words Johanna AgermanRetrospectives are by definition backward-looking affairs, and can be tinged with a somewhat unhealthy nostalgia. But when they're good they make invisible links to the present, and speak to us of their relevance for the here and now. No Discipline is not a retrospective in this category. The show is dedicated to Ron Arad's three decades as a designer and by his own admission it's fifteen years premature. It is divided into three sections: limited-edition design, mass-production and architecture.
The space is dominated by a replica of the foyer of the Tel Aviv opera house but it's difficult to appreciate its form as its fluid, golden staircase also works as a display for Arad's early metal work. The rest of the dimly lit room is dedicated to his big, shiny and freeform limited editions positioned on a floor that is decorated with scribbles and drawings from Arad's notebooks. The backdrop is a translucent wall that reveals the silhouettes of hundreds of industrial cardboard tubes in which Arad's mass produced pieces for companies like Vitra and Kartell are displayed on the other side. Make no mistake: it is the limited editions that are given centre stage here.
The architecture is tucked away behind the foyer replica and although it gets the least space, it is the one area where Ron Arad associates have expanded the most in recent years. In 2008 Ron Arad Architects was founded and its first new-build, the Holon Design Museum, is due to open in Tel Aviv this spring. The media centre for Belgian national television and its accompanying mall in Liege, Belgium are also nearing completion.
So what is going on? With a flimsy leaflet giving an overview of Arad's career and with no other captions or text panels, apart from a large laminated card with the names of the over 200 pieces on display, it's difficult to know exactly. The biggest question is why the Pompidou is dedicating an exhibition of this scale to a designer like Ron Arad. At a time when design is increasingly preoccupied with social and environmental problems, Ron Arad comes across as dated and a tad egocentric as these pieces are little else than pure self-expression.
Sure, Arad's influence on propelling contemporary design into the general consciousness can't be denied. His name is widely recognised and as such the Pompidou would have selected Arad for his general appeal. Arad is also a force on the limited-edition design market, in fact his company Ron Arad Associates is more or less founded on the success of his Rover chair from 1981, and his work fetches prices on par with that of Marc Newson and Zaha Hadid.But none of this is spelled out in the exhibition. The No Discipline of the title seems to have incorporated the curator, Marie-Laure Jousset, at Pompidou as well. Surprisingly for Jousset, there is no polemic that adds spine to an otherwise random selection of objects. We're not even given any insight into Arad's creative process, apart from a few unexplained prototypes. Above all, we are left no wiser as to why Ron Arad is of relevance to us today, or, more importantly, what stamp he will leave on design history. Maybe they thought that Arad's obstinate exhibition design would conceal this?
Ron Arad No Discipline, Centre Pompidou, Paris until 12 March
images Georges Meguerditchian