct. 30, 1:30 p.m.
Sat, Dec. 4, 1:30 p.m.

Guest Lecture with Alberto Alessi
Thurs, Nov. 18, 6:15 p.m.
Lubar Auditorium

Book Salon
Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things by Donald Norman
Saturday, Nov. 20, 10:30 a.m.
Bradley Rooms
RSVP to Amy Kirschke at 414-224-3826 or

MAM After Dark | Under the Table
Fri, Nov. 19, 5 p.m.–midnight
Explore your interactive side, Euro Design-style, with UWM Dance and Digital Media Departments, and local hip-hop duo Lab Experiments.
Details and advance admission at
Family Sunday | Holiday by Design
Sun, Dec. 12, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

For additional information, images, or interviews, please contact:
Kristin Settle