Visitors to the new ADAM will be disappointed if they are looking for Art and Design from Brussels’ 1958 Universal Exhibition, which left us the Atomium landmark. The permanent exhibition of this museum, the Plasticarium, gives a step forward and shows us the design that was born in the boom of the 60s when plastic made finally possible the ruskinian dream of putting design at the reach of the masses.
The ADAM provides us with a vision of the future that has already become historical, like an old-fashioned sci-fi movie. Nothing is permanent, fashion and design being by definition the least permanent; not even the future as we imagined it. The ruskinian dream had been perverted in the sense that the consumer society made trillions of design products available to the man in the street but stole him of the emotional connection with something he appreciates and enjoys. Plastic was the future but seems today, from the perspective of a society that struggles to stop contaminating the planet, an outdone past of pollution and mass production.
1958 was a watershed between the Sputnik and the colonial Empires, the space race between the USSR and the USA, the recovered wealth in Europe, the quality of materials and design. Time has shown us the winners of those struggles: the USSR would collapse because of its economic malfunctions, Empires would vanish, the quality of the materials would disappear and plastic would reign.
The different areas of the exhibition are well explained, with some but not excessive information. You will probably recognise many of the pieces: Marcel Breuer’s cantilever chair, Wendell Castle’s tooth shapes, lots of pieces by Philippe Starck, etc. There are some hidden jewels by Vasarely and Cesar in a corner specifically devoted to artists. You will hear very loud disco music coming from the end of the hall: there lies hidden like a pop music box the reproduction of a tiny club designed in the sixties for a hotel in Bolzano. The noise seems justified and a very suitable metaphor for a very noisy and garish period of the twentieth century. The visit to the plasticarium can be done in less than forty minutes.
Image credits © Ruskin in Brussels