Art or Industrial Design?

"Good design has to hurt, in order to be recognized", says the collector Harald Falckenberg. In the heydays of industrial design with its completely opposing schools (Bauhaus versus Memphis) designer objects would never generate the amount of cash which provides a good living for todays vintage furniture dealers. Rare objects are already auctioned at the price level of art. In 2015 the auction house Phillips in London sold Marc Newsons Lockheed Lounge (a chaise longue from the 1988 edition of 10) at a record price of approx. 2.5 million British Pound. In 2009 the leathern Dragon Chair (designed by the grande dame of art deco Eileen Gray) went under the hammer for 27.8 million US-Dollars. This asks the question if an industrial designer automatically becomes an artist when his objects are sold in this price range.

There is no doubt that the present worlds of art and industrial design have a lot of common ground. One contributing, factor is the experimental "limited edition", which continually gains in importance. Experts of both camps disagree on how to define these editions. In the 2009 exhibition "UFO the boundaires of art and design" the NRW Forum in Düsseldorf presented works of art and design on the same democratic level and without any categorization. Visitors were also confronted with quotes from famous designers or artists. When asked to give a definition of design, the designer Konstantin Grcic answered: "An artist is defined by his production of art. Whereas, a designer will always produce design regardless of whether he produces one single piece or a thousand objects." This exhibition emphasized that defining art or design is always a matter of perspective.

In the jungle of definitions the traditional industrial design has always been hovering between the two sides of the spectrum, i.e. between technical engineering and artistic creation. A design chair, for instance, becomes a functional object when you move it out of the “white cube“ into your living room. Art, on the contrary, has a purely "decorative" role and appeals to the intellect of the beholder. However, the art critic Ad Rheinhardts, who died in the '70s, had a totally different approach: "Art is art, everything else is everything else." It is really up to the experts, journalists or collectors to find their own definition as there is really no clear answer to the question of "art or design?".